Only thrice in history has a women’s side beaten another 5-0 in a bilateral T20I series, all of them in 2019. The first two (by Zimbabwe Women in January and by Botswana Women in April) came against Namibia Women. India Women, thus, became the first side to whitewash an ICC Full Member 5-0 — and they did it on West Indian soil, too.
The wins were emphatic. Only once — in the fourth match — did West Indies put up a fight, in a match reduced to nine overs-a-side. They lost the others by 84 runs, 10 wickets, 7 wickets, and 61 runs. It was a series win as emphatic as any.
However, this was hardly the kind of match practice India Women needed three months before the T20 World Cup in Australia. To begin with, West Indies were without the services of Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor, arguably their two most dangerous batters. This took some sheen off India’s easy win in the same way it did against South Africa, who were without Dane van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon.
In absence of their big guns, the West Indians visibly lacked the footwork required to dominate world-class spin. They struggled on the slow pitches against the most potent limited-overs spin attack in the world to an extent that nobody reached 60 in the series, the highest individual score was 33, and nobody had a strike rate of even 90.
Anisa Mohammed, the leading wicket-taker in T20I history, impressed throughout the series in conditions familiar to her, but there was little she could do against a rampant Indian top order. The West Indians fought hard, but to little avail.
The Indians, on the other hand, addressed a few problems, but some others remain:
Shafali Verma completes the top five
The arrival of Verma has almost certainly helped them finalise their top five. In fact, so exhilarating was her strokeplay that India were forced to split their tried, tested opening pair of Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues.
Mandhana, Rodrigues, and Harmanpreet Kaur are individually capable of gunning down the most potent of bowling attacks. Batting in the death overs — a problem for the side for some time — is likely to be addressed by Veda Krishnamurthy, who met with much-awaited success in the last match. This is as explosive a quintet as any.
It is here that the conundrum begins. Deepti Sharma is obviously the most capable batter among India’s five regular bowlers. Unfortunately, Sharma has been unable to force the pace in the slog overs — and will not find a place in the top five.
Anuja Patil is the best fit in the role. However, picking Patil will mean having to leave out one of the three frontline spinners – Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, and Sharma. And Shikha Pandey has somehow not been able to replicate her ODI batting prowess to 20-over T20Is.
This is where Pooja Vastrakar (strike rate 125) may stake a claim for spots in the top six. The management has not hesitated to use her as a floater up the order when needed, with more success than failure. A comparison of India’s 5-7 since 2018 may be relevant here.
One can see why Vastrakar has been used up the order so frequently. Despite her undoubted batting skills, Sharma may have to slide down the order — a perfect example of how different the skillsets needed in the two formats are.
The change that worked
No Indian bowler went for over six an over in the entire series. While that is more than impressive, one must keep in mind here that these pitches are somewhat similar to what India get at home. They were exceptional in the 2018 T20 World Cup in West Indies, but things are likely to change on the quicker, truer Australian pitches.
India did make one significant change in strategy from the South Africa series, that of using Vastrakar late in the innings. Vastrakar had bowled just four overs across three T20Is against South Africa, but here she was used in a new role, in the middle overs, when her slow-paced bowling was difficult to put away.
With two key roles to play, Vastrakar has almost certainly sealed a place in the Indian starting XI in T20Is, something that had not seemed as obvious a few months ago.
The problem remains
However, one may argue that finding the right phase to use Vastrakar did not address India’s problem — of finding quick bowlers who can thrive on Australian pitches. As evident from the ongoing Women’s Big Bash League, the ball is likelier to come on more quickly on to the bat, allowing the big hitters to go after medium pacers and, if needed, hit through the line – something they were unable to do here. While her batting prowess will be needed, Vastrakar’s brand of bowling is unlikely to be a success in Australia.
Shikha Pandey, of course, spearheaded the pace attack with some verve. India did try out Mansi Joshi once the series was clinched, but it is unlikely that she will be a starter in the big tournament, leaving India with Pandey and Vastrakar as their only frontline seamers. This is likely to pose a problem, and here is why:
As is evident, nine of the ten most economical bowlers are seamers. In other words, India Women are set to be headed for the Women’s T20 World Cup with a cohort of world-class spinners on seam-friendly surfaces.
Of course, there is little one can complain about the specialist spinners — Poonam, Radha, and Sharma — who have also been India’s best bowlers (spin or pace) for some time.
How many of them eventually feature in the XI during the T20 World Cup, however, is something that remains to be seen. If one of them is sacrificed for a seamer, it would mean that India Women would not field their five best bowlers.
Unfortunately, Patil – India’s best reserve bowler – is also a spinner. India might have benefitted if one of the batters could bowl seam, but Kaur, Harleen Deol, and even Rodrigues all bowl spin.
There is little doubt that India do have a band of outstanding cricketers. They would have been among the favourites had the tournament been hosted on pitches their chosen attack thrives on.
Unfortunately, they have still not zeroed in on the right combination for a big T20 tournament in Australia.
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