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Everything you need to know about Team India at the 2022 ICC Women’s World Cup

The greatest show in the women’s game is underway in New Zealand and the Indians are in with a fighting chance

Priyam Marik | Published 05.03.22, 03:55 PM
India’s women have never been world champions before, but are in with a decent shot in New Zealand in 2022

India’s women have never been world champions before, but are in with a decent shot in New Zealand in 2022

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“To miss out on that chance is something that will rankle forever” is how Mithali Raj, India’s iconic cricket captain, described her team’s narrow loss to England in the final of the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup. In front of a packed Lord’s, India had fallen just nine runs short of becoming ODI world champions. 

Five years later, Raj and Co. have the chance to go one better and create a watershed moment for the women’s game back home. Vying for glory with the Women in Blue in the 2022 ODI World Cup, which started in New Zealand on March 4, are seven other nations.

When are the Women in Blue in action?

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The World Cup follows a round-robin format, which means that all eight teams will face each other once, before the top four qualify directly into the semi-finals. 

India’s campaign begins on Sunday against Pakistan in what is now a traditional curtain-raiser for the neighbours at ICC events. The lowest-ranked side in the tournament, Pakistan should not pose much of a threat to India at the Bay Oval, but a much stiffer test is likely to await the Indians against the hosts on March 10. Seddon Park in Hamilton will be the venue for New Zealand’s game against India, which might be an early indicator of how far the Indian unit can go this time around.

India begin their World Cup campaign with a blockbuster clash against Pakistan on March 6

India begin their World Cup campaign with a blockbuster clash against Pakistan on March 6

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A relatively comfortable game against the West Indies, at least on paper, follows on March 12, once again in Hamilton, before India return to the Bay Oval for an attempt to avenge the 2017 defeat against four-time champions England on March 16. Arriving at the midway point of the tournament, the India-England contest could mark a decisive shift in fortunes for both teams, as both look to complete five wins in the competition as soon as possible to virtually guarantee a knockout berth.

Three days after squaring off against England, India meet Australia at Eden Park in Auckland. Six-time winners and firm favourites once again, Australia have hardly put a foot wrong since being knocked out by India in the semi-finals of the 2017 edition, when Harmanpreet Kaur hit a swashbuckling 171 not out. A recent bilateral series success against India will only give the Kangaroos confidence, although the Indians can also take heart from ending Australia’s 26-game winning streak in the series.

Six-time champions Australia are once again the team to beat at the World Cup

Six-time champions Australia are once again the team to beat at the World Cup

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India’s penultimate round-robin match sees them take on Bangladesh on March 22 in Hamilton, before going toe-to-toe with South Africa at the Hagley Oval, in what fans will be hoping does not turn out to be India’s last game at this World Cup.

The semi-finals are scheduled for the last two days of March while the final is slated to take place on April 3 in Christchurch. For those getting superstitious about dates, should India reach the final, it will be 11 years and a day to the men’s team clinching the World Cup in Mumbai, the last time India were world champions in cricket.

How have India fared at previous World Cups?

A curious statistic that many cricket lovers may not be aware of is that the Women’s World Cup precedes the men’s version, having been organised for the first time in 1973, two years before Clive Lloyd’s Calypso boys swept all before them in the inaugural men’s championship. India, however, competed in the Women’s World Cup for the first time in 1978, finishing a respectable fourth.

They would repeat the same finish in the next two installments, before a knockout format brought consecutive semi-final appearances in 1997 and 2000. A spirited campaign witnessed India reach the final in 2005, only to get annihilated by an imperious Australia at Centurion in South Africa. Another nearly year for India was 2009, when they finished third, but nobody could have anticipated the disaster that unfolded in 2013. Playing hosts, India crumbled under the burden of expectations and could only finish seventh in what endures as their most disappointing World-Cup run by far.

In 2017, India bounced back from the ignominy of the home World Cup by stitching together their most impressive displays in the history of the competition. The defeat in the final to England may have been heartbreaking at the time, but it has, in hindsight, served as a reminder of the potential of a country that is yearning to reach its full might.

The last time India played an ICC tournament, they were second best to Australia in the final of the T20 World Cup in Melbourne

The last time India played an ICC tournament, they were second best to Australia in the final of the T20 World Cup in Melbourne

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The players to watch out for

India enter the World Cup with one of the most balanced sides in the tournament and with a couple of warm-up victories under their belt. Their record in One Day Internationals since 2019 — 13 wins and 15 losses — does not inspire great confidence, but tournament form, as many champion teams from the past can attest to, can make for a different ball game altogether.

While there is no shortage of experience in the Indian squad — six of the current group started the 2017 final — the team also has its share of young stars. But who are the ones who will carry the lion’s share of the responsibility? Here are the five key players to watch out for.
 

Mithali Raj

Mithali Raj’s batting may not be as reliable as it once was, but she still has what it takes to churn out the big knocks

Mithali Raj’s batting may not be as reliable as it once was, but she still has what it takes to churn out the big knocks

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Nobody has scored more runs than the Indian skipper in the history of women’s ODIs and only four players have bagged more in World Cup cricket. Ranked number two in the world and as the most-decorated batter in her team, Raj will be on a mission to get things right in 2022 after her 409 runs in 2017 could only secure a second place. The World Cup should also see Raj overtake Belinda Clark’s record of 23 games as captain on the grandest stage, though the most important feat for Raj would be to match Clark by holding the trophy aloft come April 3.


 

Smriti Mandhana

Before her win last year, Smriti Mandhana was also the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2018

Before her win last year, Smriti Mandhana was also the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2018

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The 25-year-old southpaw has been India’s most consistent batter over the past three years, aggregating 859 runs in the time with one century and seven fifties. Alongside the explosive hitting of Shafali Verma at the top, Mandhana will be entrusted with giving India the perfect base from which the likes of Raj and Kaur can dictate play during the middle overs. Every World Cup winning team has relied on at least one run machine of an opener in its journey to the title, and for India, there could be no safer bet in this role than the Mumbaikar who was named the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year in 2021.


Richa Ghosh

Richa Ghosh is one of the best pinch-hitters in the Indian lineup but will have her work cut out behind the stumps

Richa Ghosh is one of the best pinch-hitters in the Indian lineup but will have her work cut out behind the stumps

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India’s wicket keeper-batter may be just 18, but she has already accumulated two years of cricket at the elite level after debuting against Australia in 2020. A clean striker of the ball ever since her junior cricket days in Siliguri, Ghosh has experience of playing Down Under following her stint with the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash League. Her average of 43 in ODIs is outstanding, and should she be able to score anywhere near that rate in the World Cup, India should be in good stead when it comes to posting formidable totals on the scoreboard.


Deepti Sharma

Deepti Sharma has cemented herself as India’s foremost allrounder

Deepti Sharma has cemented herself as India’s foremost allrounder

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The fifth-best allrounder in the world in the current ICC rankings, Sharma, still only 24, has already represented India in more than 100 limited-overs games. The ease with which she can play a match-winning role with bat and ball makes her a precious asset for the Indian team, as does her nerveless composure during clutch moments. There is little doubt that Sharma will be the fulcrum around which India’s late overs revolve in both innings, and if past performances under pressure are anything to go by, she will not let her teammates down.


Jhulan Goswami

 Jhulan Goswami will lead the Indian attack for possibly the final time at an ICC tournament

Jhulan Goswami will lead the Indian attack for possibly the final time at an ICC tournament

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The highest ODI wicket-taker of all time, the “Chakda Express” will take the field for a fifth World Cup in New Zealand, in what is surely her last shot at the greatest prize in the game. With 36 scalps in 28 matches at a sensational average of 20, Goswami has always brought her best to the World Cup, and based on recent evidence against Australia, she is not far from reaching her staggeringly high levels right now. As the spearhead of the Indian attack, Goswami will have to be used judiciously by Raj, for managing her energy and excellence will be instrumental to India’s World Cup chances.

Can India go all the way?

On paper, India are the fourth best team on the planet, which, reductively speaking, should make a semi-final spot a reasonable expectation. But championships are not played on paper and a lot will depend on when and how the Indian team can peak.

The format means that India can get away with a slow start, although the way the fixtures are stacked, India would rather not rely on a late comeback to make it to the knockouts. A quick look at the form index for the other teams leaves three sides in a league of their own. Australia are always a shoe-in for the final at these events while defending champions England should be there and there about. Darkhorses New Zealand have benefited from the postponement of the tournament from 2021 and will also be among the challengers. 

For India to make history over the next month, the Blue Brigade will have to punch above their weight against the three main contenders, while ensuring they do not slip up against the rest of the field. Expect India to make it to the last four, beyond which seizing the day is all that counts. With the hopes of a billion spurring them on, the triumph of all triumphs may be unlikely, but it is certainly not impossible.

Barring a surprise dip in performance, India should be able to make it to the last four in New Zealand

Barring a surprise dip in performance, India should be able to make it to the last four in New Zealand

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Last updated on 05.03.22, 03:55 PM
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