Staring at another series defeat, a struggling India will welcome the return of star opener Smriti Mandhana for the third women's ODI against New Zealand in Queenstown on Friday.
Mandhana, the ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year, had exited mandatory quarantine in Christchurch to join the squad ahead of the second ODI but needed a few days to get match ready.
Pacers Renuka Singh and Meghna Singh are also available for selection after completing their quarantine. Lead pacer Jhulan Goswami, who had to miss the second game due to a neck spasm, is also expected to play on Friday.
Though Mandhana's return will be very much welcomed, India did not lose the previous game due to their batting. The bowlers let the team down as they were unable to defend a competitive 271-run target.
Goswami's absence was also felt as only 10 overs of pace was used with Pooja Vastrakar bowling seven overs and debutant Simran Bahadur three. The spinners did not leak a lot of runs but were unable to get the breakthroughs. The team also needs to improve its fielding going into the must-win game.
T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, who has scored only two 50 plus scores in ODIs since the 2017 World Cup, badly needs a big score. Yet to fire with the bat in the series, the 32-year-old has been playing a bigger role with the ball.
She bowled nine overs of off spin in the second ODI and was the most expensive bowler.
With a spin bowling all-rounder like Sneh Rana warming the bench, Harmanpreet needs to deliver to keep her place in the eleven.
Opener Shafali Verma is also under pressure, having averaged a modest 25 in the eight games that she has played so far since making her debut last year. It will be a tough call for skipper Mithali Raj to pick the opener alongside Mandhana with S Meghana also grabbing her opportunity in the southpaw's absence.
India's last series win came back in 2019-20 in the West Indies and they badly need some momentum going into the World Cup.
The visitors will have to piece together a near perfect game to beat New Zealand, a team that seems to be getting better with every game. Their top-order is in top form with Suzie Bates and Amelia Kerr starring with hundreds in the first and second game respectively.
Regular skipper Sophie Devine, who passed on the leadership responsibility to Amy Satterthwaite in the second ODI as part of the team's "contingency" plans, has done well with the ball but needs to do more as a batter.
New Zealand pacer Lea Tahuhu said her team is aiming to seal the series on Friday.
"We are in a position to put a series away which we have not been in for a long time. We are looking to go out there and nail our skills tomorrow and hopefully be 3-0 up," she told NZC.
India: Sabbhineni Meghana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Mithali Raj (captain), Harmanpreet Kaur, Richa Ghosh (wk), Deepti Sharma, Pooja Vastrakar, Simran Bahadur, Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Sneh Rana, Meghna Singh, Taniya Bhatia, Renuka Singh, Smriti Mandhana, Jhulan Goswami.
New Zealand: Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates, Amelia Kerr, Amy Satterthwaite (c), Maddy Green, Katey Martin (wk), Brooke Halliday, Hayley Jensen, Jess Kerr, Rosemary Mair, Fran Jonas, Lea Tahuhu, Lauren Down, Frances Mackay, Hannah Rowe.
Match starts at 3:30 am IST.
(Reported by PTI)