Australia plotting to continue golden era as 'gen next' arrives

Phoebe Litchfield's hundred echoed her captain's deeds of yesteryear while also offering a blueprint for next year's ODI World Cup

Litchfield's dream series continues with glittering hundred

During Australia's last ODI tour of India, one vital piece of the 2022 World Cup puzzle fell into place in the form of a breakout century.

In Baroda in March 2018, Alyssa Healy scored her first international century to cement her place at the top of the order.

It was a move that would pay off handsomely over the next four years, culminating in Healy's epic 170 in the World Cup final in Christchurch.

Almost six years later, Australia's plans for their title defence on Indian soil in mid-2025 have become firmer, following another career-making hundred that underlined a serious statement of intent from the reigning world champions.

On Tuesday, Phoebe Litchfield hit her second international century in a little over six months, and her first against a top-ranked rival, to lay the foundation for what was Australia's biggest total against India.

That 8-338 eclipsed Australia's previous best of 7-332 from that memorable 2018 match in Baroda and a ruthlessly clinical display with the ball and in the field sealed a mammoth 190-run win.

It followed Australia's second highest ODI run chase in the series opener, while they came from the clouds to salvage a thrilling three-run win in the second game. 

Litchfield arrived in the Australian side aged 19 and with enormous shoes to fill following the retirement of former one-day opener and vice-captain Rachael Haynes.

But based on her first 12 months of international cricket, which have already seen the Orange product claim records previously held by the likes of Meg Lanning and Belinda Clark, it is safe to say that barring a disastrous turn in form or fitness, she will be opening the batting for Australia when they launch their World Cup defence in a little over 18 months.

Catch of the series...again! Litchfield reels in a screamer

In all likelihood, she will be doing so alongside freshly crowned Australian skipper Healy.

"At 20 years of age, what an incredible talent we've unearthed," Healy told broadcasters following the match. "To have two hundreds under her belt already is some scary statistics for the future, no doubt.

"For me, it was an amazing experience to stand at the other end and see the next generation do their thing."

And after disappointing consecutive white-ball series defeats in England during the 2022 multi-format Ashes, results that prompted talk from outside the Australian camp of 'lost auras' and the end of a golden generation, Tuesday's win was a reminder that the world's No.1 team can be as ruthless and dangerous as ever.

"We want to continue to maintain our standards and that's what we did," Healy said. "We weren't too thrilled with our performance in the field the other night and we wanted to come out and field the house down.

"We pride ourselves on being clinical and we probably hadn't been that in a couple of series in the last 12 months, but we did it tonight."

Aussies humble India in all three facets to seal whitewash

Of the 16 Australian players currently in India – including Grace Harris, who is only named in the T20 squad – all could feature in the 2025 World Cup squad.

The two oldest members of the squad are both 33, and between them, Healy just accepted the national captaincy – and hit 82 in a timely return to form on Tuesday – while Ellyse Perry has found another level with the bat in ODIs of late, striking at 91 across the past 12 months.

There is also bench strength in the likes of Test squad member Lauren Cheatle, the injury-hit but recovering Victorian pair Tayla Vlaeminck and Sophie Molineux, and the list of consistently strong domestic performers that includes Georgia Redmayne and Amanda-Jade Wellington. 

For India, there are still plenty of questions to answer before they host that ICC tournament.

They dropped opener Shafali Verma after the first match, and debuted a quartet of players across the three-game series.

Captain Harmanpreet Kaur was dismissed for 9, 5 and 3 across the three games.

The hosts promoted powerful hitter 20-year-old Richa Ghosh to No.3 and appear keen to stick with Kaur at No.4 and Jemimah Rodrigues at No.5, but the elevation of Ghosh left them without a middle-to-lower-order finisher in the thrilling second ODI that Australia won by three runs.

Head coach Amol Muzumdar, who took on the role in October, has described his team as a "work in progress".

"We've not spent a lot of time with Amol ... I think he's done his homework before coming in, but then coming in and gelling up, it's not easy whenever a new coach comes in," Rodrigues said post-match. 

"But everyone gelled up well and everyone understood each other, and the roles really well and really quick.

"But we need a little more time, maybe a camp or something where we can actually get to work together even more, that's just going to help us."

The attention now turns to the three-game T20I series, which bodes as an even more critical marker for both teams with the T20 World Cup to be staged in Bangladesh in September.

Litchfield reflects on superb ton and classic catch

Australia's CommBank Tour of India

Test match: India won by eight wickets

First ODI: Australia won by six wickets

Second ODI: Australia won by three runs

Third ODI: Australia won by 190 runs

January 5: First T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 7: Second T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

January 9: Third T20I, DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai

Australia squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Lauren Cheatle (Test only), Heather Graham, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Grace Harris (T20s only), Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland, Georgia Wareham

India Test squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Shubha Satheesh, Harleen Deol, Saika Ishaque, Renuka Singh Thakur, Titas Sadhu, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Pooja Vastrakar