Lack of bench is a major concern for India.

Veteran pacer Jhulan Goswami on Wednesday completed his 10-over quota with a stunning economy rate of 3.70 in the fifth and final ODI against South Africa. He did this even when his left hand was heavy and he suffered an injury after a difficult catch at mid-off.

This was the first time the 38-year-old Bengal player put the team’s interest ahead of him. She has been India’s front-line bowler for almost two decades and is unlikely to pass anyone in the current lot.

In the batting department, skipper Mithali Raj, 38, and her deputy Harmanpreet Kaur have been in charge for over a decade and a half for more than 32 years, playing big innings and celebrating India’s famous victories.

But as they enter the twilight of their careers, the question is being asked as to what lies ahead for Indian women’s cricket, especially after losing 1–4 in a five-match ODI series with hosts South Africa. Some reasons are obvious – lack of playing time due to the Kovid-19 restrictions and the resulting war – while some of the less obvious reasons are insufficient planning for the men’s team, and fewer opportunities to play competitive cricket.

All these issues have become more relevant now as India will aim for a good performance in the World Cup to be held in New Zealand from March 4 next year. In the last 44 years, India have finished runners-up twice in 2005 and 2017, losing to Australia and England respectively.

Introspection has become necessary following the defeat of the ODI series against South Africa if India is to become a formidable force in the upcoming World Cup. Veteran Punam Raut was on top with 263 runs, scoring an unbeaten 104 in the fourth ODI. He was followed by captain Mithali Raj (210), Harmanpreet Kaur (160) and Smriti Mandhana (147). In bowling, Goswami and Rajeshwari Gaikwad took eight wickets each. Pesar Mansi Joshi and part-time Offi Kaur took three and two wickets respectively.

Captain Raj and head coach WV Raman admitted that lack of playing time was the biggest reason for the team’s low-level performance. We need some camps in the future because we were inferior. We tried to improve our batting match, but it didn’t make much difference.

He also said that India’s spinners need to work hard. South African batsmen were also attacking against Indian spinners. We were outstanding on the field while we were patchy.

Coach Raman said that the players lacked playing time and are low on mental stamina and cricket fitness. It is very simple, the girls lacked playing time, and they were clearly inferior in terms of mental stamina and fitness of cricket. It is not easy to come back after 15 months and play a one-day series and maintain the focus and intensity required to bring the opposition under pressure. Therefore, these things happen. It is for the players and the best teams.

Although the coach said the bowlers were not enough, he refused to blame the series’ defeat on them. I think what probably did not go in our favor was that the bowlers could not be consistent but there is no fault as it was expected.

Anjum Chopra, the former captain of the Indian team, underestimated the well-groomed Indians. He (SA) has been playing cricket for a long time and was well prepared before taking over the Confidant in India. Therefore, such a result was highly anticipated.

Over the past decade, South African women cricketers have improved beyond imagination and this is the result of their continued performance. Most of their girls were part of the Big Bash League and did their homework before coming to India, saying, in my view, it is not that India played poorly, but South Africa played better cricket.

We need enough competitive cricket for our women and they should learn to score 280-300 runs in ODIs as it has never happened with the Indian team.

Chopra praised Raj, Kaur, Mandhana and fast bowler Goswami for their service to Indian cricket for a long time, saying these players were doing well, but there was no one to replace them. Look at our bench strength, the next generation should bear the responsibility well and they should dare to change their seniors by giving them good performance.

Chopra, now a commentator, also said that the Indian women’s team also needed “overall good support” from everyone. Unlike men’s cricket, where the calendar is well prepared in advance, our women cricketers are not clear about their next ODI series, so it is impossible to expect a change overnight.

We do not have any future plans at the moment. Our domestic cricket is not regular. If there is no competitive cricket for them, how would we expect them to perform well against foreign teams.

Former Indian medium pacer Amita Sharma, who is now the coach of the Delhi team, blamed the selectors for dropping the veteran Shikha Pandey for the series. Leaving Shikha Pandey was a bad decision. He is experienced and fit to share the new ball with Goswami.

He said, ‘If the spinner had failed, there would have been no Plan B. The team management should have churned something out on this, he said, “I hope they learn from their mistakes and make corrections.”

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