The India women’s cricket team is set for their first international assignment since their loss at the T20 World Cup final against Australia last year. From March 7, the side will be playing 5 ODIs and 3 T20Is against South Africa in Lucknow, a series that will begin India’s preparations for the ODI World Cup and Commonwealth Games to be held next year as well as the T20 World Cup which will happen in 2023 in South Africa. Notably this is the first squad that has been picked by the Indian women’s selection committee consisting of chief selector Neetu David, V Kalpana, Mithu Mukherjee, Arati Vaidya, and Renu Margrate.
However, it is safe to say that the seperate squads picked for the ODI and T20I series have raised more questions than given answers.
Out With The Old, In With The New?
A quick glance at the squads picked shows a lot of new faces but perhaps more glaring is the absence of a number of stalwarts, many of whom actually add significant value to the side.
Perhaps the most shocking omission is that of Shikha Pandey since the medium pacer had been in top form during the T20 World Cup last year. She was India’s second highest wicket-taker in the tournament and is a safe option to have in a side that is bereft of experience.
Whether bowling in tandem with Jhulan Goswami or shouldering the burden of leading the pace attack when Goswami was out injured, Pandey has delivered for the side whenever called upon. Given that workload management isn’t a necessity at this point in time, the decision to not include her in either of the squads makes no sense on paper.
She isn’t the only known player to miss out on selection though; Veda Krishnamurthy, Ekta Bisht, Anuja Patil and even Taniya Bhatia didn’t find a spot in the final squad.
Too Much Too Soon?
“You can’t win anything with kids” – a line once uttered by football expert Alan Hansen in 1995 about a Manchester United side that had undergone a makeover and promoted a number of Academy graduates to the first team. Funnily enough, United would go on to win both the English Premier League and the FA Cup that year.
Yet while the prediction came back to haunt Hansen for many years, it isn’t something that was entirely wrong. The most successful sides are those that have a good blend of youth and experience. Lean too much on either side of the spectrum and the chances of sustained success goes down drastically.
Yet that is exactly what India have done for this series, bringing in a number of players who are either young or inexperienced – or both. Looking to build bench strength due to the sheer number of international assignments that are coming up for women’s cricket is a sensible ploy. However, squad building is something best done away from the eye of the storm of international cricket.
It is true that some youngsters thrive under the pressure that only international sport brings but they are the exceptions to the rule. Often times promising youngsters can see their careers stalled due to a few failures on the big stage. In most cases, a bedding in period is required – along with some quality time in the middle in a relatively lower pressured situation.
Which brings us to the final question…
Time to Strengthen Domestic Cricket for Women?
The Women’s Senior One Day Trophy will take place in March while the South Africa series will be played. The fact that the BCCI seems focused on giving women’s cricket a platform while also working to develop the game from the grassroot level is commendable but there remains much to be done.
The fact that the Indian men’s cricket team has so much strength in depth is down to two major factors: a number of domestic tournaments as well as time with the India A side to make the transition into the international game easier.
Never was this more evident during the historic 2-1 series win against Australia. India lost a number of key players to injury but had enough bench strength to put out a side capable not only of competing with but even beating Australia.
The need for more age-group and senior cricket for women is something many – including India’s ODI captain Mithali Raj – have called for in the past. This has also included demands for a Women’s IPL.
But given the fact that India are still blooding youngsters on the international scene, it seems imperative that a strong domestic structure be developed soon. An IPL and bench strength for the national team will follow in due course.