For fans of Indian cricket here in Australia, there’s been little live action since January 2021. India’s historic win at the Gabba is undoubtably etched in our collective consciousness, but it’s no longer the flavour of the month. Overtaken by isolations, uncertainties, and the fatigues of daily case numbers, that Day 5 in January seems eons ago.
Thankfully, the end of our crisis appears to be in sight as vaccination rates increase daily and we incrementally re-experience the freedoms we once took so easily for granted – remember when Sydney Cricket Ground could boast of hosting the first international sporting event with a capacity crowd since the pandemic began?
The upcoming series between the Indian and Australian women’s cricket teams will be the first bite of a cherry Indian cricket fans in Australia are so desperate to taste.
With a T20 World Cup finals loss to avenge, a rare Women’s Test match, and an 8-month delay courtesy financial and COVID-19 concerns, the Indian team arrive in Australia with a lot to fight for. For the ever-increasing number of women’s cricket fans, and particularly those that follow the Australian and Indian teams, the multi-format tour set to start in Queensland on September 21 is as eye-watering as their last match-up 18 months ago.
But just how prepared is the team for the Australian conditions they now find themselves in? How has their squad developed since March 2020, and what should they look to do differently to contain one of the most dominant cricket teams, regardless of gender, of all time?
First, let’s consider the logistics of the tour. After a tour match on 19 September, to be played at Mackay’s Great Barrier Reef Arena, the two teams battle it out over a three-match ODI series at the same venue. Four days after the final ODI, the sole Test match of the tour (which occurs over four days as opposed to the men’s traditional five) is to be played at Gold Coast’s Carrara Stadium. Finally, a three-match T20I series on near-consecutive nights in early October, also at Carrara. This brings the whole affair to 21 days, 11 of which will feature international cricket. Ample opportunity to see India in action both live and online, but a hectic schedule for the squad by any standard. Hopefully they’ll have time to rest during their two-week quarantine, because they won’t be getting any once that’s done.
With respect to the two stadiums, neither team has played in them before; in fact, they’ve barely been used at all.
On the squads, confirmed only in late August, there’s no shortage of talent on either side. Australia’s 18-woman collective, only one of who featured in England’s new domestic hundred-ball competition aptly named ‘The Hundred’, is stacked with all-stars, multiple World Cup winners, and greats of the game. Many of them featured in the side’s most recent international fixture, a six-match series against New Zealand in April 2021, but game time has been non-existent since then. Though they will miss the services of top-ranked ODI bowler Jess Jonassen due to injury, it would be unfair to label them short-staffed or ‘rusty’ – they are coming off a 24-ODI and 3.5-year-T20I win streak after all.
India, by contrast, have kept themselves busy in the cricket scene. A substantial number of the current squad, similarly packed with household names, played in the one-Test, three-ODI, and three-T20 series against England over June-July 2021. Many of those players also stayed in the UK for ‘The Hundred’, which gave them a further month of limited-overs game time. Test and ODI captain Mithali Raj currently sits atop the Women’s ODI batting rankings, with 17-year-old Shafali Verma the top-ranked T20 batter (unfortunately, the ICC does not maintain similar lists for Women’s Tests). The team’s record, however, is less than optimal – the test was drawn, and both limited-overs series were lost 2-1 to the old enemy.
On those facts alone, it’s difficult to pick a stronger side. Australia has the record, but India has the immediate experience. Both line-ups are the envy of the women’s cricket world, and for good reason. Australia can be argued to have home ground advantage, but given the lack of familiarity regarding the pitches in use, it’s a minimal one at that.
What, then, can divide the two nations? How can one team gain the advantage over the other?
The answer, as it regularly is in modern cricket, is deceptively simple: psychology.
For even the most general cricket fan, it’s easy to say that Australia have the upper hand in this department. Last time the teams met, over 86,000 home fans packed in to the MCG to watch their veteran girls execute their tried-and-tested method of success yet again. The same names delivered (as they had done time and time before) against a side who were in the middle of unearthing their core of young superstars, who (along with their respective veterans) were comprehensively unprepared for the match ahead.
Yet, that conclusion negates the impact of the past 18 months. Thanks to The Hundred, which brought unprecedent crowds and media coverage to the women’s game, many of India’s girls understand how to deal with the mental battle playing in a foreign stadium brings. They know the challenges of playing on lush and bouncy Western wickets, because since 2020 most have spent more competitive playing time on them than those back home. In England, they’ve shown their ability to fight against top-flight cricket teams and cricket players for gritty hundreds and hard-earned five-fors. The past four months have allowed them to prove that they can take on a challenge, and there is no bigger challenge in cricket than Australia in Australia.
As a result, though on paper there is perhaps little to distinguish the Indian women’s cricket team from March 2020 to the one in Australia now, what makes this current squad so vastly different to the former is their mindset. Psychologically they are light years ahead of where they were last year, and contrary to 2020 they now have the confidence in themselves to get the job done. As the men’s team demonstrated in January, that’s the driving force behind cricketing success in this country – and why this tour will be more intense, more competitive, and more thrilling than any before it. We could be in for a treat of a tour.
CommBank Series Aus v India Schedule
Sep 21: First ODI, Great Barrier Reef Arena, Mackay
Sep 24: Second ODI, Great Barrier Reef Arena, Mackay (D/N)
Sep 26: Third ODI, Great Barrier Reef Arena, Mackay
Sep 30 – Oct 3: Test match, Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast (D/N)
Oct 7: First T20, Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
Oct 9: Second T20, Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
Oct 10: Third T20, Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
India squad for one-off Test & ODI series: Mithali Raj (C), Harmanpreet Kaur (VC), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Punam Raut, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Taniya Bhatia (W), Shikha Pandey, Jhulan Goswami, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh, Ekta Bisht.
India T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Shikha Pandey, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh (W), Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Renuka Singh Thakur.
Australia squad: Meg Lanning (c), Rachael Haynes (vc), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham
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