A crucial series for India, New Zealand eves (Preview)

Bengaluru, June 27 (IANS) History favours India as they take on visiting New Zealand in a five-match women’s One-Day International (ODI) series beginning here on Sunday, but the immediate priority for both teams is to pick up points that will help them qualify for the 2017 World Cup.

The series, in which only the results of first three matches count towards qualification for the World Cup, is part of the eight-team ICC Women’s Championship. The top four teams based on points will gain automatic qualification for the 2017 World Cup while the other four will be involved in a qualifying competition.

India are currently at the bottom of the table on three points, and just one behind New Zealand. A 3-0 result will help India jump to fourth spot.

India have not lost the two bilateral home series against New Zealand who drew 3-3 in 1984-85, and lost 1-4 in 2003-04 when the current head coach Haidee Tiffen led the squad.

Thus, going into the current series, India, led by their most consistent batter Mithali Raj, fourth in the ICC rankings, will be hoping to emulate the performance of their peers 12 years ago. In that series, Raj, then only 21, stood out with scores of 32, 38 not out, 59, 46 and 30, in the five matches.

While Raj, who was conferred the Padma Shree award earlier this year, will be a key player, much of India’s hopes also rest on their new ball bowler Jhulan Goswami who is No.1 in the ICC rankings list, and all-rounder Harmanpreet Singh who is a place below Raj in the batting list and one spot ahead of Kiwi captain Suzie Bates.

The Kiwis also have two batters inside the top 20 rankings in Amy Satterthwaite (14) and Rachel Priest (17), both of whom will be looking to improve their rankings.

However, the rankings will be of little significance given the stakes involved in the series that is expected to revolve around not just the batters but spinners as well.

On the eve of the game, Raj said: “This series is vitally important as we bid to improve our standing in the Women’s Championship, and we know that we will be facing a well-drilled and talented New Zealand side.

“Our preparation has been good and there’s a positive feeling in the squad that we can turn around our form and get the win. If we can execute our game-plan and play a consistent brand of attacking cricket, then we are confident that we can cause the White Ferns some problems.

“There are some new faces in the squad and we believe that they will supplement our squad for this series and going forward as well. There’s a huge incentive for teams to perform well in this series and we’re focused on the task at hand.”

The Kiwis will be going into Sunday’s game high on confidence after a commanding win in the warm-up game Friday against India ‘A’ when most of their batters displayed good form while the spinners came into their own to dismiss the hosts for a low score.

Bates said: “We’re really excited to be playing in India, and with it being a home series for them, they will be tough especially in their own conditions.

“Last year, we learned from going over to the West Indies after our winter and not having as much preparation as we would have liked. It’s great that New Zealand Cricket have supported us by sending us over a week or so earlier to get out in the middle and bat in those conditions.

“It’s really different coming from batting indoors to batting on grass, so we are exciting about getting the few days training under our belt as a team.

“We know that the ICC Women’s Championship points come in the first three games, but we also want to win the five-match series. Winning the first three games is massive for qualification for the World Cup in 2017 and those are the three games that the team wants to win.”

The teams (from):

India: Mithali Raj (captain), Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Niranjana Nagarajan, Shikha Pandey, Kalpana R., Sneh Rana, Poonam Raut, Deepti Sharma, M.D. Thirushkamini, Poonam Yadav.

New Zealand: Suzie Bates (captain), Kate Broadmore, Sophie Devine, Natalie Dodd, Maddy Green, Georgia Guy, Leigh Kasperek, Morna Nielsen, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Rachel Priest, Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu.

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