India Women’s performances in the three ICC Women’s Championship One-Day Internationals against Australia Women was like a water pipe leaking from different parts. There is no single answer for the abject performance of being on the wrong end of a 3-0 sweep in what was India’s first home assignment since finishing runners-up in the World Cup in England in July last year. The last time India had lost all their matches in an ODI series was also against Australia at home in March 2012.
There were some bright patches, but Australia were ruthless and secured their 11th consecutive bilateral series win stretching back to January 2014. Meg Lanning’s team had a point to prove after losing to India in the World Cup semifinal, and they did that in a clinical manner in the sapping heat of Vadodara. They were a step ahead in all departments at every moment through the series, and deservingly sealed it 3-0 on Sunday (March 18).
A look at the series and some of the issues India faced.
Watching the India Women bat brought to mind how the Australian men’s team had dried up the boundary options during their famous Test series win of 2004.
Inability to rotate the strike has been this batting unit’s perennial problem, and it got exposed even more on the surfaces on offer in Vadodara, where the need was to find gaps regularly to keep the scoreboard ticking. Australia did that much better than India.
Punam Raut’s 50-ball 37 in the first ODI camouflaged the problem. She hit six fours and a six, meaning 30 of her runs came off seven balls while the remaining 43 deliveries fetched only seven runs. She was slower in the second ODI where in a chase of 288 she had to bat positively from the start. She had just 19 scoring shots in 61 balls, putting additional pressure on Smriti Mandhana, her opening partner, to keep up with the required run-rate.
The problem was not limited to Raut. Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj failed to keep pressure at bay after getting their eye in, while Deepti Sharma continued to find it a challenge to get to the non-striker’s end. India played a total of 518 dot balls in 144 overs (59.95 percent) across three matches. Comparatively, Australia played only 46.02 percent dot balls.
The opening pair of Nicole Bolton and Alyssa Healy set the tone for Australia’s batting with ten fours and a six in the first Power Play of the first ODI during a chase of 201. Australia never looked back after that, batting with a definite intent of finding the fence as frequently as possible in each of their three innings. It helped their cause that India were erratic with their bowling, but still the shots needed to be executed. They hit a total of 103 fours and five sixes, while India managed only 81 fours and six sixes.
The biggest punch came from Australia’s lower-middle order, who never held back. After being 144 for 4 in the second match, the batters rallied around Ellyse Perry to post 143 runs in the remaining 19.3 overs. India, on the other hand, had very little fuel left in their batting after No.5.
Raj admitted that lack of hitters down the batting order forced the top order to take more risks to keep up with the pace in the two chases. It is a known problem, but there is very little that has been done in the past to address this. There is no one in the domestic circuit who can fill the gap, and the team management has to find an ad-hoc solution. They had a wonderful chance to groom Shikha Pandey for that role when she made two half-centuries in her debut series against South Africa in 2014, but it was not done and her batting potential remains unfulfilled. Will the think-tank smell the coffee and give Pooja Vastrakar, who played two handy knocks from No.9, enough exposure to be that allrounder remains to be seen.
With India’s lower-middle order fragile, it was imperative for the top-order to build more partnerships, an area where Australia again were much better. While Australia had eight fifty stands and three partnerships of 40 runs or more, India had just one century stand, two fifty-plus associations and just one over 40.
Healy (133), Bolton (100*, 84), Ellyse Perry (70*) and Beth Mooney (56) made big runs. India’s top-order had only Mandhana (67, 52) crossing 50. More importantly, all the Australian batters maintained great strike-rates, ensuring that they made the most of their starts. Except for Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues in the final ODI, none of the Indian top-order batters had a strike-rate to boast about.
Nowhere was India’s poor fielding more exposed than in the final ODI where they gave away seven chances, allowing Australia to notch up 332 for 7 – the highest total by any team against India.
It is not that fielding was any better in the first two games where a lot of chances went abegging, raising questions about fatigue and match awareness among players. Admittedly, some of the chances were quite difficult but the game is evolving at a pace that demands half-chances be converted. It was a big let-down after India’s improved performance on the field during the Twenty20 International series win in South Africa.
Raj said that “undisciplined bowling” cost India crucial moments in the series. None of the bowlers had the kind of control that Jhulan Goswami, who missed the series because of an injury sustained in South Africa, brings to the mix. They bowled on either side of the wicket, making it difficult for a field to be set. Every time the bowlers built some kind of pressure, they let themselves down by offering easy boundary balls. It was the story of the series. It came to a point in the final ODI where Raj lost trust on her frontline bowlers and got Mona Meshram, Rodrigues and Kaur to bowl the final five overs. It boomeranged as Meshram was hit for 20 runs in the 49th over.
The way Australia handled Indian spinners was a lesson in itself. That the seamers were unable to create any kind of pressure obviously played a big role in neither of Poonam Yadav, Deepti Sharma, Ekta Bisht or Rajeshwari Gayakwad being able to exert the kind of control they are known for.
Grand crowd, poor umpiring
The Baroda Cricket Association left no stone unturned in making India’s first series at home since the 2017 World Cup final a special one. They hired an event management company to promote the series. There were posters of cricketers on the streets of the city, and it resulted in a huge number of people turning up for all the three matches. There were children, middle-aged people and elderly citizens, all making the atmosphere electrifying. Raj said that the last time she had seen such an involved crowd in India was way back in 2004 in Dhanbad during the series against West Indies Women. “This Indian crowd is incredible,” said Bolton, the player of the series, at the post-match presentation ceremony. “Any opportunity to play in front of 12,000 people (is an) amazing experience against such a quality opposition.”
The same cannot be said about the umpiring standards. Anil Dandekar, Nand Kishore, J Madangopal and Nitin Pandit left a lot to be desired with their decision-making. With no Decision Review System available, the wrong calls could not be overturned, proving costly in the final analysis.
Rodrigues’s approach in the final ODI was refreshing as was the overall attitude of Vastrakar. But there are still areas to work on, like strengthening the lower-middle order, expecting more consistency from Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy, who was dropped for Meshram in the final ODI, and finding more bowlers. How it is to be achieved has been a million dollar question for some time. A Women’s Indian Premier League where domestic players get to spend quality time with top international cricketers from around the world could be a way to go about, but does BCCI have someone like Lalit Modi in its current muddled state to take that plunge?