With the onset of each ICC tournament, the expectations are only rising for the India women’s team. From being outsiders in 2016, they have travelled a lot in the last six years, being in the final and the semifinals of the T20 World Cup, 50-over World Cup and Commonwealth Games. They have suffered heartbreaks, learnt harsh lessons in the middle for making wrong decisions, have gone through situations that few others have gone through and as Harmanpreet Kaur’s side gets ready for the T20 World Cup, there is a feeling of everything coming together.
Two players – Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami — who have been the face of this team since the turn of the century have hung up their boots. Yet as they enter the T20 World Cup in South Africa, that India start as one of the favourites is a testament to the work they have put in recently. Yes, they have been muddled with controversies, especially with regards to frequent changing of coaches, yet something special seems to be brewing in South Africa.
Even though they are entering the T20 World Cup without a head coach – with the BCCI opting to send Ramesh Powar to the men’s wing in the NCA just two months before the tournament – India go into the competition on the back of excellent preparation. Just like the luxury the men’s team enjoys where the players are given enough time to acclimatise to local conditions in ICC tournaments, the same is happening to the women’s team.
Harmanpreet & Co have been camping in South Africa since January second week, where they had a skill-based training programme to start the tour. They played a tri-series involving the hosts and the West Indies. And over the past week have had a preparatory camp apart from the warm-up fixtures against Australia and Bangladesh. The time spent in the conditions means, by the time they take the field in Cape Town on Sunday to face Pakistan in their opening fixture, India will be better equipped to handle the conditions.
And it is the conditions that seem to give India the sort of hope that they can go all the way this time around. India are scheduled to play their matches at Cape Town and Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and with the tournament being held towards the end of South African summer, all eyes are on how the conditions will be. Thanks to the SA20, the pitches have taken a lot of load in the past month and there is a fear they could be tired by the time the T20 World Cup reaches the business end. In case, it turns out to be on the slower side, then India will know they can drive home the advantage as they have the sort of players to make the most out of such conditions.
Although it is a 10-team tournament, if India play to their elements reaching the semifinals should be a mere formality. Placed in Group B alongside England, West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland, India know even three wins can take them to the last four. However, should the conditions be on the slower side, with an all-round attack at their disposal, they would fancy even topping the group and avoiding Australia in the semifinals.
There is a fitness concern in the Indian camp. Opener Smriti Mandhana is nursing a finger injury, which makes her doubtful starter for the match against Pakistan. India are yet to come up with a status on her injury and even though that is a concern, they have few decisions to make. As Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh were occupied with Under-19 duties, India shuffled their players in the tri-series and in a way that hasn’t been ideal.
In Smriti, Shafali, Harmanpreet, Richa, Deepti Sharma and Devika Vaidya, they have the top six locked. They have to take a call between Jemimah Rodrigues and Harleen Deol to bat at No 3, unless Smriti is sidelined for a prolonged period.
Over the last few months, India’s batting in T20s has been a mixed bag. On slower conditions, they have lacked the sort of firepower needed to get those extra few runs and with Shafali and Richa returning, that aspect should be taken care off. In the past, India have been guilty of tinkering their line-up and have paid the price for it and Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who is in charge of the team in the absence of a head coach, has spoken about it in the past.
Similarly, in the bowling line-up India are set to employ horses-for-courses theory where a third seamer or a spinner will be decided based on the conditions. With Pooja Varstakar and Renuka Singh certainties to make the XI, the other spot will be a toss between seamer Shikha Pandey and left-arm spinner Radha Yadav. If they can get the role clarity and combination right early on in the tournament, topping the group is very much in their limits. From there on they can definitely dream of lifting the Cup.