Mithali Raj faces a dilemma over top order batters against South Africa, who will she choose?

Mithali Raj is spoilt with choices ahead of South Africa tour

It’s a good headache to have for the captain when there are multiple contenders for the top order. Indian skipper Mithali Raj faces a similar conundrum for India’s tour of South Africa. The four contenders for the top order are Smriti Mandhana, Punam Raut, Deepti Sharma and 17-year-old Jemimah Rodrigues. All the four batswomen are in red-hot form, ready to take the Proteas challenge and it will be hard to leave out anyone from the lot.

Mithali might have a hard time sorting out the batting order in the ODI series starting February 5. There is Mandhana who scored 195 runs in the recent Challengers Trophy and led India Blue to title win. Then comes the hard-to-ignore Raut who scored 273 runs, including one century and two half-centuries. The opening slots are already filled but that’s where 17-year-old Rodrigues steps in.

Rodrigues got her maiden ODI call for the tour of South Africa. She has been knocking on selectors’ doors with one big knock after another in the Under-19 domestic tournament. She became the second Indian batswoman after Mandhana to score a double century in List A cricket. She made an impact in the Challengers Trophy as well for India Green, scoring 179 runs including one half-century. Denying her a debut match will be tough for the Indian skipper.

Fitting these three could have been possible as Mithali promotes other batswomen to No 3 position at times. But then comes Deepti who has been fairly consistent with the bat and quite handy bowling as well. Jemimah can bowl well too as she proved in the domestic cricket.

Mithali is not expected to demote herself down the order on an important tour like South Africa where she would like to shape the innings at her pace. Even if she demotes Deepti to No 5, Harmanpreet Kaur will be coming at No 6 which might not give her enough time to settle in.

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Deciding the playing XI will be a tough task for Mithali and the selectors. India’s bench strength is strong as well. The eves will look to avenge the defeat in World Cup 2017 to the hosts where they were beaten quite comprehensively.

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Looking at what happened to the men’s team led by Virat Kohli, Mithali decided to leave for the tour a little early. India Men’s batters struggled against quality pace attack and former cricketers including head coach Ravi Shastri felt that they should have kick-started the tour a few days before to adapt to conditions. They will be playing a tour match on February 2, which might give her a chance to test their bench strength and plan the combination for the series.

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India’s ODI squad for three-match ODI series –

Mithali Raj(c), Harmanpreet Kaur, Sushma Verma, Ekta Bisht, Smriti Mandhana, Poonam Yadav, Punam Raut, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jemimah Rodrigues, Jhulan Goswami, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Mona Meshram, Pooja Vastrakar, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia