Women's cricket is on the brink of a revolution. The recently-concluded India versus South Africa Women's Twenty20 International (T20I) series witnessed a run-fest with three 160-plus scores and an average run rate of 7.68 — the highest ever in a five-match T20I series. The average run rate in Women's T20Is was 5.84 before the new playing conditions took effect, but has since soared to 7.02. The change is palpable.
One of the major contributing factors to the soaring run rates and burgeoning totals is the introduction of new fielding restriction rules by the ICC since October 2017. The number of fielders allowed outside the inner circle in the non-Powerplay overs were reduced from five to four, and that has had an instant impact on the game. While the new playing conditions have sparked a debate on whether it could ruin the balance between bat and ball in the sport, India's T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur feels that it's making the giving the women's game a major dose of adrenaline.
"Somehow I feel it's (new fielding rules) good because it's helping make our game faster," Kaur told Firstpost on the sidelines of the TOISA Awards.
"Earlier it was five fielders outside (the circle) and it was not easy for girls to get 180-190 runs. But now, with the four-fielder rule, it's an advantage. There's a disadvantage also, because while batting you feel easy and when bowling you feel really hard. But I personally like that rule and when you have lots of runs on the board, it's always good whether you are chasing or setting the total," she added.
The change in laws have brought about a change in approach, which in turn has brought about a change in training methods. The India-South Africa series witnessed a record 42 sixes — the most in a five-match bilateral series with the second-highest being 14. Indian players hit 20 of the 42 sixes, but what stood out was the distance on those sixes; most of them landed in the stands.
"Whenever we get time, we just go to the centre wicket and practice big shots," Kaur explained about the special training methods. "That practice gave me a lot of confidence, not only to me, but to other players also. They are also hitting long sixes now, and we are not dependent on two or three players who can come up and hit big runs. Everyone is contributing."
With changing times, adaptability becomes a crucial factor in all formats. Kaur's approach has changed according to the demands of the game.
"Now-a-days, the ODI game is also fast, we just cannot depend on two-three runs per over run rate. It's very fast now and we just take the same method whether its T20 or ODI. We just want to continue that."
India's women's team adapted well to the South African conditions. A 2-1 win in the ODIs and 3-1 in T20I series culminated into one of the most successful tours for the visitors. It was also second straight series/tournament win for India under Kaur's full-time captaincy which started off with a series loss against West Indies at home in November 2016. It was followed by Asia Cup title in Thailand the same month.
The twin wins indicate that the girl from Punjab is slowly getting into the groove. The biggest takeaway from the tour, according to the skipper, was their fielding, which was a weak point for the last two-three years.
"I always enjoy (captaincy) because whenever I lead, I always feel like I am always involved in the game. So that always gives me a lot of confidence," the 28-year-old said.
Kaur replaced current ODI captain Mithali Raj at the helm in T20I side in October 2016. While the dual captaincy seems to be working well, the 28-year-old asserts that it's the cohesion in the team that matters more to her.
"When we are playing ODIs, Mithali di is leading and she is very flexible with us. We play as a unit. In the T20s, we always talk on the ground, discuss and take decisions. Others might see it as two captains, but we work as a team,"
With Raj's experience of leading India in six Tests, 112 ODIs and 35 T20Is, the helping hand provided to Kaur by the senior pro and a guide has proved to be crucial not just for Kaur, but the entire team. The learning has got lot richer.
"(Raj's inputs) helped me a lot to do well in the T20 format. Because when she was leading, I always used to go and talk to her whenever she was making the changes and taking decisions. Not only her, but Jhulan (Goswami) di also, because she also has a lot of experience. Whenever I need any help, I always go and ask them.
"If you see her in the personal life, she never talks too much but when there is something really important, she comes and talks which is always good for our team."
South Africa was a path-breaking tour for the India Women's team. They executed the plans to perfection. With their performance, they demanded attention, so much so that when the ODI series was not broadcast, there was huge outrage on social media which culminated into the home board arranging for a live stream and the Indian broadcaster airing the final three T20Is.
"As a sportsperson, we always want our matches to be shown on television, but our job is playing cricket. We just cannot do things that are beyond our control. We are happy that at least the T20s were broadcast and people watched. The good thing is we won also," Kaur said.
It's going to be a busy period for the team as they play a bilateral series each against Australia and England along with a T20I tri-series with the same teams in the next two months. Kaur reckons that confidence gained on the South African tour will act as a catalyst in continuing good form.
"Really excited about it (upcoming series) because both the teams (England and Australia) are very good and we know that it's not going to be easy, there will be high competition and we are ready for that. We have done well in South Africa and hopefully we will continue (the momentum)."
Good performances have brought plaudits from across the country and there is excitement in the air with BCCI reportedly mulling women's exhibition T20s during the Indian Premier League (IPL) which could pave the way for Women's T20 League in future. Kaur was expecting it for a long time but also knew the limitations.
" We were expecting it (the women's IPL to start) when the men's IPL started, but we also know that we don't have a bunch of that many good players. We know we have very limited players and we know that whatever the BCCI is doing for us is good for our team, so whatever they have decided, we are happy with that.
"We are really very excited about it (exhibition matches) because we were always looking for the IPL and finally something is happening now. Hopefully those matches will go well and everyone will love that," Kaur signed off.
With stat inputs from Sampath Bandarupalli
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