What’s at stake?
When they take the field in the first ODI on Saturday (February 12), India are likely to be without the ICC Cricketer of the Year 2021, Smriti Mandhana, as she is still in MIQ as mandated by the New Zealand government. Pace bowlers Renuka Singh Thakur and Meghna Singh are also still in quarantine and the visitors might have to field the same pace attack as the T20I in the 50-over format as well.
From the outside, the absence of two bowlers with only three ODI cap between them – all of them belong to Singh, for Thakur is yet to make her debut in the format – shouldn’t matter much. But ahead of the tour and in recent times, much of the talk around Indian bowling has invariably focused on their inability to find support for the ever-reliable Jhulan Goswami.
With Shikha Pandey finding herself out of favour, the series would serve India with an opportunity to test the backup bowling options ahead of the World Cup. Unfortunately for them, it’s unlikely to happen during the first match of the series and if they were to field the same attack that they had in the T20I, Simran Dil Bahadur –a travelling reserve for the global event – will be making her debut in ODIs alongside Goswami and the much-improved Pooja Vastrakar to complete the pace bowling unit.
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The hosts have no worries as such, for their pace battery is a combination of experience and youth. They have their leader Lea Tahuhu in good form – even with the bat for that matter – and she will be looking to target India's batters with her pace. But it’s not just Tahuhu, New Zealand have someone like Jess Kerr, who can swing the bowl prodigiously, in their arsenal along with the young Rosemary Mair and Hannah Rowe. Allrounder Hayley Jensen can pitch in too if necessary; they have all the bases covered in this regard.
Like with the Pandey omission, New Zealand’s decision to opt for 17-year-old Fran Jonas over the wily Leigh Kasperek raised some eyebrows. But with Amelia Kerr returning, it’s unlikely to be that much of a headache. Amelia showed no signs of rustiness as she bamboozled India's openers with her skills in the T20I.
With both teams looking to finalise their playing XIs ahead of the World Cup, the focus will also be on the batting. Like Mandhana, southpaw Amy Satterthwaite also didn’t feature in the one-off T20I as she was rested. With Satterthwaite all set to be back, New Zealand's middle order will be further bolstered with Amelia expected to slot in at number five. Their bigger worry will be finding an opening partner for Suzie Bates as Lauren Down has struggled in recent times.
On the other hand, Mandhana’s absence will be a body blow for India. The 25-year-old has been India’s best bat since the World Cup in 2017, amassing 1444 runs at an average of 55.93 and a strike rate of 90.93 from 30 matches. But it’s also an opportunity for the young batters in the line-up. Yastika Bhatia, who did the role in the T20I, might come out once again to open with Shafali Verma. Skipper Mithali Raj is expected to replace S Meghana in the middle order.
Despite both teams needing to iron out similar flaws, the challenges will be different. Most of the New Zealand players are coming out of a busy domestic season, while the T20I was India’s first outing out of quarantine. Regardless of how the match goes, they will also be looking to use these games as an ideal preparation for the World Cup – a luxury which the other six teams won’t have. If these two teams make it to the knockouts, we will look back at these five-matches to find what they did right.
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What they said:
“I have worked hard on new-ball bowling as I struggled in England and Australia at the start in that aspect. I had a word with the coaches and senior players and that helped me. It’s a dream for every bowler to play in Australia, New Zealand, and England. I have been doing a lot of single wicket practice. I am focused on my process,”
- Pooja Vastrakar on the improvements in her bowling.
“I think it’s great to have a strong seam attack in the squad and we also offer our different strengths, which I think is really valuable. With Lea being the most experienced, she is great at helping out. We all get together well, just being able to bowl together in the nets, those little discussions are really good. We all offer something a bit different, which is really awesome,”
- Jess Kerr on New Zealand’s pace attack.
Players to watch out for:
Jess Kerr: Older of the Kerr sisters, Jess has emerged from the shadows of Amelia and has made a name for herself in recent times. With a hooping inswinger as her main weapon, she will look to target India’s top order and Bhatia will do well to watch how the 24-year-old got fellow left-hander Beth Mooney to nick behind with an away going delivery during their series.
Harmanpreet Kaur: That seminal knock of 171* from the World Cup 2017 has increasingly been made to look like an albatross around the neck because of her indifferent form in the format in recent times. After missing the ODI leg of the Australia tour due to injury, the allrounder will be looking to take her WBBL form – where she was the Player of the Tournament in the seventh edition – to the longer format and provide India with much-needed impetus in the middle overs.
Head to head: New Zealand 28 – 19 India
. Suzie Bates’ 122 against India in Chennai in 2007 is still the highest individual score in ODIs between these two sides.
. Jhulan Goswami has picked up 41 wickets against New Zealand from 27 matches at an average of 19.78.
India: Mithali Raj (c), Yastika Bhatia, Shafali Verma, Harmanpreet Kaur, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Pooja Vastrakar, Simran Dil Bahadur, Jhulan Goswami, Rajeshwari Gayakwad
New Zealand: Sophie Devine (c), Lauren Down, Suzie Bates, Amy Sattherwaite, Amelia Kerr, Maddy Green, Katey Martin (wk), Lea Tahuhu, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Hannah Rowe