Big losses to South Africa and Australia have left India with little breathing space. © Getty Images

Big losses to South Africa and Australia have left India with little breathing space. © Getty Images

July 15 (Saturday)
India v New Zealand, Derby

The International Cricket Council could not have asked for a better finish to the league stages of the 2017 Women’s World Cup. While England, Australia and South Africa – three teams to have qualified for the semifinals – will play for standings on the points table in their respective last league games, India and New Zealand face off in a knockout fixture in Derby.

Big losses to South Africa and Australia have left India with little breathing space. New Zealand would consider themselves a bit unlucky as their second game against South Africa in Derby was washed out. They could not produce complete cricket against Australia and England.

India’s biggest problem has been the failure of the top order despite centuries from Smriti Mandhana and Poonam Raut, both their openers, and three fifties from Mithali Raj, now the highest run-getter in One-Day Internationals. Similarly, the spinners, especially Ekta Bisht, have looked ordinary in the last two games.

New Zealand, on the other hand, have shown how destructive they can be with the bat when in flow, and also how their spinners can spin a web around the batters. Also Sophie Devine, who had a side-strain injury in the loss against England, has been cleared to play as a batter against India.

New Zealand hold a clear advantage, but the team that has everyone clicking under pressure over the entire 100 overs will earn the right to spend an extra week in England.

What they said:
Jhulan Goswami, India allrounder: “New Zealand is a quality side. They have played some good quality cricket in this tournament, and in India (in 2015) also they played well. We have good balance in the team. We will plan for their side. As a unit, we need to perform together. Individual brilliance will not win you a tournament. Batting, bowling and fielding will have to perform together because they are a good side fitness-wise, also running between the wickets is very quick. We need to improve many things, which we will do.”

Suzie Bates, New Zealand captain: “We both have played on this ground, but it is a fresh wicket from what I understand. We don’t know how it is going to play, but with respect to outfield and the conditions, we know how it is going to play. We have to talk about it as a do-or-die match, and that brings pressure. That, I guess, is something this group has to deal with. We have to go there play our best tomorrow or else we go home. Hopefully, that brings the best out in our group. The belief I have in this group and the cricket we can play, I think we can turn up tomorrow and bring our ‘A’ game. I am excited to see what this group can do under a lot of pressure.”

Player in focus
India
Ekta Bisht: She is India’s highest wicket-taker in this World Cup with nine scalps, but she has lost her fizz in the last two matches as the batters have picked her and hit her for easy boundaries. It has almost left India one bowler short. How she comes back to deliver in a crunch match could decide India’s fortune.

New Zealand
Amy Satterthwaite: The only batter with four consecutive Women’s ODI centuries against her name, she is due some runs. Except for an unbeaten half-century in an easy chase against Sri Lanka in the opening game, she has not really made a strong impact in the tournament.

Teams (from):
India: Mithali Raj (capt), Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Mona Meshram, Nuzhat Parween, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Raut, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma (wk), Poonam Yadav.

New Zealand: Suzie Bates (capt), Erin Bermingham, Sophie Devine, Maddy Green, Holly Huddleston, Leigh Kasperek, Amelia Kerr, Katey Martin, Thamsyn Newton, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Rachel Priest (wk), Hannah Rowe, Amy Satterthwaite, Lea Tahuhu.

Australia tightened their bowling, the one area of concern, in the previous win against India. © Getty Images

Australia tightened their bowling, the one area of concern, in the previous win against India. © Getty Images

Australia v South Africa, Taunton

Nobody following South Africa these last two years would have been surprised to see them confirm a semifinal spot, but the emphatic and spirited performances that have got them there have meant there is a real excitement about the Dane van Niekerk-led side. Against England, they showed the fight to chase a 300-plus target and although they are yet to win against Australia in 12 encounters, they had several positives on a tour down under not long ago, when they tied one game.

Australia tightened their bowling, the one area of concern, in the previous win against India. There might be temptation for them to rest a few of their first-choice XI – Meg Lanning didn’t train on Friday – but given that there’s a chance they could see the same opponents in the semis, they are unlikely to step off the gas.

What they said:
Dane van Niekerk, South Africa captain: “There’s a bit of nerves going around, even though both our teams are in the semis. We still want to go out there and be our best. Two or three games out of that Australia series were really close, and it showed us that we did close the gap.”

Alex Blackwell, Australia vice-captain: “We know them very well, because we played them not that long ago in a bilateral series in Australia. They pushed us in that series. They still haven’t beaten us, touch wood. It will be a big test. I believe they always bring their best game against Australia.”

England v Windies, Bristol

Windies have been late coming to the party, but after a couple of good outings, the bounce is back in their step. Deandra Dottin came back from two zeroes to carve out a hundred, her first in ODIs, while Stafanie Taylor too offered a reminder of her incredible abilities. Nothing will be a bigger validation for the team than to finish their campaign by knocking over a semifinalist.

England's improvement in the past year has been about mind and body. Better fitness has helped them run as hard and hit as far even three weeks into the tournament. © Getty Images

England’s improvement in the past year has been about mind and body. Better fitness has helped them run as hard and hit as far even three weeks into the tournament. © Getty Images

England’s improvement in the past year has been about mind and body. Better fitness has helped them run as hard and hit as far even three weeks into the tournament. The players also have the talent and the attitude to fight back from setbacks, including from the 58 for 3 they found themselves in against New Zealand to get to a 75-run win. They’re an innovative side, and will want to grab the chance to go into the semis as the top ranked side.

What they said:
Laura Marsh, England offspinner: “It’s important that we’re still fresh for the later games in the tournament. Being able to top the group and have a semifinal in Bristol is a real incentive to win the final game. We’ve had five hundreds scored in this tournament and to be able to bat for that period of time and go on to extend those scores is a dividend of doing all the fitness work.”

Deandra Dottin, West Indies allrounder: “Our huddle is about staying united, our motto is moving forward – we have bands with that message on and we want to keep doing that right through. It’s always a big part of our motivation to upset teams, hopefully we can continue the way we’ve been batting and do enough with the bat to be able to win the game against England.”

Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Leicester

Sri Lanka played attackingly to beat Pakistan when they faced off in the Qualifier. They would be expecting the same approach when the teams meet for the wooden-spoon clash.

Pakistan, on the other hand, have played good cricket in patches, but have not been able to deliver as a unit in one game. The team that does the basics correctly will avoid the ignominy of finishing last in the World Cup.

What they said:
Chamari Athapaththu, Sri Lanka vice-captain: “We are confident after having beaten them in the Qualifier. We have played some good cricket against some good opposition. Hopefully, we can beat Pakistan and end the tournament on a high.”

Marina Iqbal, Pakistan allrounder: “It is important for us (to end on a high). We have been working really hard for this World Cup for past one year. We were confident, and we gave the big teams a hard time. It will be motivating for us to end on a high note. It will help cricket back home. It seems like home ground here. We know the ground, pitch and environment”

With inputs from Karunya Keshav in Taunton.