“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu
How does a team prepare to face an opponent that is well known, and at the same time unknown? That is exactly the challenge faced by India women skipper Mithali Raj and coach Purnima Rau as they begin their tour of Australia, where they will play three T20s and three ODIs.
Australia, arguably the most high profile female cricket team in the world, will be looking to claim an astonishing fourth consecutive World T20 title this March. Their captain and star all-rounder are among the most recognisable faces in women’s cricket. And despite all the stats, the videos, and the data available on them, they are a largely unknown quantity for Raj’s India. For nothing can substitute the experience of having faced an opponent. And India have only played Australia in 9 T20s and 11 ODIs over the last 8 years, testament to the fact that India in particular- and women in general- play too few matches. This is only one of the hurdles the women in blue must overcome on what is certain to be a tough tour.
The last time an Indian women’s team toured the antipodes was back in 2009, for the ICC Women’s World Cup. India finished third, beating the hosts twice in the tournament, including the third place playoff. The team will need to draw inspiration from those results, as they remain the only ODI wins India could muster over Australia since 2007. Australia boast an 8-1 win record over India in the T20 format as well, and start the tour as clear favourites.
Both teams will come into the series fresh from their respective domestic competitions, but the Indians will be short of match practice in Australia. The only warm up game on the tour, against the Governor-General’s XI, was washed out after only four overs. On the other hand, the Southern Stars (as the Aussie women’s team is known) will ride into the series on the back of what has been an annus mirabilis for them. First they reclaimed the women’s ashes in England. Then Cricket Australia translated the investments they have made in women’s cricket into the hugely successful inaugural Women’s Big Bash League. The WBBL saw record crowds, televised matches with soaring viewership, in response to entertaining and competitive cricket. In turn, the interest and media coverage in this next series is likely to be unprecedented. The three T20s -all double headers, to be played before the men’s games- will be broadcast live on free to air television in Australia, and on Star in India. The subsequent three ODI’s will be live streamed on the Cricket Australia website, and will form part of the ICC Women’s Championship, which determine team standings for the 2017 Women’s World Cup in England.
The ICC Women’s Championship, which took off in august 2014, gives women’s ODIs the context that the men’s one-dayers sorely lack. It follows a system similar to football’s World Cup qualifiers, albeit with teams playing for rankings, not qualification. It stipulates that each team will play at least three bilateral ODIs, home or away, with every other team in the top eight. It thus guarantees a team at least 21 games over a two year period. The top four sides will automatically qualify, while the bottom four will have to play a qualifying tournament to determine their rankings. Australia currently top the table with eight wins in nine games, while India are at seventh position with just two wins from nine games. One wonders how much more entertaining men’s bilateral ODI cricket would be, if the matches were aimed at qualification for ICC events, not just filling the coffers of the two boards.
“We all know Australia is a much stronger opposition than what India will be, but how the results come out will show the development of Indian cricket from the last time they played Australia”, Anjum Chopra, former India Captain, told Firstpost recently, reiterating what the statistics tell us. But India have the talent to cause an upset or two. Here are a few players who could make an impact this series:
Jhulan Goswami: The veteran fast bowler has had to wait six years to bowl on the quicker Aussie wickets again. She uses her height to hit the deck hard, and will be the cornerstone of India’s bowling on this tour. It will therefore be imperative that the other pace bowlers provide able support.
Smriti Mandhana: The teenage southpaw opener led from the front in the domestic T20 matches, and finished top of runs table with 224 in 7 matches. With batting being a worry for India, much will depend on how she can support the likes of experienced campaigners Raj and Harmanpreet.
Harmanpreet Kaur: The swashbuckling right hander has fond memories of Australia, having made her debut in the 2009 World Cup. In her first innings, she had announced herself on the world stage with some bold hits against the hosts. If she finds that kind of form again, India’s chances will receive a big boost.
Australia on the other hand, will rely on a batting line up that is in fine form to dominate the tourists. Skipper Meg Lanning has finished as the WBBL’s highest scorer, and will be the prize wicket for the Indian bowlers. They will also need to watch out for the explosive power of Grace Harris, who has muscled her way into the squad. Harris struck the only hundred in the WBBL and finished at the top of the strike rates table. Vice captain Alex Blackwell also, in her typically understated manner, has collected more than 300 runs in the WBBL.
On the bowling front, the Aussie team has picked six pace bowlers in their T20 squad, including uncapped left armer Lauren Cheatle, who has impressed in the WBBL. Their ODI squad too features five fast bowlers, including star all rounder Ellyse Perry. In stark contrast, India have once again picked only three quick bowlers on an away tour, and packed the side with spinners (four in the ODI squad and five in the T20). The difference in approach to squad selections underlines what Meg Lanning has said about the Indian team. “It's probably a different style of cricket that they play. They have a fair few spinners, they bowl a bit differently”, she said. “It's going to be a good challenge for us”
“Everything is not about the result; it’s also about the process. I'll be eagerly looking at what the processes are”, added Chopra, speaking about this tour. The processes are exactly what India will need to focus on, while making adjustments for foreign conditions.
To continue the Sun Tzu quote, “If you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one (battle).” India, faced with a foe they are unfamiliar with, will rely on playing to their strengths, namely the spinners. If the batting comes to the party, India may do a lot better than ‘win one lose one’.
Southern Stars T20 squad: Meg Lanning, Alex Blackwell, Lauren Cheatle, Sarah Coyte, Rene Farrell, Holly Ferling, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Naomi Stalenberg
Southern Stars ODI squad: Meg Lanning, Alex Blackwell, Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Sarah Coyte, Rene Farrell, Holly Ferling, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy, Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt
India ODI women’s team
Mithali Raj (capt), Jhulan Goswamy (vice capt), Smriti Mandhana, MD Thirushkamini, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Shikha Pandey, Niranjana Nagarajan, Sushma Verma, Kalpana R, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Raut, Poonam Yadav, Sneh Rana
India T20I women’s team
Mithali Raj (capt), Jhulan Goswamy (vice capt), Smriti Mandhana, MD Thirushkamini, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Shikha Pandey, Niranjana Nagarajan, Sushma Verma, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, VR Vanitha, Anuja Patil, Deepti Sharma.
T20Is – Jan 26 (Adelaide), Jan 29 (Melbourne), Jan 31 (Sydney)
All Live on Star Sports
ODIs – Feb 2 (Canberra), Feb 5 (Hobart), Feb 7 (Hobart)
Live stream on Cricket Australia website
The author, Snehal Pradhan, is a former women's international cricketer and represented India in 6 ODIs and 4 T20Is. She tweets at @