While they have never lost an ODI series against them, it’s unlikely Australia will have forgotten recent reversals at the hands of India. In January 2016, an emergent Indian side picked up their maiden T20I series win over Australia. Eighteen months later, Harmanpreet Kaur ran amok in Derby to turn Australia’s World Cup campaign “to custard“.
As she prepares to resume captaincy duties, a fit-again Meg Lanning insisted that Australia have long buried ghosts of the past, and are a more “evolved” unit that is raring to outdo a “tough opposition” on their home turf.
“India are definitely up against a team that will respond better to the pressure they put on us in the semi,” Lanning said on the eve of the three-match ODI series-opener in Baroda, where she’ll be making her first international appearance since Australia’s exit from the World Cup.
“There’s no doubt that that loss [in the World Cup semifinal] hurt us, and we learned a lot from that and we do feel like we are in a better space now as a team. We’ve improved on some things, we have to come out here and play really well. We’re looking forward to testing our skills in tough environment.”
Acknowledging team changes during the multi-format Ashes as a rectification of fielding a batting-heavy XI at the cost of a frontline bowler at the World Cup, Lanning exuded confidence in how the side has shaped up since landing in India on March 3. Besides their emphatic warm-up victories over India A, Lanning pinned her optimism on the uncapped talents – allrounder Nicola Carey and left-arm spinner Sophie Molineux – roped in via the WBBL.
“We’re blessed with a number of all-round options now,” Lanning said. “We knew going into that World Cup, it was one way or the other, team balance wasn’t right. Best teams evolve and learn from their mistakes. That’s something we have done really well. Opportunities for some of us to step up in this series. We’ve picked a number of players in good form from our WBBL competition.”
Lanning also sounded confident about the team’s ability to cope with two new balls on their first assignment in the subcontinent, given the swing the Australian bowlers enjoyed during the practice matches. Echoing Lanning’s thoughts, head coach Matthew Mott said: “Agree, we’re blessed with having a bit more of a crack at it domestically. I think our players have got their head around it, how to respond in the field.”
Mott acknowledged the progress made by the Indian side, and said the series would boil down to winning clutch moments. “I think they have been a strong side for a long time. It’s been great to see the profile of some of the Indian players expand. Unfortunately, we were on the back end of the victory. I think for the world game, it’s been very exciting to see some household names there, and India’s woken up to what women’s cricket can bring to the sport. There’s going to be no quarter given in those couple of games. Whoever takes those critical moments will end up on top.”
As confident as India would be following their successful South African tour, Harmanpreet Kaur, the vice-captain, was wary of the impact Lanning’s return would have on the visitors. “She’s got this knack of scoring big, so the team is greatly dependent on her,” she said. “That’s her plus point. So, it’s a big advantage for them. Lanning and [Ellyse] Perry have done really well against us in the past. Our main focus would be on these two. And there’s [Elyse] Villani, too. Theirs is a strong side, so we need to keep an eye on pretty much everyone.”
Even more, India would be wary of their fielding, which has been up and down. The South Africa tour featured a spectacular Jemimah Rodrigues catch and an airborne Smriti Mandhana stop in the deep, but also missed stumpings and seven dropped catches. Besides, their lower order has tended to cave in under pressure, when the top four have been dismissed early.
“I know we have not been consistent in the [South Africa] series with our fielding,” Tushar Arothe, the India head coach, said. “But Biju [George] sir is working really hard at it, and we’ve made plans – assigning different positions to different fielders to give them confidence – and I’m expecting positive results from them.
“Our lower-order batting is pretty weak. Given our top order has been getting the job done, our lower order hasn’t quite got enough opportunity. But it’s an important aspect we’re focused on. Since I’ve taken over, every member in the squad has been getting time to bat [in the nets]. In South Africa, too, we created match situations, where all the team members batted. This is a concern we are well aware of, and hopefully, in the coming years, things will get a lot better.”
Arothe expected the batting-friendly pitch at the Reliance Cricket Stadium, with scant grass cover, to assist the quicks only in the first 30-45 minutes, but the absence of the injured Jhulan Goswami may give Australia a chance to test the hosts’ pace contingent.
“All these years, Jhulan has been doing extremely well, but at the same time, Shikha and [Pooja Vastrakar] need to carry the weight, especially Shikha Pandey. We have always played with 2-3 fast bowlers, like you must have seen in South Africa, we went in with three fast bowlers. That’s a bit unusual for the Indian side. But this is what we did and we were successful. So we’ll take a look at the wicket tomorrow and take a call as to whether or not we should go in with two or three fast bowlers.”
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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