India's journey around Mithali Raj and beyond

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Mithali Raj has recently announced her retirement from the game and the team can now change its conservative approach in the future. They will now have an opportunity to fill her position in the team with an attacking middle-order batter and can line themselves up to play with an attacking mindset.

Women’s cricket has been slow in pace traditionally and also the games used to be low-scoring. Slowly the game evolved but still, teams score totals of around 300 on a few occasions. Countries like Australia and England are ahead in the number of power-hitters in the team currently. Also, the improved standard of fielding and teams concentrating on getting players with attacking intent in the team have reduced the gap between men’s and women’s cricket. Also, league cricket has upped the popularity of the game. 

Indian women’s cricket team has a long history and Mithali Raj has been part of most of the matches. India have played 295 ODIs winning 158 out of them and losing 132. One match was tied while four games didn’t produce any result. Mithali has played 232 ODIs for India out of 295 they played which shows her involvement in the scheme of things for a long time. The games used to be a low-scoring affair and so a number three who will play the maximum number of balls and stay at one end was crucial. Anjum Chopra played the anchor role many times as a middle-order batter for India when Mithali was in the early part of her career. Mithali’s role was more of an aggressor. 

The number three batter who used to play the anchor role has been a common link in the ODI team. After Anjum Chopra played that role for a major part after 2000, there was a shift occurring around 2009-10. Mithali was filling in the role becoming the senior batter in the middle order who often played match-winning knocks being an anchor. In recent years, she along with Smriti Mandana and Harmanpreet Kaur scored a major share of runs. The three important batters in the Indian team played contrasting roles. Smriti’s job was to give a good start to the team, Mithali was the backbone around whom other batters used to play with freedom and Harmanpreet was there to provide some big hits at the back end. 

Mithali was often criticized for her slow strike rate in recent times but it was also the fact that she stretched the Indian innings by staying at the crease till the end. She has driven in her arsenal and was technically solid but the cautious approach was there to ensure that team does not go through a batting collapse. Raj was playing her role perfectly, however, she failed to evolve her game according to modern times which had an impact on India's performance in the latest ODI World Cup.  

India women managed to win only three matches in the 2022 World Cup and lost four matches. They lost in the match against New Zealand while chasing 261 and were bundled out for 198. The reason was the lack of attacking intent from batters and there was another example in the game against England where they were all-out on 134 in 36.2 overs. The template used by the Indian team needed to change and the World Cup showed it very clearly. They had a lack of consistent and attacking players in the squad. Harmanpreet has been playing aggressive knock for the team regularly but no other batter was have been a consistent run-scorer except for Smriti Mandana. Mithali’s announcement now changes the whole setup as she played a key role in the structure. Also, this could be the opportunity for the Indian team to line themselves up in a way that they will have multiple players who can switch gears at any time. 

As Mithali Raj announced her retirement recently, she has left a void in the ODI setup. The question now arises that who will be India’s next number 3 and how the team will approach the upcoming matches. The opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Varma can do wonders for the Indian team as their batting styles complement each other. Shafali likes to attack from the start while Mandhana is one of the classiest batters on the field. The left-hander is also the main run-scorer for the team and so Shafali can play her natural game around her. 

Now since Mithali Raj has bid her farewell to the game, Poonam Raut can bat at one-down once again and the veteran player can be in the anchor role. Raut has scored 610 runs from 17 innings at 40.66. Yastika Bhatia doesn’t have much experience of batting below the top three, but he has shown a solid technique to bat in the middle order. Also, she has  371 ODI runs at 28.53 and a strike rate of 71.62 which indicates that she can play with attacking intent. With these top four, the Indian team can go for an attacking approach. 

Harmanpreet Kaur will be the obvious choice as she has the ability to switch gears at any time apart from being technically solid. Harmanpreet has scored 2982 ODI runs at 35.50 and a strike rate of 71.39. After these top five, Richa Ghosh and Pooja Vastrakar can finish the innings. Also, Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana can play as bowlers who have batting skills. Richa Ghosh has scored 186 runs in 9 innings at an average of 23.25 and a strike rate of 95.87. 

In the bowling unit, Deepti Ghosh and Sneh Rana along with Rajeshwari Gaikwad will form an incredible spin attack. Jhulan Goswami and Pooja Vastrakar will form the pace attack and also Harmanpreet can bowl so she will give some overs. However, if the team wants to have more pace bowlers they can include Meghana Singh in place of Poonam Raut. In such a case, Yastika can bat one-down and Deepti Sharma can walk in to bat at the fourth position as she has the batting skills to play a decent knock. Jemimah Rodrigues can be the backup option in the team for the top three. Also, a 19-year-old Muskan Malik from Uttar Pradesh performed well in the women’s senior ODI Trophy 2021/22 as she managed to score 364 runs from 7 innings at an average of 72.80 while batting at number three for her team. 

Overall, the team can now mould themselves into an attacking unit and can adjust according to the evolution of the game.

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