Quarter-finals normally come around towards the end of a tournament, but it may be that the 2018 ICC Women’s World T20 begins with what could be a potential quarter-final. Placed in the ‘group of death’ alongside Australia, Ireland and Pakistan, India and New Zealand are — barring a huge upset — pretty much fighting for one available semi-final spot. With this on their mind, the two teams will face off in the opening match of the mega event on 9 November at Providence Stadium in Guyana.
Traditionally, New Zealand have been the better T20I team, borne out by their No 2 ranking compared to India’s No 5, but recent form tells a different story. Of their last 10 T20Is, India have won seven, and lost two, with one match being washed out. Both India’s losses came in the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur against Bangladesh, after which the team has undergone a complete overhaul. A series whitewash over Sri Lanka, followed by another over Australia A and two victories in the warm-up matches, and Harmanpreet Kaur’s team looks in a good space.
For New Zealand on the other hand, the results haven’t been as good with four wins and six losses — five of which have been on the trot — in their last ten T20Is. After a promising start to the tri-series in England, New Zealand once again, stuttered in the final, going down by seven wickets. That was followed by a 3-0 series whitewash against Australia — their first T20I series loss against the arch-rivals since 2012.
New Zealand’s struggles against spin are no secret. The last time these two teams met, in the 2017 Women’s World Cup match at Derby, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the left-arm spinner, dismantled New Zealand’s top order to finish with figures of 5 for 15. Gayakwad’s accuracy, slowness through the air and purchase off the wicket had the opposition in a tangle — so much so that they were dismissed in the 26th over.
Although Gayakwad is not in this Indian squad, they do have great depth in their slow bowling resources: a problem of plenty almost. Poonam Yadav, Deepti Sharma, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht and Radha Yadav form the team’s spin contingent. Poonam, the leg-spinner, has been India’s best T20I bowler for a few years now. Much like Gayakwad, she is very slow through the air and forces the batswomen to create all the power in the shot, often getting them caught in the deep.
As has been their strategy for a while, India will probably to go into the match with at least four spinners and only one medium pacer. Looking at her performances over the last couple of months, it is likely that Radha will get the nod ahead of Bisht to join Poonam, Sharma and Patil as the fourth spinner in the Indian XI. The pitches in Guyana are expected to be slow and conducive to spin, so how New Zealand tackle India’s slow bowlers will be key to their performance. If anything, this match will be a case of New Zealand’s batting power against India’s spinners.
New Zealand rely quite heavily on Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine at the top of the order. The pair have been the most prolific opening partnership over the last year, scoring 655 runs in 14 innings. They have shared three century, and two half-century stands, including a highest of 182 against South Africa at Taunton. In the last 12 months, they have been their team’s best batswomen by a distance: Bates scoring 632 runs in 17 matches at an average of 52.66 and a strike rate of 136.20, and Devine with 539 runs in 16 matches at 35.93 and a strike rate of 150.13. Only Katey Martin (393 runs) and Amy Satterthwaite (332 runs) have managed more than 150 runs.
Both Bates and Devine are powerful players. They love pace on the ball, and enjoy hitting straight down the ground. Although on their day, both can dismantle any attack, neither is New Zealand’s best player of spin — that would be Satterthwaite. The New Zealand skipper uses her feet and a wide variety of sweeps to counter spin. She is very good at manoeuvring the field and uses her long levers to reach the pitch of the ball to try and smother any deviation off the surface.
New Zealand too have a spin-heavy squad — Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Anna Peterson, Jess Watkin and Satterthwaite the front-line options — but that is unlikely to worry India. Although Kasperek has been in splendid form and Kerr, the 18-year-old leg-spinner, is as exciting as they come, neither is the kind of bowler who can really trouble the Indian batswomen. For them, it is Lea Tahuhu and Devine, the pacers, who will be the biggest threat. Tahuhu’s raw pace and Devine’s swing and accuracy will be what New Zealand bank on for early wickets.
India’s top order looks in terrific form. Smriti Mandhana has hit a purple patch this year and will be hoping to carry that through the World Cup. Her aggressive intent, and desire to maximise the output in the first six overs, has helped India get off to blistering starts in the recent past. Mithali Raj has also been among the runs, scoring a century against Australia A before the team departed for the Caribbean. It is Kaur though, who will be the lynchpin in the batting order. In the recent practice match against England, Kaur smashed a 32-ball 62, including six fours and three sixes, and looks in ominous touch going into her first World Cup as captain. Anuja Patil and Jemimah Rodrigues have also been scoring heavily, but New Zealand will know that if they manage to run through the top-order, India have a rather soft underbelly.
New Zealand may be the higher ranked team, and have the head-to-head edge in T20Is (five wins in seven matches), but it is India who will go into the opening match on Friday as the more confident team. Recent form aside, it is the attitude and aggression that the younger Indian players have helped infuse into the team that will hold them in good stead. Domination is what Ramesh Powar, India’s head coach, called for, and dominate is what India will look to do.
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Smriti Mandhana (vice-capt), Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Tanya Bhatia (wk), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht, D Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy
New Zealand: Amy Satterthwaite (capt), Suzie Bates, Bernadine Bezuidenhout, Sophie Devine, Kate Ebrahim, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Katey Martin, Lea Tahuhu, Jess Watkin, Anna Peterson, Hannah Rowe