Amy Jones (England)and Smriti Mandhana (India). ©ICC

England have never won a bilateral series in India. It’s a record Heather Knight’s team will be keen to rectify as they begin their tour of India with three One-Day Internationals in Mumbai. Similarly, India will be keen to repeat their series win over England in the ODI series in Nagpur last year. The first ODI is at the Wankhede Stadium on Friday (February 22) and it should give everyone an idea of how prepared both the teams are.

Obviously when the rivalry between the two countries comes up for discussion the mind immediately goes back to the 2017 World Cup final in front of a packed house at Lord’s where England came back to steal a thrilling nine-run win. Now of course the dynamics are different. This ODI series is a part of the ICC Women’s Championship, and both the teams would want to grab all the six points on offer.

India are currently fourth on the table with 12 points from as many games, while England are seventh with ten points from nine games. India are unlikely to play their three matches against Pakistan because of political issues and will lose potentially six crucial points, which makes the series against England even more crucial if they have to avoid playing the qualifiers for the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand.

India’s confidence is high after they had a good series in New Zealand where they prevailed 2-1. It was historic in every sense as India had never won a bilateral series in New Zealand prior to that.

Once again India’s batting will rally around Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Mithali Raj. Their role becomes even more critical in the absence of Harmanpreet Kaur, who was ruled out of the entire series because of an ankle injury sustained after returning from New Zealand. Harleen Deol, who has done well for Himachal Pradesh, in the domestic circuit, has been named as her replacement for the ODIs, but it remains to be seen if the team management decides to pad up the batting department with the experience of either Punam Raut or Mona Meshram.

If Raut comes back into the team then will the team management make her bat at No.3 or break the now successful opening pair of Mandhana and Rodrigues is another question that will soon have its answer. India’s middle-order clearly needs to step up because that’s one area that has not have had a solution for a while now.

The series is equally important for R Kalpana, the backup wicketkeeper, who is making a comeback into the side after three years on the back of an excellent domestic season. She will keep Taniya Bhatia on her toes.

Both the teams have met quite a few times across formats in recent times – England beat India in the World T20 semifinal in Antigua last year – and have a fair idea of the key players in both the camps and the spinner friendly conditions in the country.

For England the biggest plus is the presence of Sarah Taylor, who has not always made herself available because of her issues with mental health. One of the classiest players in the circuit, she brings in a lot of depth into the side. The team usually bats around her, and things will be no different this time around.

Danielle Wyatt has been a revelation. She has been England’s most consistent batter over the last 18 months, and a lot will be expected out of her. The last time she was in Mumbai with the England side, she made a 64-ball 124 to chase down 199 in a Twenty20 International against India.

England’s other strength is their pace attack led by Anya Shrubsole and Katherine Brunt. What works to their advantage is that Indian batters have struggled to play slow-paced deliveries, which makes Shrubsole a dangerous customer. She did most of the damage in the World Cup final and then in the warm-up game against Board President’s XI recently.

How England handle India’s spin department consisting of Deepti Sharma, Ekta Bisht, Poonam Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad (if she gets to play) will go a long way in deciding the fate of the series. There is also Jhulan Goswami to tackle. Having retired from the shortest format, she looked fresh and sharp in the ODIs in New Zealand and the intensity will continue to be seen against England.

After the ODIs, the focus will shift to Guwahati for the T20Is. There the focus will be on Mandhana who is likely to make her international captaincy debut in the absence of Kaur.

Kaur’s unavailability means the batting department looks even thinner in the format, and that will make Mithali Raj’s role crucial.

The pleasing aspect about this series is that all the six games will be on television, which is another step towards familiarising women’s cricket to a wider audience. If India can win both the series then will be a perfect icing on the cake.

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