Why India didn’t use Mithali Raj as opener against New Zealand
Ramesh Powar has only recently joined the Indian women’s team as the head coach, but his impact on the team can be noticed straight away. India’s batting order in their inaugural WT20 game yesterday against New Zealand was totally changed in comparison to how it used to be in the past.
The general notion in T20 cricket is you send your slow batters up the order so that they don’t suck the momentum of the innings in the middle phase which is the reason why India has been using Mithali Raj as an opening batter in the T20 games, but yesterday while batting first against the White Ferns, India slotted Mithali at no. 6 and eventually didn’t use her at all.
So what was the logic behind that? What was the logic behind slotting Mithali who is arguably the slowest in the XI in terms of her strike rate at no. 6? The modern-day T20 cricket is actually highly tilted in favour of chasing. While you chase and know the target, things become easy because you can set the tempo of the innings according to the required run rate, you exactly have the idea what you require.
But while you are batting first and setting a score to the opposition, sometimes you are clueless about the tempo. You are not sure what exactly is the par score and what’s enough to be successfully defended. In such a scenario, when you are not sure about the tempo, the ideal way to go is to go hard at the top so that you end up getting a few extra than the par score rather than fall short of the par score.
If Mithali was sent to open yesterday, she was going to take her own sweet time which she usually does and that wouldn’t have enabled India to gain that early momentum that they eventually managed to gain. India might have lost early wickets, but their approach against New Zealand was first class. Three batters who batted ahead of Mithali were Tania Bhatia, Jemimah Rodriguez and Dylan Hemalatha and all of them batted with intent which is the reason why despite losing early wickets, India never fell behind in the game and were never catching up with the par run-rate.
The skipper Harmanpreet Kaur obviously walked in at no. 5 later and blasted one of the most audacious T20 centuries ever to make sure India went well past the par score, but it was all about the approach at the start, the way the top order batters set the innings up.
If obviously the plan had faltered and backfired and India, say, would have been reduced to 5 for 3 or 10 for 3, then they had Mithali down the order to stabilize the ship and get them to something respectable, but they didn’t want that to be plan A. They didn’t want to aim only for something “respectable” to start with. They aimed high, they aimed a score of 180 plus and with the correct approach and correct decision-making, they managed to get there.