WWC 2017: India to battle Australia for a place in the finals
Bolstered by the mammoth 186-run win against New Zealand in their final Group game, a confident India, aiming to reach their second Women's World Cup final, have a daunting task when they face World Champions Australia in the second semi-final at the County Ground here on Thursday.
Going by statistics, Australia hold the upper hand winning three of the four One-day Internationals (ODI) against India, since the last World Cup in 2013, with the eight-wicket win in the group stages of this edition in Bristol, being the latest.
In the group stages of this edition, Australia won six of their seven games while India won five.
While England narrowly edged past South Africa in the first semi-final on Tuesday, the second semi-final promises to be an exciting contest as both India and Australia are expected to leave no holes in the make-or-break tie.
Going into Thursday's tie, India will once again hope for their skipper Mithali Raj to continue her purple patch along side the likes of Punam Raut, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy and Deepti Sharma, who have been amongst the runs throughout the tournament.
However, the sharp decline in form of opener Smriti Mandhana will be a cause of worry for the Indians. Mandhana, who turned 21 on Tuesday, started the tournament with scores of 90 and 106 not out, helping the team secure wins over England and the West Indies, but has subsequently been dismissed for 2, 8, 4, 3 and 13.
Her opening partner Punam, who scored a valiant ton against Australia in the league stage will aim to replicate her form in the big semi-final. She also is second behind Mithali among India's leading run-getters in the tournament.
Coming to India's bowling department, the hopes will be pinned on the veteran Jhulan Goswami and her partner Shikha Pandey. But considering Australia's left-handed opening combination of Nicole Bolton and Beth Mooney, Mithali could contemplate opening the innings with an off-spinner.
Not to forget the magical spell of Rajeshwari Gayakwad in the previous match, where she returned with her maiden fifer to tame the New Zealanders. The Indian spinners have done a commendable job, taking 36 wickets in the tournament so far.
On the other hand, the Southern Stars will count their hopes on skipper Meg Lanning, who single-handedly took the match away with a gritty unbeaten 76 in the league encounter. Meg, however has missed two matches in the tournament due to shoulder problems but has been among the top run scorers.
Besides the opening combo of Nicole and Beth and one-down Meg firing in unison, Ellyse Perry has provided the much-needed stability to the middle order, and chipped in with useful contributions.
Their bowling will revolve around the young pace duo of Megan Schutt and Ashleigh Gardner with Ellyse coming in as the first change. India will also need to carefully deal with the veteran leg-spinner Kristen Beams, who returned with the prized scalp of Mithali in the league stage match.
India: Mithali Raj (Captain), Smriti Mandhana, Punam Raut, Sushma Verma (WK), Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Mona Meshram, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Yadav, Nuzhat Parween, Deepti Sharma.
Australia: Meg Lanning (Captain), Alex Blackwell, Sarah Aley, Kristen Beams, Nicole Bolton, Ashleigh Gardner, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy (WK), Jess Jonassen, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Belinda Vakarewa, Elyse Villani, Amanda-Jade Wellington.