Mumbai: India-Australia clashes are the dominant flavour of the cricket season nowadays. Like their male counterparts battling with the Aussies at home, Harmanpreet Kaur and Co too will lock horns with the Australian Women in the semi-finals of the ICC Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup 2023 in South Africa. The blockbuster match on Thursday will be a repeat of the 2020 T20 World Cup final – while defending champions Australia would be aiming for a hat-trick of Women’s T20 World Cup trophy, Indian eves would be bidding for their first-ever ICC title.
The key question ahead of the mouth-watering battle is – Can the Women in Blue upset Meg Lannings’ top-ranked champion side?
The head-to-head record between the two teams puts Aussies as firm favourites for the match as Indian women have won only 7 of the 30 T20is played between the two sides; Australia grabbing 22 wins while one match ended without a result. Even in their respective journeys in the present World Cup, Aussies have been more assertive, winning all their four games easily in the group stage. But in contrast, the Indian women dropped their vital game against England even though they won the other three group matches quite convincingly.
Nevertheless, with a great blend of youth, talent and experience, the Indians have the potential to grab the World Cup glory. In Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, India has two of the finest stroke makers in the game today though the skipper has been hardly at her best in the tournament until this moment. Scoring big, Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Richa Ghosh have been central to the batting fluency in almost all matches and if Captain Kaur and opener Shaifali Verma can come good, there’s no reason why India can’t set up a winning target or chase down a challenging total. If the top order lives up to its potential and fires, India’s chances of winning will get a big boost.
While the Aussies have functioned like a well-oiled machine through the group stage, Indian bowling has been severely tested in this post-Jhulan Goswami era. Despite Renuka Singh’s dream spell against England, the Indian attack lacked firepower but Team India would be hoping that pace veteran Shikha Pandey and all-rounder Deepti Sharma continue their fine form and restrict Aussie batters with a disciplined display.
Apart from bowling limitations, a major area of concern for Women in Blue is the long-standing dot-ball issue. Kaur has admitted India’s inability to rotate the strike is a big worry especially as Indians struggled with strike rotation even in the series against Australia last December and the Tri-series earlier this month. The problem persists in the World Cup as India had 51 and 41 dot balls in the Group games against England and Ireland respectively.
Obviously, improving strike rotation alone will help achieve greater aggression and a positive mind is a must in crunch games. Grafting for runs has brought about downfall at crucial junctures since the pressure induces going for improbable big shots, leading to the disastrous dismissal of key batters. Harmanpreet and Shaifali have been guilty of throwing their wickets with diabolical slogs and this mindset needs to be curbed in the knock-out games.
Despite past records and the odds being stacked in favour of Australia, Team India does have a few things going in their favour. The semi-final is at Newlands in Cape Town where India has played two of their four matches while it will be Australia’s first game on that surface. Familiarity with local conditions, especially the slow-paced wicket, could be a big plus for India. In addition, massive support for India at Newlands could give India a slight psychological advantage over Australia – a key factor as the result in crunch games often depends on which team handles the pressure better.
Moreover, in recent weeks, Indian women’s cricket has been in the news for a number of positive reasons – from the historic victory in the Women’s Under-19 World Cup to the auctions for the Women’s Indian Premier League (WPL). The morale in the Indian camp has been sky-high after all the leading players fetched big bucks in WPL. Hence, if there is one team that has come close to beating the mighty Australians in recent times, it is India as it was the last team to defeat the Aussies. Why even in the Commonwealth Games Final last year, India lost narrowly by just 9 runs!
If the glorious victory by Indian girls in the U-19 T20 World Cup last month and the emphatic wins by Rohit Sharma and Co over the Aussies in the first two tests are any inspiration, the ‘Women in Blue’ can surely surprise the defending champions. With both sides packed with top-quality batters and balanced bowling attacks, it could be a cracker of a contest. For Captain Kaur and her Blue Brigade, the World Cup semis is a tough but not impossible assignment. After all, sports history is full of stirring episodes of David beating Goliath!!