Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Nothing describes the state of India skipper Mithali Raj better than these words of the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare.
Having scored two half-centuries in the series already, Mithali, the batter, looks in a good rhythm and is providing the stability the team needs in the middle-order. It is Mithali, the skipper, who looks in a spot of bother at the moment, and the reason for that is India's insipid bowling efforts in the series thus far.
To be fair to her, she has tried every possible trick up her sleeve, but the bowlers have looked far from impressive in terms of potency. The Indian bowlers have not been able to adapt to the conditions, and the breeze has been making life more arduous for them.
In the form of the fifth ODI, India have one last shot to get a bit of confidence under their belt before their all-important clash against arch-rivals Pakistan in the World Cup on March 6.
What's at stake?
Despite being a dead rubber, the fifth ODI has plenty to play for. It will see the Indian team take the field to halt the White Ferns' juggernaut. And most importantly, the battle to salvage some pride as they are on the brink of a potential 5-0 sweep. The only time India suffered a clean sweep in a five-match ODI series was against Australia in 2008-09 and in the immediate vicinity, they will look to avoid the same on Thursday.
Finding the right combination leading into the World Cup seems to be a jigsaw puzzle for the Indian team management at the moment. Apart from Jhulan Goswami, the Indian pace battery is fairly inexperienced as the trio of Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, and Pooja Vastrakar have only played 19 games between them and have aggregated 11 wickets in total.
And hence the 39-year-old veteran Goswami has to use the experience of all the 194 games she has played and provide the side with the crucial breakthroughs as and when required. Her ability to bring the ball back into the right-handers has caught the New Zealand batters off guard and it is something that will stand her in good stead heading into the World Cup.
Indian spinners, who are known to grab the opposition by the scruff of their necks, have struggled to make an impact in the series. And have been unable to restrain the batters. In all fairness to them, the wickets in the series have also been pretty conducive for batting and hence they have been taken for a lot of runs thus far.
For India, fielding has not been up to the mark as they have left the door ajar far too many times in the series. And the opposition batters have utilised all those opportunities to pile on the pain. With the World Cup featuring the top sides, fielding is going to be extremely crucial and the visitors need to pull up their socks.
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On the contrary, everything seems to be falling into place perfectly for New Zealand. The rain-curtailed fourth ODI was a totally unexpected challenge for them but they even aced that to perfection. All of their players are itching to perform and have grabbed every single opportunity that has been tossed at them.
In contrast to Mithali, Sophie Devine is in a very good headspace as a leader. And the reason simply is that the big guns in the side have been performing to their potential and even the youngsters in the side look fairly battle-hardened.
The efficiency of Devine's side can be simply understood by the fact that they romped home by 63 runs despite missing the likes of Brooke Halliday, Fran Jonas, Maddy Green, and Lea Tahuhu in the fourth one-dayer.
Although India resorted to experimentation in the last ODI, it will be interesting to see whether they focus on giving game time to the undercooked players or will they field their best possible XI to safeguard their pride.
Having lost their last four ODI series against South Africa, England, Australia, and the hosts, India will be looking to walk away with a consolation win in the fifth ODI at the John Davies Oval in Queenstown on Thursday ahead of the World Cup.
What they said:
"I have worked a lot on my variations to keep the batters guessing as far as my bowling is concerned. In addition to that, I have worked a lot on my ability to handle the short-pitched deliveries and have improved my off-side game,"
- Deepti Sharma on her bowling and batting.
"After the summer, I wanted to become a top-order batter. So, I did a lot of work throughout the winter on my technique and that was just playing the swinging ball in terms of the first ten overs of the game. We have seen how dominant spin has been in the women's game so for me that was a real focus as well, how can I use my feet to spin well and how can I sweep well so I have those scoring options in my game,"
- Amelia Kerr on how she has improved her batting.
Players to watch out for:
Amelia Kerr: Having scored 287 runs in the four ODIs already, Amelia seems to be going through the form of her life. On top of that, she has also bagged six wickets in the series and was the difference between the two sides in the fourth ODI. She unleashed a wide variety of sweep shots in the fourth ODI and made the Indian spinners look fairly ordinary. The way she has been going at the moment it will take something extraordinary from the Indian side to stop her.
Smriti Mandhana: The fourth ODI was the first game for the southpaw in the ongoing series after she came out of Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ). She is one of the pillars of the Indian batting order and will look to make the most of this last opportunity on offer ahead of the World Cup. She is known to get India off to flyers and it won't be surprising if she does the same in the fifth ODI.
Head to head: Played 52 matches, New Zealand 32 – 19 India
- Smriti Mandhana has amassed 334 runs in the ten ODIs she has played against the White Ferns with one century and two half-centuries to her credit.
- Sophie Devine has aggregated 314 runs and has also picked up 11 wickets in the 14 ODIs she has played against India.
India: Mithali Raj (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Sneh Rana, Richa Ghosh (wk), Deepti Sharma, Meghna Singh, Jhulan Goswami, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Renuka Singh Thakur
New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Suzie Bates, Frances Mackay, Amelia Kerr, Amy Satterthwaite, Lauren Down, Katey Martin (wk), Hayley Jensen, Hannah Rowe, Rosemary Mair, Jess Kerr