India loves to play against Australia. It can be fair to say that India vs Australia series is among the top world cricket rivalries (both men and women). It certainly gets the best out of the Indian women team. Inside that dressing room when an Indian team is preparing to come out against the green and gold outfit, there is a different feisty feeling. You know as a player that things will be competitive out there and the contest will be hard fought. Nothing will come easy.
That is an Australian team for you. They play their cricket hard and are very competitive. They have been world champions and are a top cricketing nation. 6 times ODI world cup winners, 5 times T20 world champions - they have a phenomenal record in the women's game. The Aussie women's team has been a top-notch side and hence, you know if you do well against them, it contains value.
Australian women made history by reaching a world record winning streak of 26 ODI matches continuously. The winning streak came close to being broken in the 2nd ODI vs India before an outstanding run chase by Australia showed their Aussie mettle. India had to quickly turn around in a day and half to regather themselves and come out with the same venom to disturb the winning cart. It needed a special effort by India to pull off their highest-ever run chase victory.
The ICC women's cricket world cup is in New Zealand in March-April, 2022. The Australian team looks in stupendous form to target their 7th title. They have a very good bench strength that has been given an opportunity and are delivering well. The present world champions England are not too far behind either. Their recent success against India followed up by a convincing series win vs New Zealand (both at home) indicate that they are serious contenders too. A few new players are in the mix for England too and there is brewing a healthy contest to make it to the playing eleven.
This Indian women's team wants to make things happen. With youth being infused quite regularly, there is no comfort zone for anyone. They realise that only a strong performance will hold them in good stead. Sneh Rana, who made a comeback into the Indian team recently, reminded yet again with her match winning contribution that she is a player that needs to be persisted with in the eleven.
Jhulan Goswami might be an old war horse but she is still continuously showcasing her match winning abilities. Knowing her, she would not have taken the loss in the 2nd match vs Australia lightly. She would have blamed herself long enough for that loss and thinking all day about that no ball. (Only if, if that ball had not slipped out of my hand, we would have levelled the series) would have been her thought. I feel happy for her - that she got to hit the winning runs in the last over to get India the win in 3rd ODI.
India women team have their own challenges. They have been short of match practice. They got into the South Africa series in February at home, played in England in June and now an ongoing series with Australia. The gap between the international series has been wide. It comes back to bite more when you realise that there is a newish look to this Indian team. Practicing skills is very important but testing them repeatedly is crucial too.
I was there in the Indian dressing room when we lost in 2005 to Australia. A chasable target in Centurion. In 2017 again, India missed out Lords. In the T20 world cup, poor implementation destroyed their chances of making it to 2018 final. In 2020, when they got to the final in T20 world cup, they could not handle the stage in a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground.
These players need more game time. A strong preparation and more game time like this are likely to make them more familiar with situations. That feisty approach will propel the team further.
(The writer is a former captain of Indian women's cricket team. The views expressed are personal)