The talking point since the squad announcement has been the absence of Jemimah Rodrigues and Shikha Pandey, two players who were expected to be around. The selectors have not spoken , but according to Powar the decision was taken jointly by Raj, him and the five selectors.
Upon being asked if their experience will be missed in the World Cup, Powar said, “Not really because at the end of the day, five selectors, captain, coach, they have discussed all the players. And we came out with the 18 players who can play better in the New Zealand series as well as the World Cup. If you look at it, you can’t pick everyone. There’s only 15 players and three stand-bys. We were looking at a lot of things and Renuka (Singh Thakur) and Meghna (Singh) were doing well. If they are doing well, they are going to get their chances in the upcoming matches.”
Powar also made a point on how effectively he had communicated what roles each player was going to play. “At the end of it, seven of us got together and picked the right team, I guess that matters. And whoever is not there in the team, they know why they are not there. The communication from the captain, coach and selectors, this is not a one-time thing. It has been done for a long period of time. At least, for the last six months I was very clear about their roles and I told them what is expected out of them. At the end of the day, we are in a competitive atmosphere, if you perform, you get your chances. If you don’t, you don't get the chances,” Powar said.
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The absence of Pandey has created an issue of inexperience in the pace-bowling department. Apart from Jhulan Goswami, the three pacers who have been picked, Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Singh Thakur and Meghna Singh have a collective experience of 13 ODIs. Being asked about this, Raj backed the trio, hinting at the fact that their recent form was taken into consideration.
“They might lack the experience but Meghna has done well in the Australia series. Jhulan as an experienced bowler in the setup, can work very well with these youngsters in this series. As far as Renuka is concerned, when I saw her in the Australia series, she came out as someone who is very competitive. She had a good domestic season with the ball. Sometimes it is also important to give players an opportunity when they are in rhythm and performing,” Raj said.
Among other pressing issues, the performance of the spin bowling department, which in the past has been pivotal in India’s success, was something which was questioned. Deepti Sharma averaged 76.80 while Poonam Yadav averaged 88.25 with the ball in ODIs in 2021. Powar, though, went ahead and brushed aside the concerns.
“As far as the spin department is concerned, they have been very consistent. And they have been doing very well. When the fast-bowling battery is performing, the spin-bowling department will look very different. So, they have supported the bowling well in Australia. They will come good because Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Poonam Yadav have been consistent with their performances in the last few years,” Powar said.
Upon being asked if the Australia series saw the team address the strike rate issue and get better, Raj explained that why the conversation around strike rate isn’t worth as much as it is made out to be. The Indian captain added that it's more important to play the situations, rather than worry about the strike rate. Depending on the game, you may have to play faster or slower for the benefit of the team.
“Isn’t too much importance given to the strike rate by you all. Because it is always spoken when it comes to batting or putting up big scores. I just wanted to know if you all follow the strike rates for only the India players or the players from other countries. Because if you give me an opportunity to enlighten, during the Australia series, the game that Australia won, Beth Mooney scored her fifty of 80-odd balls but she went on to play a match-winning innings for her team,” Raj said.
“According to me, cricket is a game played based on the situation on the ground. Yes, it is important that we keep in mind that we have a healthy strike rate, but at the end of the day it is about how a batting unit revolves and the depth of the batting unit in our team. So, when we have to score 250 or 270, we need to try to have a healthy strike rate. But having said that, we will not only entirely focus on strike rate. It is important to play an innings to win and build partnership and that happens not because of strike rate. But because you apply to the situation on the ground. Sometimes you have to play fast, sometimes you have to play to get your team out of the hole too,” Raj added.
Upon being clarified the question was around development seen during the ODI series in Australia, the Indian skipper talked about how the team is planning to get bigger totals in the World Cup.
“Well there are always areas to address in any team, no team is perfect. We will be looking at putting up totals like 250, 270 consistently. And that requires the top order to score runs and be consistent. Something which we were happy about was the contribution of the lower order like Jhulan, Pooja Vastrakar, Sneh Rana. So, it is very good to see them all contribute. That brings depth in the batting order,” Raj said.
India will be playing a five-match ODI series in New Zealand starting from February 11. They will open their World Cup campaign on March 6 against Pakistan.