India Women have now lost seven Twenty20 Internationals in a row, stretching back to the World T20 semifinal last year. It started with a batting disintegration against England, continued with three heartbreaks against New Zealand and now ends with another against England. It is now India's longest losing streak in the format.
From Antigua to Wellington to Auckland to Hamilton to Guwahati — their fate has been pretty much been sealed by their own doing. They were in reasonable control in five games, but ended up scoring self goals.
Questions can be raised about temperament, match awareness, collective thinking, skill levels, BCCI's vision or even alignment of stars, but failure to score three runs off the final over with six wickets in hand on Saturday (9 March) is inexplicable.
Bharti Fulmali, playing in her second T20I, had to take a single off Kate Cross and get Mithali Raj back on strike. Instead Fulmali expectedly froze under pressure before hitting the fourth ball straight to mid-off. The shot was on, mind perhaps not. End result: a dolly to Anya Shrubsole. Three needed off two balls and Anjua Patil, the T20 specialist in her first game of the series, mindlessly stepped out to be stumped. Shika Pandey managed just one run off the last ball as India recorded their second one-run defeat. Mithali Raj, whose unbeaten 30 off 32 balls had taken the game this far after Smriti Mandhana departed for a 38-ball 58, was stranded at the other end.
When Mandhana left India needed 33 off 42 balls. Who is to blame for the mess up after that? Deepti Sharma for still not having figured out ways to find singles early in her innings after close to half a decade of international experience? Fulmali for trying to be cheeky instead of applying common sense? Patil for panicking when there was more time left in the game than imagined? Pandey for not timing the ball well enough to pierce the in-field on the offside? Jemimah Rodrigues for getting an eye in but throwing it away after 22 balls? Harleen Deol for allowing the adrenaline to take over? Or Mandhana for getting bowled to Laura Marsha when on another day she could have easily guided that ball to the third-man region?
"The way we batted in the last two-three overs," Mandhana said on being asked where the game was lost. "The batters had Mithali at the other end. It would have been sensible to take a single and give her the strike. She had enough experience to take us over the line."
WV Raman was more forthright in his view. "Basically I think they first need to work a lot on their skills. Once they work on their skills and development in terms of skills happen then all other things come into play because tactically everybody is aware what needs to be done, but tactics cannot be executed unless the technical base is good enough," he said, emphasising the need for backend work rather than match exposure.
"Playing matches is one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is that - it is like a student going into an exam, extremely well prepared he is going to walk into the examination hall absolutely confident. Equate it to the skills part of it. If they are really good, they will develop the skills then it doesn't really matter. Then everything comes incidentally. As of now rather concentrate on developing their skills. We do have quite a few plans in place and hopefully over the next few months a lot of things towards development of skill should happen."
Make what you make of it, but Raman has indirectly made two points. That some of the players selected to represent the country lack the pre-requisite skills, and the focus should to enhance their ability before they are exposed to match situation.
With the T20 World Cup in Australia less than a year away, Raman's approach may not be completely workable. India are not scheduled to play any matches in the immediate future, which makes the idea of camps focussing on areas of concern perfectly understandable. But then again the players need to implement those learnings in order to make progress instead of being expected to deliver in the World Cup directly.
It has to be a mix of both. First the Hemlata Kala-led selection committee has to identify a pool of 25 players immediately, and then the BCCI should do everything possible to empower them.
These lot of players should be made to play at least 30 to 35 T20Is between now and the trip to Australia. If international sides don't agree to the potential arrangement then at least these players can be sent on tour to Australia and play representative sides there. That will allow them to understand the conditions well and be better prepared for the World Cup. The other option could be to make this squad take on age-group men's side in India or play against strong academy sides. Match practice is a must.
It is not that such a model has not been implemented in the past. When Shubhangi Kulkarni, the former India captain, became Women's Cricket Association of India's secretary in 2003, she immediately channelised all her energy towards the 2005 World Cup in South Africa. India played a total of 22 ODIs and one Test match against New Zealand, Windies, Sri Lanka and Australia as a build up to the multi-nation event. They also had relevant fitness and training camps in Chennai and Mysore. This robust preparation played a huge role in India making it to the World Cup final for the first time. Even the run to the World T20 semifinal in 2018 was preceded by 12 ODIs and 19 T20Is against South Africa, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, and five T20s against Australia A through the year.
Possibly the only hint of cricket coming up immediately is women's exhibition games during IPL. While it's good on eye balls, it's hardly going to be a testing ground because BCCI markets it as an afterthought. Women's IPL could be a major solution in addressing India's issues, but there is not much time to implement the idea keeping the next world event in mind. So, it would be prudent for BCCI to go for short-term solutions right now before shifting focus to the big picture.
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