Poonam Yadav will undoubtedly be one of the first names written on the Indian team sheet. The diminutive leg-spinner has been a vital cog in the playing XI for the past two seasons and on the slow Caribbean pitches, is expected to be one of India's trump cards at the World Cup.
Yadav is the only front-line bowler to feature in every T20 match for India this year. And there is a strong reason behind it. Yadav is the leading wicket-taker in the world in the T20 format in 2018. The spin-wiz from Agra has taken 27 wickets at 14.66, including two four-wicket hauls, at a phenomenal strike-rate of 15.5. In those 20 matches, she has only gone wicket-less on four instances and bamboozled batters on different types of surfaces.
Standing at just 5 feet, Yadav's bowling is a rare art in modern-day cricket. Her release point is so low that each ball tends to be above the batters eye-line and causing many batters to miscue the length. Her slow and loopy deliveries can be difficult to improvise and score against.
Often batters find they are unable to get to the pitch and are out stumped, or if they go back deep in the crease, the slowness of the ball often makes it difficult for them to time the ball while going for the big hits. A majority of her wickets tend to be batters either getting stumped or being caught on the boundary. In recent times, she has also added the faster ball to her repertoire and boasts a good googly.
Yadav is a type of bowler that becomes extremely difficult to handle when the conditions are slow, low, and there is a grip on the surface. The pitches in the West Indies are likely to be on the slower side and if there is a turn on offer, Yadav will be one of the major weapons for Harmanpreet Kaur during the middle overs. She is often India's go-to bowler in the middle overs or when the required run-rate starts sliding over six-runs-an over.
How Kaur uses Yadav during the World Cup will be interesting to see. Generally, she is brought on after the power-play and she also tends to be used in death overs. But for Yadav to be a major strike weapon, she needs her batters posting decent totals. Her record indicates that she is more successful when India has accumulated big scores or when the opposition middle order has been exposed early.
Yadav's bowling average to batters from No 5 onwards is in single digits, implying that she is a nightmare for the lower order, and India will be banking on her to apply the pressure with her loopy leg-breaks.
There are not as many leg-spinners in the women's game as the men and the rareness makes Yadav a unique commodity for India. She will need to burden the role of the primary spinner and there be expectations on her to provide breakthroughs through the middle stages.
She will also be the go-to bowler for Kaur and needs to back her skills to skittle the opposition, especially when the game hangs in the balance. There will be other slow bowlers such as Deepti Sharma, Anuja Patil and Kaur to partner Yadav, but for India to be a force, the leg-spinning wiz needs to continue a brilliant form of 2018.
Such is the nature of the tournament that India will in all likelihood need to beat at least two of Pakistan, New Zealand, and Australia to qualify for the semi-finals. However, one team that has got the better of Yadav in the past has been the Australians. Yadav's economy rate skews to above seven while on the contrary, she has been extremely economical against India's other two opponents in the group – New Zealand and Pakistan.
Yadav certainly has form and experience on her side. She will also be boosted by the fact that the new coach, Ramesh Powar is a massive fan of her style of bowling. In the past, while the pressure has been on Yadav, which has had the tendency to deviate her from her strengths, with Powar at the helm, expect her to back her brand.
The T20 World Cup promises to be an important stage for Yadav. At 27, and with 43 T20s under her belt, she is one of the senior members of the squad and has the responsibility of being the primary strike force with the ball. Her recent record shows she is in good form and the continuity is bound to assist her as she prepares to confront some of the elite batters in the world. If Yadav can continue to take wickets through the tournament there is a strong chance India could progress to the semi-final. But if she finds the surfaces too flat, then India will need to find a genuine wicket taker through the middle or later overs.