India take on Australia in the second semi-final of the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 and rest assured, there'll be more drama than a soap opera.
India's previous meeting with the defending champions in the league stage didn't quite go according to plan. After labouring to a modest total of 226, they ran into Australia’s superstar duo, Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, and their unflinching openers. It is hard enough stifling one of them.
Soon faced with what was a virtual quarter-final, India came back gloriously to rout New Zealand by 186 runs in their final league game in Derby.
And by doing so, they’ve set up another intriguing contest with six-time champions Australia in the second semi-final. South Africa made sure to put England through their paces in a riveting first semi-final. Similarly, Mithali Raj’s women will have to play out of their skins to make sure Lanning and Co don’t walk all over them.
So, let’s take a look at some of the key battles ahead of Thursday’s semi-final at Derby:
Smriti Mandhana vs Megan Schutt
India’s left-handed opener Mandhana stormed into the tournament with stellar performances against England and West Indies. She made a match-winning 90 against the hosts in the opener and eclipsed it by scoring an unbeaten ton in the following game against the Caribbean women in a dominant chase. But since then, her campaign’s tapered off with four straight single-digit scores and a 13 in the last match against New Zealand.
If she has to redeem herself in the semi-final, she must first last the first 10 overs (which she hasn’t done in the last five matches). Her biggest test will be to counter the threat of Australian right-arm fast-medium bowler Megan Schutt.
Schutt was the leading wicket-taker in Australia’s victorious 2013 World Cup campaign with 15 wickets in seven games. She may not have tyrannised the opposition teams in this edition, having taken nine wickets in six games at an economy rate of 4.41, but Mandhana and her fellow opener Punam Raut have to brave out her opening spell. Also an effective death bowler with clever variations, Mandhana and the rest of the batswomen surely must do their homework to negate her impact.
Mithali Raj vs Kristen Beams
When she’s not reading Rumi or skipping rope, Mithali Raj is busy creating elaborate symphonies with the sweet sounds of leather on willow. The Indian team's batting mainstay has had a productive tournament so far, to say the least, amassing 356 runs in seven games. Prolific as ever, she’s scored three fifties and made a fine century in a winning cause in India’s last league fixture.
In her previous game against the Aussies, she went past England's Charlotte Edwards to become the leading run-scorer in women's ODIs. Only her individual exploits were soured by an overwhelming defeat.
While the Australian batswomen steamrolled the Indian bowlers, it was their bowlers who set it up by restricting the usually assertive Indian batting line-up to an easily surmountable target. The leg-breaks of Kristen Beams, ably supported by the left-arm spin of Jess Jonassen, kept Raj quiet by not allowing her to rotate the strike easily or score fluently. Bowling to a leg-side field, Beams continued to flight the ball asking the Indian skipper to steer the ball against the turn. Having clearly struggled, in an attempt to up the ante, Raj looked to make room but couldn’t get underneath the ball and popped a return catch back to Beams.
Beams 1 Raj 0
It took Raj 114 balls to score just 64 runs and Kristen, having won the first battle, must be buoyed with confidence ahead of Thursday’s sequel.
Deepti Sharma vs Ellyse Perry
Two of cricket's most prodigious talents — Deepti Sharma and Ellyse Perry — will also face-off in the second semi-final.
One is a 19-year-old who smashed her way into the record books with the second-highest score (188) in women's ODIs — a knock including 27 fours and two sixes. She's also the youngest Indian cricketer (male or female) to take a five-wicket haul.
The other, at the age of 16, became the youngest person to play cricket for Australia. A month later, she also made her debut for the Australian football team. She is the first person to have represented Australia in both cricket and football World Cups.
Deepti has continued to impress with each game she plays with the bat or ball. In this tournament, she has already scored 177 runs at an average of 35.4, including two fifties, and claimed nine wickets with her more-than-potent off-breaks.
Meanwhile, Perry continues to do her thing. Her purple patch with the bat extends as she has already made five consecutive half-centuries in the tournament averaging over 90. Strangely, an ODI century still eludes her and there’s no better time to produce one than in the semi-final.
Though her batting seems to have upstaged her bowling, she’s still taken nine wickets in the seven games till now.
It will be interesting to see who wins the battle of the all-rounders come Thursday.
Jhulan Goswami vs Nicole Bolton
India not only has the highest run-scorer in one-day cricket but also the highest wicket-taker in the format. But unfortunately for India, Goswami has not made a mark yet in the tournament having taken only five wickets so far. Against the formidable Australian top order, it is up to the veteran to provide the vital early breakthroughs.
The Australian openers have been prolific, paving the way for the rest to capitalise on. They have piled together 568 runs in the tournament with the bespectacled left-handed Nicole Bolton leading the way. She has already made a century and a couple of fifties but they have been overshadowed by the performances of Perry and her skipper.
She will look to continue her good form in the semi-final while Goswami will look to spoil the Australian party.
Ekta Bisht vs Meg Lanning
Australia will be playing at Derby for the first time in this tournament on Thursday while India have played there four times in the league stage. So, India will look to take advantage of their familiarity with the conditions. None more so than the crafty left-arm orthodox spinner Ekta Bisht.
If India have a chance of trouncing Australia, it will depend on Bisht’s ability to suffocate the Aussie batswomen and replicate her performance against the Windies women. She is India’s leading wicket-taker in the tournament and her biggest target would be Australia’s captain Meg Lanning.
Lanning is as dogged as her childhood hero, Ricky Ponting, and matches his appetite for runs. She became the fastest to reach 11 ODI centuries — bettering the records of Hashim Amla and Virat Kohli — by taking only 59 innings to reach the landmark.
In a group stage match, Australia were left reeling after Chamari Atapattu’s sensational 178. However, a seemingly unperturbed Lanning, walked into the middle after Mooney’s dismissal in the second over. What followed was an innings of the highest order as Australia cruised to the target with 37 balls remaining.
When Australia lost their openers in the previous clash against India, the twinkle-toed Lanning, joining forces with Perry, neutralised the Indian spin threat with masterful footwork.
The only problem Lanning faces though is a recurring shoulder injury which sidelined her for the second time in the tournament.
Australia will wait with bated breath hoping their skipper proves her fitness before the all-important semi-final.