MATCH ANALYSIS: India v Australia

After starting the World Cup with four wins in a row, India slumped to their second consecutive loss on Wednesday. At Bristol, they were defeated by a dominant Australia, despite a fighting century from Punam Raut, and a 69-run knock from Mithali Raj. The skipper also became the highest ODI run-scorer during that knock, and the first woman to score more than 6,000 ODI runs. But those marks meant little, as India now face a virtual quarter-final against New Zealand on Saturday at Derby.

Some of the key points in the game:

Different approaches from captains

The day before the game, Australian skipper Meg Lanning identified Smriti Mandhana as a prize wicket. Mandhana came into this game with three single digit scores behind her. So Lanning made sure to put her under some more pressure by opening the bowling with off-spinner Ash Gardener, who had never bowled at the top before.

Lanning also had three catchers, two in Mandhana’s sights – there was a short point to block her favoured backfoot punches, a silly mid-off, and a slip. The plan worked as Gardener dismissed Mandhana in her second over.

“We were keen to get a lot of fielders in their eye line,” Lanning said after the game. For much of the first 15 overs, she also had eight fielders inside the ring.

In contrast, when Lanning herself came to the crease, Raj brought the field up, but did not employ a slip. This despite leg-spinner Poonam Yadav bowling, and considering Lanning had been dismissed by away going bowlers twice in the last two innings.

Raj has been criticised for being a bit too defensive in her tactics in this tournament. In previous games against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, she had allowed the game to drift once India were in the driver’s seat, rarely employing slips or catching fielders in front of the bat.

Allowing spinners to dominate
On a wicket that was offering a bit of grip, Raj and Raut started slowly, allowing the Australian spinners to dictate terms. Till the first drinks break, the two finger spinners had bowled seven overs for just eight runs. It was only after the drinks that the batswomen started using their feet to get to the pitch of the ball, and manipulate lengths.

In trying to stabilise the innings after an early wicket, Raj played uncharacteristically slow, using up 54 balls for her first 20 runs, and finished on a 114-ball 69.

“I knew that I was taking a lot of time in the middle," she said, “but I was in a situation where I need to forego that, of my personal feelings of feeling bad that I’m taking many balls to get those runs, but at the same time, that was what the team required me to do,” she added.

Although Australia got the better of the batting conditions by batting second, the wicket was still offering some turn for the bowlers when India bowled. But Australia’s positive approach didn’t allow the Indian spinners to dominate, as they had against other teams. Lanning herself stepped out to the first ball she faced, and used her feet to hit her fourth ball for a six.

“I think if you sit there and wait for one to turn, you could be in trouble,” Lanning said. “All the batswomen took some good risks to keep the scoreboard moving. They weren’t outrageous shots, but they were able to put the pressure on the Indian bowlers.”

Wickets at the end

“It felt like they were trying to build the base, and explode at the end,” said Lanning of Raj and Raut’s 157-run partnership that took 223 balls. But the explosion never arrived. India lost 5 for 17 during the latter part of their innings, which slowed down their run-rate. If they were hoping for a blitz from Harmanpreet Kaur, they were teased, and then were disappointed. After striking a four through the leg-side, and smashing a six that went into the stands, Harmanpreet was stumped off Megan Schutt, who also accounted for Sushma Verma.

Fielding is an area of concern
Fielding has been a problem area for India throughout the tournament. In the first three games alone, they dropped eight catches. In their last game against South Africa, they allowed at least 10 runs on the field through misfields. Against Australia, there were some very basic mistakes.

While India did claim a wicket through a direct hit— once again from the arm of Deepti Sharma— they did also gift Australia some easy runs. On three occasions, Indian players were guilty of allowing the ball straight through their legs, twice giving away boundaries. Australia's outing in the field was exemplified by a stunning effort by Nicole Bolton in the deep, plucking a certain six out of the sky and throwing it in as she fell. It was quite a contrast.

This article first appeared on Firstpost


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