“Bowled, Jhulu di!”
Biju George, India’s fielding coach cheered, more than once, as he stood near the nets where Jhulan Goswami was bowling. The Indian fast bowler was going through her paces and was often seen discussing her seam position and wrist position with George as well as head coach WV Raman.
In the adjacent nets, Mithali Raj was being given throw-downs. She was middling them alright to suggest that she is in it and raring to go. Raj, India’s ODI captain, then proceeded to have a full-fledged batting session under the watchful eyes of Raman. She did seem to like the feel of bat on ball and appeared to be happy at the end of it.
Raj and Goswami are the notable additions to India’s ODI side ahead of the three-match series against South Africa. These matches are not a part of the ICC Women’s Championship. India once again begin as favourites after their recent T20I series victory over South Africa, and with the addition of two senior pros to India’s line-up – both of whom look fresh and in wonderful rhythm – the signs look ominous.
On Monday (October 7), after completing her bowling stint, Goswami padded up and tonked a few from the middle of the bat. She was practicing the big hits against pace bowling and was hitting them with disdain, too. Hope the commentators’ writer’s curse doesn’t strike as the series begins!
Cricket is a strange sport. What else can explain the fact that Raj, a batter, came to nets with just one bat and did her thing throughout with just one weapon while Goswami, primarily a bowler, carried a couple of willows to the nets?
Nonetheless, both veterans – one in her 21st year of international cricket and the other in her 17th – looked satisfied at the end of their session and India look good to go under them.
If the home team has these two names in readiness to feature in the 50-overs format, South Africa have Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty, who joined the team ahead of the ODIs. The duo are fresh and won’t carry the scars of the T20I series defeat.
Kapp was among the first to take to bowling in the nets where Mignon du Preez was batting.
One look at it and you realised that it isn’t easy to bowl to du Preez. Short ball, whacked. Full one, smashed. On the pads, despatched. The premier South African batter had gone cold after the first T20I and the tourists would want her to get into her groove immediately. If the nets session is anything to go by, she looks in tremendous touch.
Kapp’s bowling stint was punctuated by a few stretches and massages on the right side of her back. She didn’t seem to be in pain and it, perhaps, was just her way of getting back into the swing of things.
Her comeback is expected to ease Shabnim Ismail’s burden as the leader of the pace attack. That she essayed that role wonderfully in the T20Is goes without saying. But with her new-ball partner returning into the fold, she would, perhaps, be meaner and focus on terrifying the Indian batters more.
The heat in Vadodara is something South Africa’s players are getting used to. The conditions are slightly better than Surat – the heat and humidity is less. However, try telling that to pacers and the fielders who need to do the hard yards in the heat.
A chat with a member of the ground-staff brings to light that the track is expected to be full of runs. With the sun beating down, it is only expected to get flatter. And the excessive rain a couple of weeks ago means that there is enough wetness in the outfield, so as to not warrant watering ahead of the match days.
All in all, the Reliance Cricket Stadium in Vadodara looks all set to host the first ODI on Wednesday (October 9). The estimated crowd capacity is to the tune of 15,000, but expect more to be at the venue on game-day as they are expected to stand along the fence, where there are no chairs put up.
At the outset, a mouth-watering contest beckons. Whether it can live up to its billing will be revealed in the coming days.
India: Mithali Raj (c), Jemimah Rodrigues, Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Mansi Joshi, Ekta Bisht, Poonam Yadav, D Hemalatha, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Priya Punia
South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Tasmin Brits, Trisha Chetty (wk), Nadine de Klerk, Shabnim Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Lara Goodall, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Tumi Sekhukhune, Nondumiso Shangase, Mignon du Preez, Laura Wolvaardt