Banking on Raj, Goswami in opener against Pakistan
We want to get the momentum going into the tournament, says India skipper.
The Women’s World Cup has begun, not with a whimper. If West Indies won an edge-of-the seat tie against New Zealand to start the competition, England ran Australia close on Saturday making South Africa’s comfortable win against Bangladesh an outlier. What better way to add to the bang than India taking on Pakistan in what is a tournament opener for both, at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui on Sunday.
India have never lost to their neighbours in the 50-over World Cup but go into this edition after a poor ODI series against New Zealand. Bowlers struggled in that 1-4 loss and batters found form late. Skipper Mithali Raj, in her sixth World Cup, was the most consistent batter with Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh and Deepti Sharma coming good in spurts. They will be tested by a formidable Pakistan bowling attack led by medium-pacer Diana Baig, one which can also count on the experience of off-spinner Nida Dar.
Fragility in the bowling could hurt India. The spinners have struggled and while Jhulan Goswami, in her fifth World Cup, is someone you can count on, the other quicks Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh and Renuka Singh Thakur haven’t adapted well to New Zealand. Goswami, 39 like Raj, is five short of 250 ODI wickets.
“We are not looking at it’s Pakistan we are playing against, we are looking at a team which has come prepared and we are equally prepared to put our best foot forward. We want to get the momentum going into the tournament,” said Raj on Saturday.
Kaur, the 2017 World Cup star and India’s T20I captain, has been struggling for form over the past three years but hit a match-winning hundred against South Africa in a warm-up game after an impressive half-century in the final ODI against New Zealand.
“It is important that Harmanpreet scores as she is one of the core members of the side. Also, she tends to play with the tail as well. With the game that she has, it is very important that she comes into form,” said Raj.
Pakistan and India will meet in an ODI for the first time since the 2017 World Cup but for Pakistan skipper Bismah Maroof, the game will mark her return to international cricket after two years. Maroof, 30, was on maternity leave since December 2020 and had a girl last August. She is accompanied by a support person, as part of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) new parental policy.
That Pakistan beat New Zealand in the warm-up game gives them confidence going into the match. “Whoever takes the pressure well and plays to their strength, that team will win,” said Maroof.
Pakistan have a settled bowling line-up and if the batters can complement them, they could make history. “We are hoping that in this World Cup as a batting unit, we can put up a good show. We have improved as a fast bowling unit, especially Diana Baig and Fatima Sana,” she said. Not having won a match in their last two 50-0ver World Cups, Pakistan’s target, Maroof said, is to make the semi-finals. “We have never made it to the knockouts of any World Cup across the two formats, but that does not mean that time will never come.”