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1st ODI preview: The aggressive Harmanpreet Kaur's injury-forced absence is likely to be felt but a confident Indian women's cricket team will look to make the home advantage count when it squares off against England in a three-match ODI series starting here Friday.
Fresh from a decent outing in New Zealand, where the team won the ODIs but were blanked 0-3 in T20 Internationals, the Indian team continues its ICC Championships engagements.
The team has to hold on to its position in the top-four of the world rankings till 2020 to get direct qualification for the 2021 World Cup.
All the three matches will be played at the Wankhede Stadium and India would be firm favourites. The Mithali Raj-led outfit had beaten England 2-1 the last time the visitors were here, in 2018.
Raj, whose position in the T20 squad has created quite a bit of controversy in the past few months, is still at the top of her game in the 50-over format. The 36-year-old became the first woman cricketer to play 200 ODIs for India during the tour of New Zealand a few weeks back.
However, the hosts will miss her regular deputy and T20 captain Harmanpreet, who was ruled out of the entire series with an ankle injury. She has been replaced by Harleen Deol.
Although Harmanpreet was off-colour during the series against New Zealand, she remains crucial for India in its new-found aggression.
But ICC's woman cricketer of the year Smriti Mandhana and the young and sprightly Jemimah Rodrigues can be banked upon to provide the requisite spark. Mandhana, especially, was in top form in New Zealand and would be aiming to continue the fine run.
The team has had middle-order issues in the past and newly-appointed coach W V Raman would be keen to sort those out.
The home team's bowling has an all-round look with the pace attack being led by redoubtable veteran Jhulan Goswami and also comprising the likes of Shikha Pandey and Mansi Joshi.
With spin being a key element on Indian wickets, the role of slow bowlers Deepti Sharma, Ekta Bisht and Poonam Yadav in the middle overs would be crucial.
The England women, on the other hand, are no pushovers in the 50-over format. They have experienced campaigners in top-order batting, such as Danni Wyatt (746 runs in 61 matches) and 28-year-old Heather Knight.
Knight, with 2,331 runs to her credit in 86 ODIs, displayed good form in the practice game against the Board Presidents XI and would be expected to anchor the innings for the visitors.
With all-rounders like Sophie Eccelestone, experienced pacer Anya Shrubsole and accurate medium pacer Nat Sciver in the mix, England have the bowling attack to trouble the hosts.
Anya would also take confidence from her four-wicket haul in the warm-up game.
India Women: Mithali Raj (Captain), Jhulan Goswami, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), R Kalpana (wicket-keeper), Mona Meshram, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Shikha Pandey, Mansi Joshi, Punam Raut, Harleen Deol.
England women: Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Georgia Elwiss, Alex Hartley, Amy Jones, Heather Knight, Laura Marsh, Nat Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor (wicketkeeper), Lauren Winfield and Danni Wyatt.
With inputs from PTI
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