A rousing victory against New Zealand in their last league match will give India a measure of belief as they head into a semi-final against a dominant Australia side that seems to have all bases covered
A week ago, when India went down to Australia by eight wickets, the odds in favour of the two teams facing each other a second time this World Cup were seemingly low. While Australia had sealed a semi-final berth at a canter, India's fate was to be decided by a knock-out tie against New Zealand. In what turned out to be their most comprehensive victory in the tournament, a century from captain Mithali Raj, coupled with Veda Krishnamurthy's 45-ball 70, marshalled India to their fourth semi-final appearance in ten editions and their first since 2005, when they finished runners-up.
The volatility of India's performances has had a lot to do with their openers. Smriti Mandhana, who got India's campaign off to a flying start with a 90 and a hundred in consecutive games, hasn't been able to score in excess of 15 in the four subsequent games. Punam Raut, too, has made two substantial scores - 86 against England and 106 against Australia - while not scoring a fifty in her other five innings. But the one factor that has remained constant for India is Raj's resilience. While her strike rate hasn't been the most enviable, Raj's partnerships with Raut, Harmanpreet Kaur, Krishnamurthy and Deepti Sharma have been vital to India's totals, as have been her 356 runs at an average of 50.85, that contributed to her becoming the first Indian to score 1000 runs in the World Cup.
For Australia, though, consistency of the top order led to the side's six wins out of seven games. With one century and four fifties between them, the left-handed opening pair of Beth Mooney and Nicole Bolton has not only negated the shenanigans of the new ball but also laid the foundation for the other batsmen to capitalise on thereafter. That they bat as deep as No.9 has given Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry the freedom to play with abandon.
Equally instrumental to Australia's fortunes has been the variety and efficacy of their spin troika - Jess Jonassen, Ashleigh Gardner and Kristen Beams - who have taken 27 wickets between them, while conceding less than four an over each. Despite the spectre of uncertainty around the protracted pay talks with their board, Australia's performance on the field has been near-perfect, with their batting and bowling complementing each other perfectly even when they have been without Lanning.
Australia WWLWW (completed matches, most recent first) India WLLWW
In the spotlight
Through their seven league matches, Australia's brooding confidence as defending champions translated, almost seamlessly, into their incarnation as practical frontrunners to win the World Cup. Much of that transition has, unsurprisingly, coincided, with Ellyse Perry's imperious run of form - on Saturday, she became the only batsman to make five successive ODI half-centuries on three separate occasions. Perry's 58-ball 55 against South Africa was one of 20 fifties in her last 31 ODI innings. That run of form has earned her a career-best No. 3 spot among batsmen in the latest ICC Women's ODI Player Rankings. Her World Cup tally of 366 runs from seven innings is the second-highest in the tournament, and her returns with the ball - nine wickets and an economy rate of 4.62 - have helped her leapfrog West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor to become the top-ranked allrounder in the world for the third time in her career.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad came in to bowl, for the first time in the tournament, in the 12th over of New Zealand's chase. Even though the scorecard read 34 for 3, Sophie Devine and Amy Satterthwaite were still at the crease. By her fifth over, Gayakwad had dismissed both, and halfway into her eighth, she had wrapped up career-best returns, the best bowling figures in this tournament, and India's semi-final spot. Gayakwad was Raj's trump card against New Zealand, and will remain so against Australia. Unlike fellow left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht, whom she replaced in the side, Gayakwad bowls with genuine loop and guile, and could hold the key to slowing Australia down. When India last defeated Australia, in Hobart last year, Gayakwad bowled an important spell, taking two wickets including that of Lanning.
Lanning's troublesome shoulder forced her to sit out a second game in the tournament during Australia's last league match, against South Africa on Saturday. She was, however, seen taking throwdowns, albeit with a heavily strapped shoulder, as the team got its first training session underway in the County Ground. Chances of her not slotting back into the XI, and as captain, for the knockout clash are, therefore, slim.
Despite Lanning's inclusion, Australia may consider retaining stand-in captain Rachael Haynes, who has featured in only two games so far. Against South Africa, Haynes' left-arm medium-pace accounted for two top-order wickets off the only two overs she has bowled since the 2013 World Cup. With two golden ducks and one half-century in her last four innings, Elyse Villani's expensive part-time medium pace may not be enough for her to merit a selection ahead of fellow allrounder Haynes.
Australia (possible) 1 Beth Mooney, 2 Nicole Bolton, 3 Meg Lanning (capt), 4 Ellyse Perry, 5 Elyse Villani, 6 Alex Blackwell , 7 Alyssa Healy (wk), 8 Ashleigh Gardner, 9 Jess Jonassen,10 Megan Schutt, 11 Kristen Beams
Given the nature of the individual performances in their last group game, it is unlikely India will tweak their playing combination.
Mithali Raj considers Derby India's "home ground" and for good reason. They won each of their four round-robin fixtures at the venue, including the tournament opener against England and the semi-final qualification match against New Zealand. Australia, however, will be playing here for the first time in this World Cup.
India's undefeated run at the venue has largely been due to the spinners, who have capitalised on the two-paced nature of the pitch to take 24 out of India's 33 wickets here.
Stats and trivia
Perry's average of 91.50 is second only to Lanning's 109.33 in this World Cup.
Three Australian bowlers - left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen, legspinner Kristen Beams and medium-pacer Megan Schutt - feature in the top ten on the wicket charts. India, on the contrary, have none.
Among the India batsmen, Krishnamurthy boasts the best strike-rate, 110.86, trailed by Mandhana's 95.76.
Legspinner Poonam Yadav's economy rate of 3.45 is the best among bowlers in the tournament who have sent down 20 overs or more. Jonassen's 3.61 is the second-best.
India have won only eight out of their 42 contests against Australia, the most recent win coming in 2016, steered by half-centuries from Raj and Mandhana and a three-for from Shikha Pandey.
"I'm very impressed with the way India have played this tournament, from the very beginning in their match against England. They were very proactive as a team and I think they have a more aggressive approach to their batting". Australia vice-captain Alex Blackwell
"To win against them requires us to give more than we have so far, against Australia it is important that we are the best we can be as players". India captain Mithali Raj