The home stretch is ahead of us. After a long wait, almost five years after their dream run to the final at Lord’s in 2017, there is another World Cup on the horizon for Mithali Raj and Co. But before things go down in mode 50, there is a solitary T20I to be played as part of India’s bilateral series in New Zealand, the venue for the next flagship event.
Indeed, there is no better preparation for a World Cup than securing international match time against their names in the country where it is taking place. And that will likely be the focus as the Indian think tank look to refine their preparations in a six-game limited series against World Cup hosts New Zealand, starting with the T20 in Queenstown on Wednesday.
The unique T20 is scheduled before the five ODIs from February 12. India will likely approach the game at 20 to get used to the conditions with the bigger World Cup goal in mind.
As for the fixture, all six matches have been moved to scenic Queenstown, to mitigate the threat of Covid-19 from travel. The Indian team arrived here after completing a 10-day quarantine in Christchurch.
ODI skipper Mithali Raj, who will not play the T20, said on Tuesday these matches will be used to determine their key players who will take part in the ICC event in March-April.
“It’s a different format. The team will be eager to win the game. That said, this T20 will also give a fair idea of wickets, how players face an open field,” Raj said in a virtual media interaction referencing windy conditions.
One of the important developments off the pitch that Mithali confirmed on Tuesday is that a sports psychologist is present on the tour with the Indian team. Mughda Bavare is the sports psychologist traveling with the team, PTI reported.
“I think every individual has their own way of soaking up the pressure, going out and playing their best cricket,” Mithali said, adding that: “Having a sports psychologist traveling with the team this time around helps. She has one-on-one sessions with the players to give them more time to figure out how to handle their pressures and find ways to absorb and play their best cricket.
Although Mithali said she has her own methods for dealing with prolonged periods of isolation and bubbles, she said these sessions will help everyone.
“It helps to have a one-on-one session with them because you see things from a very different perspective and it definitely helps you understand yourself to find your own ways,” she added.
Record H2H IND vs White Ferns (T20Is)
|Team||Carpet||INDIANA||New Zealand||Tied / NR|
|IND vz NZ set||12||4||8||0|
|Outdoor/neutral locations for India||9||3||6||0|
IND-NZ results in T20I (Outside India)
|New Zealand||52 tracks||Nottingham||June 18, 2009|
|New Zealand||10 races||Lowland||May 6, 2010|
|New Zealand||25 tracks||Bristol||June 25, 2011|
|INDIANA||3 counters||Aldershot||June 27, 2011|
|INDIANA||34 tracks||Providence||November 9, 2018|
|New Zealand||23 tracks||Wellington||February 6, 2019|
|New Zealand||4 counters||Auckland||February 8, 2019|
|New Zealand||2 tracks||hamilton||February 10, 2019|
|INDIANA||3 tracks||melbourne||February 27, 2020|
Eyes on the World Cup
T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, who has returned to serious batting form with success in the Women’s Big Bash League, will look to lead forward on Wednesday.
Although workload management has grown in importance in the time of COVID, Mithali has made it clear that it will be a secondary issue for them in all six games as it is important for fast bowlers to get used to the conditions.
“It will take them at least two or three games to get used to the conditions,” she said. “We are here to use this series as preparation for the World Cup because it is the best way to know the wickets and the composition that we will have next month. We want to put in our best level of cricket so that the team draws a lot of confidence when they enter the World Cup.
At this stage, playing time is paramount.
“We are playing to win but I am looking forward to giving the main players some playing time. It is important that they find their rhythm before the World Cup,” added Mithali.
New Zealand skipper Sophie Devine also insisted on testing a few players in the series against India. The White Ferns haven’t had the best of recent form in international cricket but the talent in their ranks is undeniable and their familiarity with the conditions means they are one of the hopes.
On the eve of the match, Devine called India the “sleeping giants” of women’s cricket and said playing them would be ideal preparation for the ICC showpiece.
“It’s interesting (how to approach the series). It’s about finding the right balance, the results are important, but it’s extremely important to create momentum for the World Cup. We also know that’s the “opportunity to test people in different positions. Whether the results suit us or not, we want to play the style we want to play. We want to be attacking and play to our strengths.
New Zealand were largely beaten at home in April last year by Australia in both formats, while their recent visit to England also failed to win a series.
The last time India were in New Zealand, they won the ODI series 2-1 but lost the T20Is 0-3.
The series will be played without spectators due to the COVID-19 threat.
Indian team for a unique T20I: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (Vice-Captain), Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (Wicket Keeper), Sneh Rana, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (Wicket Keeper ), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, S. Meghna, Simran Dil Bahadur.
New Zealand (via PTI): Sophie Devine (captain), Amy Satterthwaite (vc), Suzie Bates, Lauren Down, Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Fran Jonas, Jess Kerr, Melie Kerr, Frankie Mackay, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Hannah Rowe, Lea Tahuhu.
The match starts at 5:30 a.m. IST and will be live on Amazon Prime Video.
With PTI report entries.