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In an article previewing the Indian Women Cricket Team’s tour of Australia, I proposed that we could be in for a treat. From the past three One Day Internationals, it seems I was right.
Australia emerged as winners from the tour’s initial matches, courtesy a 9-wicket thumping in the first game and a highly controversial no-ball decision in the second. India managed to scrape a two-wicket win in the third, ending Australia’s record-breaking 26-game ODI win streak. Because this tour will use a points-based system to decide the overall victors – where an ODI or T20I win is worth two points and Test match win four – Australia currently lead India 4 points to 2 in the entire multi-format series. A win in the upcoming test, starting on 30 September at Metricon Stadium, is therefore of extreme importance to both teams. An Australian victory would all but seal the tour in their favour, whereas an Indian success would make the ensuing T20I series a thrilling conclusion where all results are possible.
Going into this Test, each camp is in a slightly different state. Australia is currently beset by injuries and uncharacteristically weak performances. Opening batsman Rachael Haynes (whose first-match 93 kicked off the series in Australia’s favour) is doubtful to feature in Thursday’s game, with key names Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, and Ellyse Perry all currently restrained by India’s bowlers. Twice now have middle-order batters Beth Mooney, Ash Gardner, and Tahlia McGrath been forced to hold up the fort in their absence. They’ve done so magnificently, scoring almost half of Australia’s total runs across the two games they batted in. Perry aside, the bowling has also been reasonable. Wickets have been shared across the board, although sundries remain high – Australia’s bowling unit gave away 47 runs over the three ODIs (India, by contrast only conceded 20).
As that last statistic suggests, India’s current state is like a reversed version of Australia’s. Top-order batters Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandana, and Yastika Bhatia have each registered half-centuries and been part of substantive partnerships in the past two games. The fall of their wickets, however, always preceded collapse; India’s middle-order batters regularly fell for 40-50 runs (minus a fighting 63 from Mitali Raj in the first ODI). India’s bowlers have kept them in the contest where possible, but have been let down by sloppy fielding in the death overs. More than once now has the game slipped (or almost slipped) away from them because of tired legs or lazy ball collection.
In a somewhat comic sense, what this all means is that each team lacks what the other has. Australia needs the opening power of a Verma, Mandana, or Bhatia. India, by contrast, needs the stamina of a Mooney or McGrath. The only real point of commonality both teams share is that they have successfully adapted to the Queensland conditions and dealt reasonably well with the other’s bowling lineups. But those traits alone don’t win a Test match.
To fix their problems, India desperately need to rectify their match awareness. They definitely know how to play Test cricket well – having done so in Bristol just three months ago – but perhaps lack the strategic thinking and focus necessary to dominate the game. To instinctively know what needs to be done late on Day 2, or muster up the energy to steal victory on Day 4. If they put the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ together, like we saw they could in the third ODI, the Test could be theirs for the taking.
India’s tour of Australia is about to reach its climax, and it cannot be more exciting.
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