As Deepti Sharma bowled Beth Mooney with a flighted delivery in the clash against Australia in the World T20 in West Indies, the determination that has come to define this Indian Women’s Cricket Team was all too visible. Just one over earlier, Sharma had been unable to maintain her line towards the leg-stump and ended up conceding two wides within five balls. However, by bowling in the same area, only with a shorter length in her next over, she was able to bamboozle Mooney, who was her second victim in as many deliveries.
This fighting spirit is what took the Indian side into the semifinals of the event for the first time since 2010. Even though the unit looked extremely ordinary on occasions - case in point being their clash with Pakistan, where they had allowed their rivals to recuperate after a shoddy performance on the field - the approach of shrugging aside their mistakes propelled them to the top-four.
Be it Jemimah Rodrigues’ intention to get to a slower delivery by Bismah Mahroof in the match with Pakistan after she had mistimed a similar shot earlier or Harmanpreet Kaur’s sensational hundred in the first match that set the tone, the will to snatch the game away remained the biggest takeaway from the side’s journey in the tournament.
However, the saga involving Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet and Ramesh Powar thereafter did steal the limelight from those performances. The T20I series against New Zealand gives the unit an opportunity to move on from the controversy, as they look to build for the T20 World Cup in Australia next year.
Onus is on the core group to come all guns blazing
What newly appointed coach WV Raman has shied away from is changing the core group that had been guided by Powar. Hence, young players such as Jemimah Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia, Poonam Yadav, Dayalan Hemalatha and Mansi Joshi remain very much at the centre of the team while senior pros like Harmanpreet, Smriti Mandhana, Ekta Bisht and Shikha Pandey, who returns to the side after being ignored for the biennial event, provide experience.
With Veda Krishnamurthy being overlooked and newbies like Priya Punia included, the average age of the side just hovers around the 26-mark. The intent then to scout and nurture promising stars for the tournament in Australia is hard to miss.
However, all attention will be on Raj, and her batting displays in the series here will go a long way in determining the future shape of her T20I career. The stalwart had been dropped from the semifinal against England after skipper Harmanpreet was unable to slot in a place for her in the final XI. Despite Raj amassing 107 runs in three innings in the league matches, she had been able to score her runs only at a strike-rate of 103.88, which eventually led to her omission. With India losing the clash, a huge furore erupted with the argument being that in a crucial game, experience always trumps youthful exuberance.
New Zealand’s flair against India’s youth
Though the two sides are coming off contrasting fortunes in the T20 event, it would be unwise to rule the home side out. The White Ferns have managed to win 20 of the 30 T20I matches they have played in New Zealand, although they have never played one against India. The visitors might be riding high on confidence after scripting a historic 2-1 win in the ODI series, but the Amy Sattherthwaite-led side has enough firepower to turn the tables.
Former skipper Suzie Bates, who effortlessly tackled Poonam Yadav by lofting the leg-spinner repeatedly when the ball was tossed up in the ODIs, is one of the legends of the game and her run in the recently-concluded Women’s Big Bash League is testimony to that. In 14 innings for her side Adelaide Strikers, Bates amassed 421 runs and her consistency in an under-performing side highlighted her calibre. With a well-thought of ploy against the spinners and with India’s seam attacking lacking experience, Bates can run away with the game in the Powerplay overs, and it will be imperative to stall her momentum.
Equipped with aggressors like Satthertwaite and Sophie Devine, who was the WBBL’s second highest run-scorer with 556 runs, and with plenty of new talent like Caitlin Gurrey and Rosemary Mair in the ranks, the Kiwi team will bear a different look from the side that took the field in the West Indies. As many as five campaigners from the World Cup squad, Maddy Green, Lauren Down, Katie Perkins, Holly Huddleston and Anna Peterson, miss out.Picture Credit: Twitter/White Ferns
However, the capitulation against spin in the ODI series - the slower bowlers from India picked up 15 of the 20 wickets that fell – is a sign of New Zealand’s weakness. Even though Bates will be confident after thwarting them in the last ODI, the spinners have been the go-to option for the Women in Blue ever since the Asia Cup in July last year. In this format, since July, India’s spinners have accounted for 57 wickets, the most among all countries.
It is India’s batting though that draws a question mark. They failed to ignite in Windies, and it was often left to a single player to scoop the team out of trouble. The batting unit (from numbers 1-6) has averaged 25.52 from July 2018, with only Harmanpreet managing to score runs at a strike-rate of more than 150.
Other than Rodrigues and the Indian skipper, no batter who has played more than 4 innings has scored at a strike-rate of above 125, which is worrying ahead of the series that will be held on small grounds. Mandhana though is vastly experienced and will carry her ODI Player-of-the-Series confidence into the shorter formats, while keeper Taniya Bhatia did look assured in the series against Sri Lanka, despite not managing to get a big score.
Despite the inconsistent order however, India has managed to score more than 150 runs thrice in six games while batting first since July 2018, which indicates the skill and the potential in this department. With an aim to carry forward their fine showing from the West Indies, this Indian side will be tough to beat.
India: Mithali Raj, Ekta Bisht, Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Yadav, Anuja Patil, Deepti Sharma, Mansi Joshi, Jemimah Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Radha Yadav, Priya Punia, Dayalan Hemalatha, Arundhati Reddy
New Zealand: Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine, Frances Mackay, Lea Tahuhu, Amy Satterthwaite (c), Hayley Jensen, Katey Martin, Leigh Kasperek, Hannah Rowe, Amelia Kerr, Bernadine Bezuidenhout (wk), Caitlin Gurrey, Rosemary Mair