Hamilton: After making a winning start to their campaign in the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup with a 107-run win over Pakistan, India will be seeking middle-order gains when they face New Zealand on Thursday at Seddon Park. The Mithali Raj-led side know Sophie Devine & Co. very well, after all the two teams faced each other in five ODIs at Queenstown in February, where New Zealand won 4-1.
"I am happy we won the first game but a lot of things to work on. When you lose wickets in the middle order, it does put a lot of pressure."
Mithali's words after India's big win over Pakistan conveyed a lot. Rarely after winning a match, the skipper of a side says about improvement points to be made in the same sentence.
In the match against Pakistan, India were in trouble at 114/6. Mithali, Shafali Verma and Harmanpreet Kaur failed to make substantial contributions. While Shafali fell for a six-ball duck, Harmanpreet and Mithali played a lot of dot balls and eventually got out for single figures. Smriti Mandhana got a fifty but was far from her usual self while Deepti Sharma reached to 40 but couldn't convert into a big knock.
It was a 122-run partnership between Pooja Vastrakar (67) and Sneh Rana (53 not out) that saved India from a likely loss to Pakistan. Youngster Pooja was solid in her stroke-play while the experienced Sneh gave nice support and ensured that India had a respectable total of 244.
In bowling, India's spin attack of Deepti, Sneh and Rajeshwari Gayakwad along with pacers Jhulan Goswami and Meghna Singh kept the lid tight on Pakistan. Rajeshwari, in particular, was brilliant in keeping the pressure up on the Pakistan batters and took four wickets in the process. Richa Ghosh made up for her single-score dismissal by taking four catches and effecting a brilliant stumping of Aliya Riaz.
But India will be knowing that New Zealand will not give any chance for a rear-guard act from the lower-order, which Pakistan did and would wish for the middle-order to be more enterprising, with experienced hands like Mithali and Harmanpreet chipping in with vital knocks.
On the other hand, New Zealand seemed to have got their campaign back on track. After suffering a surprise three-run loss to the West Indies, the White Ferns bounced back with a nine-wicket thrashing of Bangladesh in a rain-hit match.
Their opening pair of captain Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates have looked in great nick. Sophie, who didn't do much with bat in bilateral series against India, got a century against the West Indies which eventually went in vain. Suzie was in red-hot form when striking an unbeaten 78 off just 67 balls against Bangladesh at her home in Dunedin.
Leg-spin all-rounder Amelia Kerr, who was India's nemesis in the ODI series, is also at her best so as her elder sister, new-ball pacer Jess. Vice-captain Amy Satterthwaite has been in great touch with both bat and ball.
With an exciting match against the West Indies, the giant killers of the tournament, coming on March 12, India will be hoping to get the gains they seek apart from the crucial two points against a New Zealand side who have been their familiar foes since February.
India: Mithali Raj (captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Poonam Yadav.
New Zealand: Sophie Devine (captain), Amy Satterthwaite (vice-captain), Suzie Bates, Georgia Plimmer, Maddy Green, Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Fran Jonas, Jess Kerr, Melie Kerr, Frankie Mackay, Rosemary Mair, Katey Martin, Hannah Rowe and Lea Tahuhu. IANS