The Neetu David-led women's selection panel, which was appointed in 2020 by BCCI, has raised eyebrows every time they pick a squad for the Indian cricket team. Squad selections are a controversial task, but the bigger issue with David and Co's tenure has been the difficulty to process some of the decision-making.
Sample this: in their first assignment, the selection panel — which also includes Arati Vaidya, Renu Margrate, V Kalpana and Mithu Mukherjee — surprised one and all by overlooking Shafali Verma for the ODIs against South Africa at home in March last year. This after the teenager set the global stage alight during the 2020 T20 World Cup.
The Indian side needed a power-hitter at the top but the selectors didn't deem it necessary. At the same time, experienced Shikha Pandey, Ekta Bisht, Anuja Patil, Veda Krishnamurthy and Taniya Bhatia were all dropped despite Indian cricketers not playing any domestic or international cricket in past one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The selection panel's latest act — India's squad for the 2022 ODI World Cup in New Zealand — has once again led to intense debate over some of the surprising omissions as Mithali Raj and Co aim to clinch their first 50-over ICC world title. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the World Cup squad.
Jemimah, Shikha shocker
Jemimah's return of 22 runs from five ODIs in 2021 justifies her omission from the World Cup squad but that's just one part of the story. With 249 runs at a strike rate of 150.90 from seven matches, the Indian was the second-highest run-getter in The Hundred last year. In 13 matches of the 2021-22 Women's Big Bash League, she amassed 333 runs at a strike rate of 116.43. The scoring rate and inability to handle pressure have been India's bane against top sides in recent matches, and Jemimah with her recent successful outings in high-quality franchise competition could have been a possible fix to the issues.
Quite possibly, Shikha's less-than-expected performance in the ODIs and Senior One Day Trophy in 2021 went against her, but her exclusion has made the pace department a lot poorer in terms of experience. The 39-year-old Jhulan Goswami remains India's best pacer but the supporting cast of Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur have only played 13 ODIs among themselves. Shikha has 75 ODI scalps to her name and is third in the list of highest wicket-taking pacers for India in the format. Her ability to swing the ball would also have been a big advantage in New Zealand's helpful conditions.
The most bewildering of the facts is that these players have not even made it to the standby list.
Punam Raut's exclusion
Raut is another veteran to miss out on the World Cup. With 2299 runs from 73 ODIs at an average of 34.83, the Mumbai cricketer has all the reasons to feel disappointed. In 2021, she scored 295 runs and a century, but most possibly her career strike of 58.26 led to her exclusion. With Mithali Raj already in the middle-order, India would have found it tough to fit Punam in the same side.
Vote of confidence for youngsters
One consistent theme of the current selection panel has been its tendency to give chances to the youngsters and the squad for the ICC event follows the same template. Batter Yastika Bhatia who impressed on the tour of Australia, playing against some of the best bowlers in the world, has found a place in the squad and is expected to form the middle-order alongside Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur.
Pacer Renuka has earned her maiden ODI call-up after impressing in the domestic circuit. Will her lack of experience cost India at the mega event is something only time will tell but for now, the selectors have shown faith in the 25-year-old.
Teenager Richa Ghosh took over wicket-keeping duties from Taniya Bhatia during the Australia tour and her ability to score quick runs means she is expected to be the first-choice keeper in New Zealand as well.
Apart from Ekta Bisht, even the other two standby players — Sabbhineni Meghana and Simran Dil Bahadur — are pretty young and inexperienced.
Lack of communication
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) did not find it important enough to hold a press conference after announcing the World Cup squad. In fact, chief selector David, while speaking to a news agency, revealed that she is not "allowed to speak."
Amid such a lack of transparency, one is free to assume the reasons for the controversial selection calls, but the truth is out of reach.
Team India for World Cup: Mithali Raj (Captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav.
Standby players: Sabbhineni Meghana, Ekta Bisht, Simran Dil Bahadur.
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