Time running out for India as they grapple with batting woes

Kate Cross celebrates her five-wicket haul against India © Getty Images

India’s recent ODI performances and the reaction to those performances seem to come with a sense of déjà vu. Even before the ODI-leg of the multi-format series against England began, there were questions about India’s approach to the format – especially the batting- and what are the underlying issues that prompt India to play a seemingly outdated game.

When India won the ODI series against the hosts West Indies in 2019, they were in a good space in the format as far as results were concerned losing only one series – against the number one ranked Australia at home in 2018 – and winning seven of the eight they played. India played 24 matches with a win ratio of 1.666 only second to all-conquering Meg Lanning’s Australian side during this period. They beat South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and West Indies away while registering twin series wins against England at home along with another home series win against South Africa and rose to number two in the ICC ODI team rankings.

Post the series against West Indies, the focus shifted to the T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic-induced break meant India didn’t play any ODIs from the second week of November 2019 to March this year. On their return to the format, they now have lost two consecutive series with series defeat against South Africa at home and to England when they went down by five wickets at the County Ground in Taunton on Wednesday (June 30). At the surface level, these results seemed to have come from their break but a closer look at the numbers and results suggest that India have failed to evolve and adjust to the changing demands of the format.

Coming into the first ODI of the series, India’s batting line largely remained the same from the 2017 World Cup with Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Deepti Sharma from that side occupying five of the six slots in the batting order. Shafali Verma – who made her debut in the series – and Jemimah Rodrigues, who played in the second match, were the only additions to the batting lineup while among the bowlers, only Pooja Vastrakar made her debut post the World Cup. India also brought in Sneh Rana for the second game in the hope of adding batting depth.

Despite these changes, India’s batting had a sameness to it in both games. Skipper Raj batted through large parts of the innings while others failed and got India to under-par scores around early 200s in good batting conditions. Even a fifty-plus opening partnership in the second match didn’t help them to post a better total and a tenth wicket 29-run stand was needed to take the score to 221 as the middle order failed again. With these persisting issues, India will be hoping to win the toss and have a chance to bat second in the game for they seem to make a better account of themselves as a chasing side. But they will have to come up with a plan that will allow them to post competitive totals on good batting decks if they were to bat first again.

At multiple times, Raj – during the South Africa series in March, ahead of the England ODIs and after the defeat in the first match – talked about the need to find ways to score put up 250+ totals while batting first. The middle-order consisting of Raj and Kaur will have a big part to play in it but at the same time, they will be hoping the top order to come good and give India a rapid start in the first 20 overs. It won’t be easy for Verma, playing in her first ODI series, and a struggling Rodrigues to continuously come up with the goods. It will be up to the senior-pro Mandhana to stay at the crease for longer and provide them with the impetus they lacked post the dismissal of Verma in both the matches. Despite the criticism, India might stick to the same batting lineup from the second ODI having decided to opt for Rodrigues in place of Raut.

India’s series defeats against South Africa and England also had another similar aspect to it with the lack of effectiveness of their spin attack. Although Poonam Yadav took two wickets on her return after going wicketless in the South Africa series and at one stage India had England on the mat at 133 for five, the bowling attack as a whole failed to land final punches against a young Sophia Dunkley. Sharma’s lack of penetration with the ball could be a worry for the visitors but considering her allround value, India are unlikely to trust Rana as the sole lead off-spinner in the side in place of her. It remains to be seen whether they will go back to Vastrakar or bring in Reddy in place of a spinner when they take the field in Worcester for the third ODI on Saturday (July 3).

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For England, the line-up looks fairly settled as they continue their quest to fill the missing links ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand next year. They won’t be losing much sleep over Heather Knight’s twin failures in the moderate run chases. Dunkley’s introduction into the batting unit at number six is another tick they have made while Kate Cross continuing her excellence with the ball augurs well for the hosts with Freya Davies and Natasha Farrant waiting in the wings to form an enviable pace contingent.

As far as England’s team combination is concerned, there’s always the prospect of resting one of the senior pacers in Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole allowing Davies or Farrant to get a look in. With Tammy Beaumont keen to continue her scintillating form and Lauren Winfield-Hill starting fairly well in the second match, the batting lineup will bear the same look with Knight, Natalie Sciver, and Amy Jones occupying the middle-order slots. Although Sarah Glenn is yet to pick up a wicket in the series, it’s unlikely that England will give Mady Villiers a go in place of the leg-spinner.

With two points still up for grabs in the multi-format series, there won’t be any talk of a dead rubber. Will India be able to put in better performance or will England continue to their stranglehold on India come Saturday?

Squads

England: Heather Knight (c), Emily Arlott , Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Freya Davies, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone , Natasha Farrant, Sarah Glenn, Amy Jones, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Mady Villiers, Fran Wilson, Lauren Winfield-Hill

India: Mithali Raj (c), Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Deepti Sharma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Indrani Roy (wk), Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Radha Yadav