Smriti Mandhana's (L) injury seems to have opened the door for Priya Punia's ODI beginning.

Smriti Mandhana had fractured her big toe on the right leg during practice on Sunday (October 6), which has ruled her out of the three-match ODI series against South Africa – the first of which starts on Wednesday (October 9).

The extent of Mandhana’s injury is yet unknown. “There’s a bit of a mild fracture and a call will be taken on the basis of the assessment of the physios at the NCA. We’ll take it as it comes. It’s difficult to fix a timeline either way,” said WV Raman, India’s coach.

“She still needs to take the MRI as there is a bit of swelling, which needs to die down before the MRI can be done. Once that’s done an assessment will be done by the head physio at the NCA and whatever needs to be done post that will be done. We’ll get an update once we are aware of the extent of the injury.”

More than ruing their experienced opener’s absence, Raman saw it as an opportunity for the youngsters in the side. “Anybody and everybody who is a part of the squad is good enough to play. For those who are in the XI, every outing is an opportunity. So we can’t try and pinpoint who exactly it is an opportunity for,” he said.

“This is a young side, lot of youngsters are coming in and they should look at it as a opportunity and grab it with both hands.”

Priya Punia appears to be the frontrunner to take the spot vacated by Mandhana. “We do have a reserve opener in Priya Punia. If Smriti was fit I don’t think she would have been playing. So that place is covered,” said Raman, who himself has played 38 internationals for India.

Mithali Raj, the captain of the ODI side for India, also threw her weight behind Punia. “Players like Priya Punia have scored consistently in the domestic circuit. So she has an opportunity to grab and as a team we have an opportunity to give a youngster a go.”

Punia has so far played only three T20Is – all against New Zealand – for India and hasn’t really got going. If she takes the field on Wednesday, it will mark her ODI debut.

Pooja Vastrakar, the seam-bowling allrounder, had been drafted in as the left-handed opener’s replacement in the squad. The aim, it appears, is to give the youngster ample game time before the T20 World Cup early next year. Only that explains the call to replace a seamer with a bowling allrounder.

“We also tried to see the kind of allrounders we have had. That is why she (Vastrakar) has been drafted in. Let’s not forget Pooja will also come in handy in the shortest format,” said Raman, explaining the move.

Whether or not India miss Mandhana’s blitz at the top, South Africa’s bowlers will quietly be happy about it.

Sune Luus, South Africa’s captain was aware of the personnel India possess and hence, didn’t give into the talks of Mandhana’s absence making it easier for them.

“It’s still gonna be a competitive few games. Mithali Raj is coming back in, Harman (Harmanpreet Kaur) and (Jemimah) Rodrigues all are big names,” she stated. “We have got Marizanne Kapp coming back, Trisha Chetty, too. Lizelle Lee is playing well, too. We still believe without Mandhana being here, it is still going to be a competitive series.”

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