'England's bowling attack not strong' - Mithali
England Women are heavily reliant on their premier quick bowler Katherine Brunt and do not possess a strong bowling unit, says Mithali Raj, the India Women captain. The hosts will take on the defending champions in the biggest clash in Group A of the Women's World Cup at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium, whose batting-friendly pitches have opened up the tournament, Raj believes.
England were shocked by unfancied Sri Lanka a day ago at the same ground, going down by one wicket in a last-ball finish. Their batsmen recovered from a poor start to post 238, but their bowlers could not contain Sri Lanka, especially the rampaging Eshani Kaushalya, something that has encouraged Raj and India. "I think England have got a very good batting line-up but I don't think they are very strong in their bowling attack other than Katherine Brunt," Raj said. "They heavily depend on her for the breakthroughs.
"We have played England last year as well and most of our batsmen are very comfortable playing their bowlers but then again, I would say tomorrow is a different day. We are expecting all kinds of situations and we are prepared for anything." England have won seven and lost 17 ODIs to India in India.
Raj praised the Brabourne groundsmen for preparing a flat, "concrete-like" wicket, saying it had narrowed the gap between a top side such as England and a weak side such as Sri Lanka, whose successful chase of 238 was the highest ever in the Women's World Cup. "I did tell you the other day that the tournament was open because each and every team is scoring heavily, more than 200-plus, and they are able to chase, so definitely the tournament is open after yesterday's upset," Raj said.
"I give a lot of credit to the groundsmen for preparing a very batting-friendly wicket. It really doesn't give the bowlers much but the batters have a lot to score on and unless you make a mistake you can't get out on such a track. It is hard and like a concrete wicket.
"Now teams like Sri Lanka, Pakistan or South Africa seem a lot confident because they keep playing many games among themselves and when they come into the World Cup, getting a track like this gives them a lot of confidence."
While India's opening win against West Indies came under lights, their match against England will be a day game, starting at 9 am local time. The early start would not make too much difference, Raj felt. "I don't think there is a lot to get adjusted to because this part of the country is humid. It's not real winter like what we get to see up north where there is the dew factor or the moisture is heavily in the air. But having said that, because the matches start at 9 am there will be a little bit of assistance for the bowlers which I saw in yesterday's game. Other than that I think the wicket is behaving beautifully in both the innings.
Raj said the morning start would not change the approach of the India batsmen given the nature of the pitch. "I would definitely tell my girls to be very positive and very confident. I think playing a day game will not affect us much because what we saw yesterday was that the ball was not doing much, [except] maybe the initial four-five overs, but other than that I think it was the same throughout the day."
There was a lot of support for the hosts against West Indies from the small, but noisy, crowd. Poonam Raut, the India opener who hails from Mumbai and made a half-century that day, was a favourite, with her family and friends cheering every run she scored. "You feel good when there is a match on your home ground," Raut said. "There is a bit of pressure but it feels good that there are supporters for you. I am glad they came to see the match. And they had good wishes for me and had expectations which I fulfilled. I hope that I can play the tournament like that for them and the country."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo