I watched part of the New Zealand v India World Cup game on Hotstar in a doctor’s waiting room. I don’t know what was more frustrating: India’s batting or the two-hour wait in the hospital chaos.

Turns out, I’m mostly fine. The Indian team definitely isn’t. I returned with medication. Who’s going to be treating the Indian line-up?

The next few paras, rather than an attempt at a diagnosis, are a complaint. Not about the loss — those happen. But about why following and supporting this team is so *grabs own hair* frustrating.

Yes, even when they win.  

Because they can play like Harmanpreet Kaur did on Thursday, with her fluent 71. Like Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana did last game against Pakistan in a match-winning seventh-wicket stand. Did you see Pooja’s and Jhulan’s yorkers at the death against New Zealand? Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s flight and guile? They were brilliant! At those times, India can be fun to watch. Exciting. Like they can win the whole bloody thing. As if they want to entertain.

Harmanpreet Kaur batting in the India v New Zealand match at the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup 2022.
India’s batting has been hit and miss. Photo: ICC

But at many times, like on either side of these performances, it’s like none of the things I just said are true.

This feels like a team that doesn’t know itself. 

We’re at a World Cup. They’ve had pretty good preparation playing South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand in the past year. The team/administrators/management have had five years to prepare for this moment. So why are we still watching an experiment? Why does it feel like they don’t know what their best XI, and the order of that XI, is?   

Two matches in, we’ve had as many opening combinations. Against New Zealand, Yastika Bhatia opened for the first time at international level. At No.3, there’s Deepti Sharma, who was already tried as a top order bat in 2017, and that plan abandoned midway through the World Cup that year after a sorry team performance against South Africa where the batting went nowhere, and then abandoned again in 2019. What has changed for faith to be put in her this time?  

At No.4 is not Harman, although that’s statistically her best position. Instead there’s Mithali Raj, consistency personified, but the second anchor in a row (and possibly the third on a bad day for the openers). So Nos. 3, 4, 5 are slow starters, and that’s what India are going with even though they’ve left out other candidates, arguably more in form, for the same supposed reason.   

And nobody seems to be convinced about what kind of cricket they want to play.

Against New Zealand, three left-handers occupied the top three spots. And New Zealand matched an off-spinner to them with little trouble. “It gives an advantage to the opposition tactically,” admitted coach Ramesh Powar. The batting coach too said after the game that India would probably relook that strategy. So great, another experiment.

India have accidentally stumbled into a bowling attack that somewhat works … when it works. Rajeshwari is in form with her left-arm spin, and although they have three off-spin options in Deepti, Sneh and Harman, the first two are fully effective in their 10. Meghna Singh as the second pacer is another experiment, but having begun it in October last year, at least it has some … erm … longevity. (Yes, two series; that’s how low the bar is for planning.)    

The coach speaks about process and plans. He says there’s work that’s been going on. He points out how the team scores 250+ more regularly now. He is happy with their preparation. “It is the pressure of the World Cup,” he said ahead of the West Indies game. “We messed up in the first 20 overs.”  

One-off, he seems to suggest. Except, it isn’t one off.

“I have been handed over a squad of 15, where I have a limitation of three openers,” he said defensively at one point, putting it on the players to perform. Except, it can’t be only on them, when there’s no clarity about positions or place.  

And that’s the point. India have limitations that have lingered for years.

The trouble is, as fans, we can disagree with many of these decisions. But anyone can argue for them too, because the alternatives aren’t great either. That’s what comes from building your team two months before a World Cup, at international matches, rather than at the domestic level, without a stepping stone between senior tournaments and playing for India. (No, the Challengers aren’t it.) Little wonder that selections seem ad hoc and rhythm is never really that.

The situation India are in is the result of a lack of planning, accountability and structure. Who’s going to fix it before it gets chronic?  


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