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Analysis: Does India Women’s team need Mithali Raj in T20I format?

Though Mithali Raj lags as far as strike-rates is concerned, it is her consistency makes an impact in this format.

Mithali Raj
Mithali Raj. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Mithali Raj has been a pioneer of Women’s cricket in India as she has earned herself a spot in the top batting charts across formats. On Saturday, she missed the Women’s World T20 game against Australia which was the first Women’s WT20 game for India without Mithali in the playing XI. Despite her absence, India thumped the Aussies by 48 runs and registered their first win over them in five attempts in this particular tournament. India won the tournament opener against New Zealand that too without needing Mithali to bat.

It was also the first time that India Women defeated New Zealand in this event. This breeds a question if the current Indian team at all needs Mithali in the T20I format. The 35-year-old anchor’s the innings expecting the scoring others to push the scoring rate. However, at times, this could backfire and put free-flowing players on the other end under pressure. The game against Ireland was one of the cases as they had to settle down with 145/6.

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Mithali, who opened the innings, crawled to a 56-ball 51 with four fours and a six; her first maximum in the World T20 after facing 706 deliveries. The likes of Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and Harmanpreet Kaur all got out trying to score quick runs. After the game, the Indian skipper Harmanpreet talked about their one-dimensional batting and also noted the need to be aggressive.

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Does India need Mithali?

Following her knock against Ireland, Mithali justified the performance with a tweet suggesting that the pitch was slow and run-making was tough. However, during the mid-innings interview, Mandhana in the interaction said that they should have made 170 given the position they were in after the first six overs. Harmanpreet also agreed with her deputy and the duo proved it against Australia, a much better bowling attack in similar conditions.

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Since the start of 2017, Mithali has a strike-rate of 105.89 in the T20I cricket which is the lowest among the six Indian players who aggregate over 100 runs. The next lowest is 125.94 for Veda Krishnamurthy, well ahead of Mithali’s SR. Among the players who have scored over 500 T20I runs in Women’s cricket since 2017, Mithali’s strike-rate is at the bottom. In this period, India’s batswomen have a collective strike-rate of 120.06 which is the 3rd best behind England (129.93) and Australia (126.04).

India’s gradual rise as a power-hitting team in limited-overs has been mainly due to Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana. The inclusion of the young Jemimah Rodrigues who has attacking instincts helped India play aggressive cricket in ODI and T20Is. This again makes one wonder if Mithali and her old school batting are of utility to the team as India defeated top T20 sides with tactical batting.

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What’s next for Mithali?

Though Mithali lags in terms of strike-rates, it is her consistency that makes an impact in this format. Among the players with 300 Women’s T20I runs since 2017, Mithali has the 5th lowest strike-rate but also the 5th best batting average. Her experience could come in handy in the shortest format while playing on tricky surfaces. Currently, such pitches in Women’s cricket are found in only Windies which is hosting the ongoing World T20.

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In fact, she can bat at No.6 and help the team if the top-order collapses while going too hard. Mithali herself mentioned that this tournament could be her last World T20 event and the team management has to make a decision based on that. She can be a middle-order option in the T20Is after this event and should allow young batters to make most of the fielding restrictions.

(Stats as on November 17, 2018)

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