India’s selection dilemmas: Rodrigues v/s Raut, spin-heavy or seam-heavy attack

India celebrate a wicket against South Africa © BCCI

India’s tour of England began with a come-from-behind draw in the one-off Test at the County Ground in Bristol. Despite England’s dominance through much of the four-day encounter, the lower order of India held on to a plucky draw thanks to a 104-run ninth wicket stand between debutantes Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia. It means both teams now enter the second-leg of the multi-format series, the 50-over contests, on even footing with two points each.

While England have made a few changes to their squad, leaving out Georgia Elwiss and including the pair of Sarah Glenn and Freya Davies to the Test unit, India will have the same group of 18 players at their disposal.

Shafali Verma’s success in the Test match – coupled with the success she’s enjoyed through her T20I career – means she is almost a shoo-in at the top of the ODI batting order alongside Smriti Mandhana. Although it is expected that India will keep their line-up very similar, the performance of Rana, Jemimah Rodrigues’ ouster and Punam Raut’s productive ODI series against South Africa mean the team has plenty to consider.

Ahead of the three-match ODI series that begins in Bristol on Sunday (June 27), Women’s CricZone looks at the questions India will need to answer when they pick their ODI XI.

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Is there room for Rodrigues?

© Women's CricZone

© Women’s CricZone

With a total of 159 runs on Test debut, teenage sensation Shafali Verma has all but booked her place at the top of the order for India across formats. The 17-year-old’s success means India’s regular ODI opener Jemimah Rodrigues will have to be displaced.

A popular member of India’s young batting brigade, Rodrigues’ lean run of late meant she was left out of the India XI mid-way through their home series against South Africa, with Priya Punia taking her place. Since her twin fifties in the ODI and T20I series against West Indies in November 2019, Rodrigues has managed only three scores of 30+ in 14 innings across formats. However, her busy style of play is something India could do well with at the top of their order.

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Rodrigues’ competitor, veteran Punam Raut was India’s highest run-getter through their home series against South Africa. The diminutive right hander collected 263 runs in five innings at an average of 87.66, including a century and two fifties. Her runs came at an improved strike rate of over 71 – a big jump when compared to her career strike rate of 58.35 – but Raut’s pace of scoring has often counted against her in what has become a rather fast-paced game.

With the solid Mithali Raj likely to bat at No.4, India will have to figure out whether they want another anchor in Raut to take the slot at No.3, or whether they’d prefer for a more busy Rodrigues to get stuck in to England’s attack.

Should they ride on Rana’s high?

© Getty Images

Sneh Rana celebrates a wicket. © Getty Images

India’s selection of Sneh Rana in their Test XI left everyone baffled. Picking two off-spinners against a team full of right-handers seemed a fool’s choice. However, the 27-year-old, put in a splendid performance with four wickets and an unbeaten 80 in her comeback game, earning praise from the entire country.

After the match, skipper Raj did say that Rana’s selection had much to do with her domestic form and the way she bowled in the nets. in the lead up to the Test Going into the ODIs, the question remains whether India will stick with their two off-spinner policy with Deepti Sharma a certainty in the XI.

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Rana does provide the team with greater batting depth, but her inclusion will mean one of the more prolific spinners in Ekta Bisht or Poonam Yadav, or a seam bowling allrounder will miss out.

Will India take a bold call and side with their form player or will they go down the more conservative route?

Spin to win or is pace your ace?

(L-R) Poonam Yadav, Pooja Vastrakar and Ekta Bisht. © Getty Images /Women's CricZone

(L-R) Poonam Yadav, Pooja Vastrakar and Ekta Bisht. © Getty Images /Women’s CricZone

The final, and most intriguing question of all, is with regards to India’s bowling combination. For the Test match, they picked three seamers and two spinners on a very slow and rather low surface in Bristol. Of the 121.2 overs India bowled in that match, the spinners accounted for 71.2 of them (58.75%).

With both Poonam Yadav and Ekta Bisht on the bench, India have the option of strengthening their spin unit at the expense of one of their seamers. Bisht is only four wickets shy of becoming the third Indian bowler to take 100 ODI wickets, while Yadav will be keen to break her wicketless streak that began against South Africa. Left-arm spinner Radha Yadav is also part of India’s spin group, but unlikely to get the nod ahead of her senior counterparts.

Historically, India have always preferred to pack their side with spinners, leaving Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey to share the load of the pace contingent in recent times. However, the inclusion of Pooja Vastrakar gives India something to consider. The 21-year-old’s power with the bat means she could be nurtured in the finisher’s role – used at No.7 to provide power to a lower middle-order that has often crumbled in a heap.

ALSO READ: Shafali Verma and the unbridled joy of batting

Yet to pick up a wicket in six ODIs, Vastrakar’s inclusion in the XI would, however, mean India have to compromise on their bowling strength, putting added pressure on Harmanpreet Kaur as the sixth bowler.

The composition of India’s bowling attack will certainly be giving the team management sleepless nights. Rana’s success and Vastrakar’s potential means they suddenly seem like they have a problem of plenty. But what that combination looks like, remains to be seen.

 

Women’s CricZone’s predicted India XI: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Ekta Bisht