World Cup Preview – Can India deliver the cup for Jhulan and Mithali?

So close, yet so far – that was the story of India’s World Cup campaign in 2017. It was only the second time they had qualified for the final and they made sure that England didn’t have it easy at Lord’s. Since that spirited show, the Indian team has come a long way, not just in terms of skills, but also in terms of popularity. 

It took almost half a century for a nation obsessed with cricket to start looking beyond the men and give the women a chance to become stars in their own right. In 2020, they qualified for their maiden T20 World Cup final as well, making the country stand up and take notice again. In 2022, the team will aim to finally get the cup home and maybe, start yet another revolution for the women of the country. 

How they made it

India directly qualified to the 2022 edition after finishing fourth in the ICC ODI Championship 2017-2020. In 21 matches, they managed to win ten and lose eight, while three games against Pakistan were canceled, as the BCCI couldn’t get clearance from the government to play the arch-rivals. 

What have they done in the past?

The Indian team has always been one of the top sides in the world of women’s cricket. But, it was only around the turn of the century when they started threatening teams on a regular basis in the World events. They finished as semi-finalists in 1997 and 2000. 2005 saw them play their first World Cup final, but it was a one-sided affair against Australia. In 2009, they finished third, but slumped to seventh in the 2013 edition at home. 

Best World Cup finish

The 2017 World Cup saw an Indian team go from the Qualifiers and make it to the final at Lord’s, where they lost by just nine runs. During the league stages, they beat every team, other than South Africa and Australia. In the semi-finals, they were able to beat Australia as well, knocking out one of the favorites.

 In 2005, they managed to make it to the final on the back of some quality performances, but lost by 98 runs. 

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Squad

Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav. 

Standby Players: S. Meghana, Ekta Bisht, Simran Dil Bahadur

Likely playing XI

Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Mithali Raj (C), Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur, Richa Ghosh (wk), Deepti Sharma, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad

Key players

Smriti Mandhana: The India opener started off the 2017 World Cup campaign with a 72-ball 90 against hosts England and then followed it up with a century against West Indies. That set the tone for the tournament, but she couldn’t come up with any other big knock. However, since then, only Stafanie Taylor (56.18) averages more than Mandhana (54.57) for anyone who has played more than 30 innings. 

India is one of those teams, which is a top-heavy batting unit. For them, it will be quite important that one opener makes this tournament their own. Mandhana is possibly India’s most reliable batter and her runs in the top order will be crucial if they want to reach the glory land. 

Jhulan Goswami: The veteran, the legend and the woman, who has carried the burden of the Indian bowling for the last two decades now, will want to finish on a high. As her career moves towards the twilight period, her importance in this team has increased even more. With an inexperienced pace attack around her, Jhulan would need to step up and put her A-game on the ground, if India have to go through and do well in this tournament. On top of that, the conditions in New Zealand are more suited to the pacers than the spinners which makes Jhulan’s role even more important. 

X factor

Richa Ghosh: The 18-year-old wicketkeeper batter has been a fantastic addition to the Indian team in recent months. For some time now, team India has looked at a wicket-keeping option who can regularly contribute with the bat. On top of that, India’s lower middle order has always struggled to score at a good rate, consistently.

Since her debut, she has scored 222 runs at 44.40 with a strike rate of 105. She already holds the record for the fastest fifty by an Indian and has shown immense potential. If she can be at her best, the Indian team would benefit because of the position where she is set to bat at. The fact that she is a keeper who can bat strengthens the batting unit and allows the team to get a better balance to the side. 

Prediction

Semi-finalists

India made it to the World Cup 2022 after being fourth in the ICC ODI Championship 2017-20. Though the team hasn’t won a lot of games in the past year or so, there is no doubt that they can be a better team than a lot of their opponents in this tournament.