There were lot of unanswered questions in T20Is for India before they left for Sri Lanka, but the way they won the series with little contribution from the seniors, can only be good in the long run
Ananya Upendran, the pace bowler from Hyderabad who has represented India A in the past, tweeted, “I’m going to steal from the Barmy army and sing, “Oooooh Jemi, Jemi! Jemi, Jemi Rodrigues!” (To the tune of the Jimmy Anderson song)!”
This was in response to Jemimah Rodrigues’ astounding hitting abilities during India’s Twenty20 International (T20I) series against Sri Lanka. India won four games, and one match was washed out, with Rodrigues topping the batting charts with 191 runs in four innings from No 3 at a strike-rate of 155.28. The next best batter was Sri Lankan captain Chamari Atapattu with 107 runs in five matches. More than the runs, it was Rodrigues’ fearless approach, which fetched her 20 fours and eight sixes, including three consecutive ones in the first T20I, that India needed desperately in the top-order ahead of the World T20 in the West Indies starting 9 November.
There were lot of unanswered questions in the format for India before they left for Sri Lanka, but the way they won the series with little contribution from Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj, and just one half-century from Harmanpreet Kaur can only be good in the long run. There is just one bilateral series of three T20Is in West Indies before the global event, but India have at least found a template to work with.
That the teenaged Rodrigues had been benched for the entire Asia Cup, where India lost to Bangladesh twice, including in the final, after being the find of the South African tour at the start of the year because of apparent lack of form in the nets, and then for the first two One-Day Internationals (ODI) in Sri Lanka was baffling in many aspects. Was the team management happy to be defensive? Had Rodrigues not built enough trust to be an automatic choice in the XI? There was such element of skepticism around the entire episode, and even BCCI got involved, protecting her from the media scrutiny.
When she finally spoke to the media after the first of her two fifties, she told Women’s CricZone that Mandhana’s advice for a change in grip helped her find form and confidence. Credit also is due to Ramesh Powar, the head coach till the end of the World T20, who believed in giving the youngsters a longer rope instead of chopping and changing the side. Taniya Bhatia, India’s first wicket-keeper to score a ODI half-century in five years, D Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, the highest wicket-taker in the ODI series with seven scalps, and Arundhati Reddy, who was preferred over Shikha Pandey in the T20Is, gave a glimpse of the potential that remains to be tapped in Indian cricket.
Never in the recent past had India unearthed so many fresh talents in one tour. Considering how the graph was slipping after the 2017 World Cup final appearance, this tour has added new legs to the team.
It was not just the juniors who made an impact. Anuja Patil, the T20 specalist, made full use of her promotion to No 5 in the fourth T20I with a series-winning 98-run stand with Rodrigues. Mandhana made an impression in the ODIs and Mithali’s unbeaten 125 in the final 50-over contest — her highest indvidual score — was as classy as it gets. Equally good was Poonam Yadav, the leg-spinner who finished the tour with 12 wickets in eight games across formats. In the process, she went past Jhulan Goswami to be India’s highest wicket-taker in T20Is.
At the other end of the spectrum are Ekta Bisht and Pandey, now two well-established seniors in the side who got to play just one match each in the entire tour. Pandey’s exclusion was because of India’s spin-dominant attack in the shortest format and an opportunity to test Reddy. When Pandey had arrived in 2014 with twin scores of 59 in her third and fourth ODIs, she was seen as an all-rounder who could fill up the gap left by Amita Sharma. Why her batting wasn't nurtured over the years is a question that various team managements over the last four years have failed to answer, especially when she has been among runs for Goa in the domestic circuit. Bisht getting one game clearly indicates a change in the air and giving youngsters more game time is a priority.
From Sri Lanka’s perspective, this series was once again about Atapattu making runs — she scored a marvellous 117 in the third ODI which they won for their first ICC Women’s Championship points. She was the only batter with 200 or more runs in the ODI series. Emergence of a highly talented Nilakshi de Silva, who made a crucial 31 in that ODI win, was another positive for the hosts.
It was a thrilling fortnight for the sport with so much action packed in. While the ODIs were live streamed on YouTube by Sri Lanka Cricket, the board took a call to not telecast the T20Is. It is understood that at least one party was interested in striking a deal with SLC, but the authorities were very lackadaisical in their approach even after a social media campaign #ShowusWomenscricket gathered steam on Twitter. Till such a lethargic attitude prevails, no number of sparking performances from Rodrigues and other youngsters can break the wall.
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