The bad news is, Smriti Mandhana is out. The good news is, this ain't a Championship series, affording India a relatively free hand to experiment as they take on South Africa in a three-match ODI series, beginning Wednesday (October 9), in Vadodara.
Hosts India were dealt a massive blow on the eve of the series opener when their premier opener and batting mainstay Mandhana - failing to recover from the toe injury she sustained in training last week - had to be ruled out with a fracture. The mishap opens up a window of opportunity for multiple personnel in this Indian squad, but Priya Punia and Pooja Vastrakar seem to be the biggest gainers, for now.
Vastrakar, after making a forgettable comeback in the preceding T20Is, has been backed to mark her return to the 50-overs format too after more than a year on the sidelines due to the ACL injury. And with India keen to test their pace-bowling genuine all-round resources - which aren't in abundance as yet - it's a chance for the youngster to cement her spot. Nonetheless, any extra game time bodes well for all-rounder who has been earmarked for the approaching T20 World Cup in Australia early next year.
Punia meanwhile has pipped the likes of Punam Raut - who has had to drop to No. 3 in her last few ODIs - and Deepti Sharma - who has lately shaped well into the role of a floater in this ODI set-up - for the vacancy at the top. The duo, interestingly, were involved in a world record 320-run opening partnership the last time Mandhana missed an ODI series for India. But with Indian skipper Mithali Raj and head coach WV Raman both having words of encouragement for the youngster, it's the Delhi opener's chance to present her case in the format that suits her game the best.
On the other side, in Sune Luus's words, the departure of Mandhana from the Indian line-up has made the two teams more evenly matched. The South African batters weren't the first visiting team to suffer at the hands of India's seasoned spin attack, but they came into their own in the final of the six T20Is and handed India a massive defeat. With that win still pretty fresh in their minds, coupled with the return of two experienced campaigners in Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty should lift their spirits.
Kapp will return to share the new-ball duties with Shabnim Ismail, meaning India's delicate batting balance that hinges now on Raj, her deputy Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues chiefly is set to undergo sterner tests over these three games.
When:1st ODI on Wednesday 9th October, at 9am IST | 3:30am GMT
Where: Reliance Stadium, Vadodara
What to expect:The Reliance Stadium served up a paradise for batters the last time India played an international series here, little over a year ago. Except very little to change this time around.
India: The Indian think-tank has hinted at trying out the uncapped Priya Punia in the role at the top, in Mandhana's absence. Alternatively, they have the experienced Punam Raut also in the squad who otherwise played at No. 3 in India's last international assignment in the format. Calling for an all-rounder as replacement indicates towards India's inclination to draft in as many in the playing XI, meaning Pooja Vastrakar could be in line for her ODI comeback too at a venue she has very good memories of.
Squad: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia, D Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Jhulan Goswami, Tamiya Bhatia, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad
South Africa:If the victory margin of over a 100 runs wasn't enough of a boost, South Africa now welcome back two of their most experienced players in Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty for the change of formats. The pace-attack leader was unavailable for the preceding T20Is and joined the squad just ahead of the added sixth game of the T20I series, while wicketkeeper-bat Chetty makes her comeback after more than a year on the sidelines due to the back injury that kept her out of 2018 World T20 too.
Squad:Laura Wolvaardt, Sune Luus (c), Marizanne Kapp, Tazmin Britts, Trisha Chetty, Lizelle Lee, Mignon du Preez, Shabnin Ismail, Ayabonga Khaka, Tumi Sekhukhune, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Nadine de Klerk, Kara Goodall, Nondumiso Shangse