Ekta Bisht is India’s Pakistan specialist. In eight matches across formats, the left-arm spinner has taken 21 wickets against the old rival. 10 of these wickets have come in five T20I matches at an incredible average of 8.70. The last time the two teams met, Bisht returned with figures of 3 for 14, as India trounced Pakistan by seven wickets in Kuala Lumpur to enter their seventh straight Asia Cup final.
However, when India face Pakistan in their second match of the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 at Providence Stadium in Guyana on Sunday, it is unlikely that the left-arm spinner will find a place in the XI. Since India’s loss in the Asia Cup final, Radha Yadav, the 18-year-old, has been preferred by the team management over Bisht. Whether the 32-year-old plays or not, India have a plethora of spinners at their disposal— all of whom have done well in the recent past. Poonam Yadav continues to be India’s spearhead in T20Is, while Deepti Sharma, Radha, Hemalatha Dayalan and Anuja Patil work well in support roles.
Against New Zealand, India decided to hand Hemalatha her T20I debut, and the off-spinner responded quite brilliantly to the pressure of a World Cup, picking up three wickets for 26 runs. Aside from her though, India generally struggled to keep the New Zealand batters quiet, allowing them time to get under the ball and work it over the vacant square leg area. Poonam also picked up three wickets in the match, but failed to bowl with the usual consistency she is known for, getting picked off through square leg more times than she would have liked.
“It is just the beginning… We have a long way to go,” said Harmanpreet Kaur after her team’s 34-run win in the opening match. “There are a lot of areas where we need to improve. We need to definitely discuss and… Still as a bowling unit we need to improve a lot.”
“From the bowlers’ point of view, we could have restricted them (New Zealand) below 150,” said Smriti Mandhana, echoing her captain’s words. "That would have been great for us. Those are the things we’ll be working on in our next game.”
On the back of their commanding win, India will go into their Group B contest against Pakistan as clear favourites. They will however, be wary of their opponents, who are unpredictable at best. India have won eight out of their 10 T20I matches against Pakistan, but both their losses have come in T20 World Cups: a one-run loss in Galle in 2012, followed by a two-run loss (Duckwoth-Lewis method) in Delhi in 2016.
India-Pakistan encounters are unlike any other at the international level. The women’s matches do not involve the same kind of charged atmosphere as the men’s game, but the occasion is always special.
“We play the games with a different kind of passion, and it brings its own unique feeling,” Nida Dar, the Pakistan all-rounder, said ahead of the game. “Compared to other matches, we play with double the emotion. We’re hoping for the best wishes of people back home.”
Despite the crushing 52-run loss to Australia in their first match of the tournament, Javeria Khan’s team will be upbeat going into Sunday’s match. After a sloppy first half with the ball, Pakistan’s bowlers, led by Aliya Riaz, came back strongly to restrict Australia to 165 for 5. With the bat, young Omaima Sohail and Bismah Maroof showed flashes of brilliance, but were unable to find any support from the rest of the line-up.
India will be hoping to carry their momentum with the bat into the game. Kaur’s breathtaking century has certainly given the line-up a lot of confidence, but they will want to improve their output in the first six overs to set a better launching pad for their explosive middle-order.
“From every win, we have to take our points out,” said Mandhana, who will be looking to make a more meaningful contribution against Pakistan. “The Powerplay – I don’t think we got the kind of start we expect our batters to give. Personally, I didn’t bat the way I do.”
Like India, Pakistan will be banking on their spinners to do a bulk of the work with the ball. Anam Amin, Sana Mir, Nida Dar and Nashra Sandhu form a tricky combination. Amin, Mir and Dar have all tasted success against India and will be keen to extend that run in this tournament. Riaz, the medium pacer, who showed discipline with the ball against Australia, could be used as a surprise element.
Having been pushed down the order, Mithali Raj could play an important role in this high pressure match — her experience, calmness, deft footwork and immaculate timing against spin setting her apart from the rest of the hard-hitting Indian batters.
In 2016, it was around this stage of the tournament that Pakistan toppled India — a loss that eventually knocked them out of the tournament. Considering India has undergone a massive personnel change since then, the ghosts of the past may not be haunting Kaur’s team, but they will be well aware of that their neighbours are more than capable of springing a surprise.
A win for India in this match will mean they have one foot firmly in the semi-final, but as Mandhana said, it is unlikely the team will be looking too far ahead at this point: India’s campaign is all about “one game at a time.”
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht, D Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy.
Pakistan: Javeria Khan (c), Bismah Maroof, Aiman Anwer, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Zafar, Diana Baig, Muneeba Ali, Nahida Khan, Nashra Sandhu, Natalia Pervaiz, Nida Dar, Omaima Sohail, Sana Mir, Sidra Ameen, Sidra Nawaz.
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