Home advantage is a recurrent theme in an India-Australia rivalry, as far as men’s cricket goes. The recent Test series was consumed by talk in the media of both countries about the pitches, and home conditions, and the rhetoric in print was bested only by the nastiness on the field. Now, three months later and 7,500 kilometres away, home advantage is providing a backdrop for yet another — but very different — India-Australia encounter.
India take on the defending champions Australia in the second semi-final of the ICC Women’s World Cup. The encounter will take place in Derby, India’s adopted home ground for the tournament, where India have played four matches, and won all four. India put up their two best scores at Derby — 281 against England and 265 against New Zealand. Australia, meanwhile, have never played there.
But conditions matter little if a team cannot make use of them, as India’s men showed in the first Test against Australia at Pune. So both women’s teams downplayed the location of the match, and focussed on the players themselves. "We know the wicket, the conditions, we know the outfield," said Mithali Raj, "But it is also about how the team responds to the conditions on that given day… Having a home advantage is good, but it is a small factor (when) playing against the best side."
India will take more confidence from the tangibles than the intangibles. Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy got runs in the last game; the pair struck their first half-centuries of the tournament when it really mattered, in a virtual quarter final against New Zealand. There are now six Indian batswomen with a score of at least 50 in the tournament, and that will reduce the load on Raj and Smriti Mandhana, who did the bulk of the scoring in the first couple of games. "I can play more positively tomorrow because I am confident that the batswomen coming after me have runs and the ability to take come along," aded Raj.
Mandhana has been under pressure, seemingly trying too hard to live up to the high expectations set after she scored almost 200 runs in the first two games. Since then, she has scored just 30 runs in the next five. The fact that India have now scored a 250-plus total without a significant contribution from her could help her play more freely too.
Win the toss and…?
The toss is likely to be irrelevant. Australia have preferred to chase after winning the toss in this tournament, only choosing to bat first against Pakistan. With their long batting order, they have backed themselves to chase no matter the score. With cloudy and chilly conditions forecast for Thursday morning, Australia choosing to bowl is even more likely.
India have been at their best when their bowlers are defending runs on the board, and they will like to have first use of the wicket, no matter the cloudy conditions. The wicket seemed hard and dry, and there should not be too much movement after the ball loses its shine, which is exactly what happened against New Zealand.
Australia haven’t really been at their best in the tournament, but have still won six of their seven games. Captain Meg Lanning has been nursing an injured shoulder, and has been rested in a few games, but that hasn’t stopped her from averaging more than 109 in partnership with Ellyse Perry. The pair also starred in Australia’s last win against India, both scoring half centuries. Lanning has scored 328 runs in the tournament, without batting in the nets; she has only been facing throw-downs.
"I don't think Lanning needs to be hitting any more balls in the nets," said Australian vice-captain Alex Blackwell on Wednesday, "She'll have no doubt about her ability to perform tomorrow."
Most disconcerting for India will be the way the Australians batted against the Indian spinners in the last game. They used their feet from the first ball, never allowing them to settle into a rhythm. Which is why Raj insisted that India will need to find a gear they have not touched before in the tournament.
"Obviously Australia is a very good side, defending champions, and a team that has been doing very well. To win against them requires us to give more than we have been so far," she said.
Australia are favourites, and they know it. Having had a squad training the previous day, they had only optional training on the eve of the match, which was attended by only four players.
For the good of cricket:
With 26,500 tickets having already been sold, a packed house at Lord's awaits the winner of this match. India’s strong start had much to do with that, as did home team England reaching the final in thrilling manner. With women’s cricket already well established in Australia, nothing would be better for global audiences and the growth of the game than an India-England final.
"I would love to be a part of that atmosphere," said Raj about playing a final at Lord’s, "It tempts me but I realise tomorrow is the game that can get us there, and it gets me back into now that we have Australia to play."
At ‘home’, India have a real chance.
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Updated Date: Jul 20, 2017 07:54:47 IST