After a dream start of four wins in four games, a heavy defeat to South Africa leaves India needing a win against Australia or New Zealand to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
India began WWC17 by setting their highest total in an ODI against England. That total (281) was built on strong partnerships for the first three wickets (144 at 5.36 RPO, 78 at 4.97 & 59 at 7.86 respectively). India’s senior batsmen, Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur batted at #3 and #4 in the batting order.
In India’s subsequent games, Raj has batted at #4 and Kaur has batted at #5 or #6 with allrounder Deepti Sharma inserted at #3. India’s highest total in their subsequent games has been 232 vs Sri Lanka and their average run rate has been 3.95.
The reasons for this change of batting order are hard to fathom, especially after analysing Raj and Kaur’s career statistics.
Raj’s career innings are fairly evenly split between batting in the top three (86 innings) and batting at four or lower (77 innings).
None of Raj’s career centuries have come at below #3 in the batting order and she makes 50+ scores at a rate of one every 2.53 innings in the top 3 compared with once every 4.05 at #4 or lower.
Raj’s record needs filtering to provide a strike rate because she started her career before balls faced were routinely recorded in women’s ODIs. It’s more useful to filter in any case, as run rates have changed so drastically since the start of her career. Since the 2013 World Cup Raj has exclusively batted between #3-5 but there remains a marked difference in her record when batting at #3 compared with lower in the order.
The difference between Raj’s average at #3 and that at #4-5 is narrower in these results but she’s still scoring far more (39.67%) runs per innings at #3 (50) than she is at #4-5 (35.8). The extra time at the crease afforded by batting at #3 (an average of 67.75 balls per innings at #3, as opposed to 52.67 at #4-5) also seems to aid her strike rate by allowing her to ‘catch up’ on slow starts.
Harmanpreet Kaur is the only woman in ODI history to score more than one century batting at #4 or lower. Both of those centuries were made from #4 in the batting order.
The disparity between Kaur’s record at #4 and that at #5 or lower has become greater since the 2013 World Cup.
As individuals, there’s no doubt which batting positions are better for Raj and Kaur’s statistics. Their individual success is also reflected in India’s results.
Raj’s exceptional record in ODI chases – her average of 65.07 is only beaten by Lanning (20+ innings) – is built on her performances when batting in the top 3.
Conventional wisdom suggests batting lower in the order would result in a greater proportion of not outs. This isn’t the true of Raj in run chases. In the top 3, Raj averages 87.15 and has finished unbeaten in 17 of 36 chases (47.2%). At #4 or lower she averages 46.82, finishing unbeaten in 15 of 38 innings (39.5%).
Again, India’s win/loss record when Raj bats in the top 3 during a run chase is better than when she comes in at #4 or lower.
Opener Smriti Mandhana also seems to benefit when Raj comes in at first drop. India’s record chase vs New Zealand (221), at Benagaluru in 2015 was built on a strong 2nd wicket partnership between Raj & Mandhana (124). Raj & Kaur then finished the chase with a 3rd wicket stand of 48* from 40 deliveries.
During India’s 2016 tour of Australia, when Mandhana so impressed her hosts, she and Raj shared a 150 partnership (the highest for India’s 2nd wicket) on the way to India’s record ODI total vs Australia. That match ended in defeat but in the 3rd match of the series Mandhana & Raj combined for a 2nd wicket partnership of 58 before Raj & Kaur shared a 3rd wicket stand of 71 from 77 deliveries. The result was India’s highest successful chase against Australia (232) and their first win against them since 2009.
India’s five highest 2nd wicket partnerships have all involved Raj coming in at #3. The Mandhana/Raj pairing accounts for two of those. An impressive return, given they’ve shared a total of seven 2nd wicket partnerships. Since the 2013 World Cup India have had eleven 50+ stands for the 3rd wicket. Six of those have been shared by Raj & Kaur.
Since the 2013 World Cup India’s highest average partnership (5+ innings) against WWC17 sides has been Raj and opener Punam Raut (54.80 at 4.96 RPO). Next is Mandhana/Raj (54.33 at 4.34), followed by Raj/Kaur (46.00 at 4.15). It doesn’t make sense to split these players in the batting order, especially as Deepti Sharma’s average partnership with India’s two openers is lower in both average and run rate. Raut/Sharma average 33.57 at 3.56 RPO and Mandhana/Sharma average 29.00 at 3.80.
There is no guarantee of success. India have a losing record against both Australia and New Zealand but their chances of success will be enhanced if Raj and Kaur are given greater responsibility to shape the innings.