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Sri Lanka ODI: Women's team to play without Mithali, Jhulan

The absence of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, cricket's most prolific duo, is just one of several concerns for captain Harmanpreet Kaur

Mithali Raj bats during the Women's Cricket World Cup match between South Africa and India at Hagley Oval in Christchurch, New Zealand on 27 March 2022. (HT_PRINT)

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Starting a new era in 50-over cricket without the peerless Mithali Raj, the newly-appointed skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, will seek an improved performance from players as Indian women eye a winning start against hosts Sri Lanka in a three-match series, starting Friday.

India will be without their two pillars -- Mithali, who retired from cricket earlier this month, and Jhulan Goswami, who is nursing a side strain. The absence of international cricket's most prolific duo is just one of several concerns for captain Kaur ahead of the ODI series opener.

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India made a positive start to the tour of island nation by winning the T20I series 2-1 but their performance was far from perfect and while the format will change, the regulars in the side would be keen to put up a dominant display against Sri Lanka.

The batters struggled on the slow track at Dambulla, unable to breach the 140-run mark in all three T20Is and the likes of Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma would hope for a better and consistent show in the 50-over format.

The last time India played a 50-over match was during the World Cup in March, when they failed to qualify for the semi-finals. The Indian batting unit, which failed to fire as a group back then, would be eager to rectify its weaknesses.

Kaur herself has been in good form. After finishing as the highest run-getter for her side in the T20 series, it will auger well for India if the skipper can continue her top form as alongside all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar. Young wicketkeeper Richa Gosh, who shone in the in the series against New Zealand earlier this year, will be on the look-out for a good show even though team management used Yastika Bhatia as a stop-gap keeper in one of the T20I games.

With the seasoned Goswami not in the side, the young and relatively inexperienced fast bowling unit comprising Vastrakar, Simran Bahadur, Meghna Singh and Renuka Singh will be tested by the Lankan batting line-up headlined by Chamari Athapaththu. The spinners have been largely on the mark but struggled in the third game. Poonam Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad will have their task cut out in the longer format. Kaur and Harleen Doel, with her leg breaks, too can pitch in with some useful overs.

Sri Lanka will be keen to keep the winning momentum going after picking a conciliatory victory in the last T20I. The hosts performed as a cohesive unit with all department firing. But the batter need to lift their game. On the bowling front, the spin duo of Inoka Ranaweera and Oshadi Ranasinghe have been the stand-out players, doing most of the heavy lifting. Sri Lanka lost the ODI series against Pakistan earlier this month and would be hoping to avoid a second consecutive series loss in the format.

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