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IANS

It's fair to say that India's campaign in the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup hasn't gone as per their plan. In four matches, they have won two and lost the same number of games.

In all four matches, their batting has oscillated between very high and low extremes. Amidst their inconsistent campaign, India now square off against six-time World Cup winners, Australia, who are on a consistent, undefeated run in the tournament, at Eden Park on Saturday.

It will also be the first time the two teams will meet in a 50-over World Cup match since the semifinal of the 2017 edition at Derby, where Harmanpreet Kaur's whirlwind 171 served as the knockout punch for Australia.

A win against Australia would set India's campaign on track to reach the semifinals as they face Bangladesh and South Africa afterwards. In the run-up to the World Cup, India's batting looked stronger than their bowling in the bilateral series against New Zealand.

But in the mega event, the tables have turned with bowling looking strong while the batting has emerged with weak links.

For now, the Mithali Raj-led side has to ensure that the up-and-down batting performances and losing wickets in a heap has to be avoided against an Australia bowling attack which has bowled out New Zealand and West Indies for 128 and 131 respectively in its last two matches.

Collapses of 114/6, 95/5, 78/3 and 86/7 convey that in both victory and defeat, India have been hampered by this nagging issue, acknowledged by Smriti Mandhana in her pre-match briefing.

Left-handed Mandhana, India's leading run-getter so far in the tournament with 216 runs, thinks stitching partnerships will be a key in solving the collapse problem.

"Definitely, we have been losing wickets back-to-back. It's something that we, as a batting unit, want to address it. 50-overs is all about good partnerships. So, we definitely want to work on it."

"As set batters, it is more responsibility on that batter to take the game forward from that time when you are able to time the ball well. That's something I will be really conscious about that we don't have to lose wickets back-to-back and develop a partnership from there because one or two good partnerships will be able to post a good total which we can defend."

If India are able to avoid the wobble in top and middle order, then they will need runs collectively from the batting order. Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur have been among the runs but the same can't be said of Mithali Raj and Deepti Sharma.

Mithali moved up to three from four while Deepti took her captain's place but the duo haven't got the runs in four matches. It remains to be seen if an out-of-form Shafali Verma will come in or India will stick with left-handed Yastika Bhatia.

On the other hand, Australia have got very little to worry about. Rachael Haynes is in brilliant form, leading the run-scoring charts with 277 runs. Alyssa Healy and Meg Lanning will be looking to be more consistent while Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Tahlia McGrath and Beth Mooney have clicked well.

In terms of bowling, Gardner, McGrath, Perry along with Alana King, Amanda-Jade Wellington and Megan Schutt have been spot-on with their lines and lengths.

Head coach Matthew Mott is aware of what India can bring to the table, having seen them almost win the ODI series at Mackay last year.

"It's a good time to play India. I see them as an incredibly dangerous side. So, we are rolling some confidence at the moment. But as we always say, it's this game in isolation and everything that we're talking about the moments about how we can combat India. I think they've got one of the best new-ball bowling attacks in the world. And we found that out last summer."

For both teams, there will be a sense of walking into the unknown as Eden Park will host its first match in the tournament. With small straight and long square boundaries apart from drop-in pitch and difficulty in catches taken under lights, Eden Park presents a nice challenge for Australia and India meeting for the 13th time in Women's World Cups.

India will be hoping that they can make Jhulan Goswami's 200th ODI outing memorable by clicking as a batting unit and halting the winning Australian juggernaut.

Squads

Australia: Meg Lanning (captain), Rachael Haynes (vice-captain), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Grace Harris, Alyssa Healy (wicket-keeper), Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Tahlia McGrath, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland and Amanda-Jade Wellington.

India: Mithali Raj (captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Poonam Yadav.

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