India beat both Australia and New Zealand (and two others) to top the points table of the group stage of the 2018 T20 World Cup and make it to the semi-final. Then they played England, who had finished second in the other group. The similarities between the 2018 and the current edition, thus, suffice to make Indian fans uncomfortable, for India ended up losing a one-sided contest.
Things may be different this time around. Heavy rain is predicted throughout the day. Remember, it had rained on the day of the BBL final as well. In the end, some superb work from the ground staff made a 12-overs-a-side match possible at the same Sydney Cricket Ground. However, given that the second semi-final will be played shortly after the first, the umpires will not be able to extend the match for long even if they want to.
A very short match, perhaps even five overs a side, could be on the cards. India started the tournament with three spinners before adding a fourth to their arsenal for the last two matches. It has worked for them till now — they have four world-class spinners, after all — but that may change depending on the weather.
Despite being traditionally conducive to spin, the SCG may not behave the same way with rain-induced moisture in the air. The outfield is likely to make the ball wetter, and, consequently, more difficult to grip (and impart spin), which means that the four-spinner strategy may backfire.
Remember, if the match gets reduced to under ten overs a side, all the fifth bowler needs to do is bowl one over. That can be done by Pooja Vastrakar (batting strike rate 125) or Harmanpreet Kaur. If India decide on the latter, one of Harleen Deol or Richa Ghosh may play to ensure the top order can go after the bowling from the first ball — something that will needed in a ten-over match.
What if it does not rain? One must remember that the Indian spinners had troubled everyone (including Australia and New Zealand) throughout the league stage in 2018 before they ran into England. The English camp had prepared themselves well, with senior assistant coach Ali Maiden going down on his knees to replicate Poonam Yadav’s low release point and flight.
Amy Jones and Nat Sciver, both of whom should feature in England’s starting XI, had handled Poonam beautifully. They did not try to force the pace (there were only eight fours and a six in an innings run rate of 6.75), went deep into the crease, letting the ball do its bit before working it away, often through empty expanse past mid-wicket.
Amelia Kerr went a step further earlier in this edition, scooping off the back-foot, then stepping out to meet the ball on the full. The same ploy may work against Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who, while not as slow and loopy as Poonam (who is?), bowls slower than both Radha Yadav and Deepti Sharma nevertheless. She may be the one to get the axe if India do pick a second seamer to add some variety to the attack, for there is little doubt that England will be prepared for the spinners yet again.
What about the English spinners? Sophie Ecclestone (15.1-1-49-8) and Sarah Glenn (16-1-68-6) have been as good as the Indian spinners in this tournament, and have choked one opposition after another in the middle overs. At least one of Smriti Mandhana and Kaur should ideally be out there when they bowl in tandem, even if that means a shuffle.
Changing the batting order at this stage may seem a risk, but the existing sequence has actually let India down throughout the tournament. As in 2018, this is likely to pose a serious problem. India had raced to 89/2 in the 2018 semi-final before folding for 112. Given the way the middle order (or even top order) has played here, things are likely to be any different.
The Indian batting has failed as a unit so far. Neither Mandhana nor Kaur has reached 20 in the series. Neither Jemimah Rodrigues nor Sharma has impressed since the Australia match, or Veda Krishnamurthy barring the cameo against Bangladesh. Shafali Verma, oblivious to both pressure and law of averages, has held the Indian batting together so far, but will this be one match too many to expect even of her?
A change to catch England off the wrong foot may be necessary. The ploy to promote Taniya Bhatia up the order has never worked out. It will be too risky to play a sixth batter (though Kaur, Rodrigues, and Deol all bowl), so Vastrakar may get a look-in irrespective of the duration of the contest.
But more importantly, India should give the bowlers something to defend (or be able to chase moderate targets), and for that they need to keep scoring till the end. The longer the duration of the match, the more significant this is unlikely to become an issue. It may not be a bad idea for Kaur to drop down the order and keep herself for the end overs.
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