With the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 coming to an end with England's nine-run win over India in a thrilling final in a packed Lord's on Sunday, one could not have imagined women's cricket taking off in a more emphatic manner.
It was a much needed shot-in-the-arm for women cricketers, who for long were denied their due and had to ply their trade in obscurity. The recently-concluded tournament though, signed off in style as summit clash was played at the home of cricket, with the stands filling up to the brim — a sight that is usually reserved for the men's game.
India, led by feisty veteran Mithali Raj perhaps for the last time in a World Cup, punched above their weight by conquering hosts England (in the tournament opener), defending champions Australia, New Zealand among other teams in their path to the final. Their win over the Australians in the semi-final was a sign of their coming of age, the team showing the hunger to win like they never did before, and were in control for the most part in the final.
It was the inexperience of a big-match situation among the ranks that reared up its head in the spectacular collapse following Punam Raut's dismissal, with the 'Women in Blue' losing their last seven wickets for a mere 28 runs to fall short of the finish line by a mere inch.
Though it may take some time for the wounds to heal for the Indians, Mithali and company need to shrug off the disappointment of the loss and look at the path that lies ahead of them.
Keeping that in mind, let us analyse the squad that made it all the way to the summit clash of the tournament, categorising them on the basis of their chances for the next World Cup:
Likely (Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Shikha Pandey): Another term for the stars of this tournament, who also have age on their side. While Harmanpreet is tipped to take over from Mithali as the leader across formats, having already done so in T20Is, the others mentioned in this category have made it count in the event. Whether one looks at Mandhana becoming the youngest Indian to score a century (in the match against West Indies), or Raut nearly taking the Indians home in the final with a valiant 85, they very much have established themselves in the core team.
Still some way to go (Mona Meshram, Ekta Bisht, Sushma Verma, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, Nuzhat Parveen): The ones who have produced a mixed bag in the tournament, and will have to put in the hard yards along the road ahead if they are to keep their places in the side. Meshram got three chances early in the tournament, but a lack of consistency meant that she lost her place to Krishnamurthy, who made the opportunities count with her big hitting. Joshi got a couple of opportunities — against Pakistan and Sri Lanka — but was eventually overlooked in favour of bowling all-rounder Pandey. With the competition for slots in the team likely to get hotter in the coming days, the players in this bracket have some catching up to do.
Unlikely (Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami): Two of the senior-most members of the side, Mithali and Jhulan are considered the pillars of present-day women's team. Having carried the burden of expectations of both their team management as well as that of supporters for more than a decade-and-a-half, the illustrious duo don't have much left to prove. While they are expected to hang around just for a little longer, it is very unlikely they will do so for another four years.