Harmanpreet Kaur will lead India in the first ever standalone Women’s World T20 in the West Indies starting on 9 November. Pooja Vastrakar returns to the international circuit, after an ankle injury had kept her out of the Women’s Challenger Trophy and India’s tour of Sri Lanka in September. The only change in the team, she replaces Shikha Pandey, the pace bowling all-rounder, who played only one match on that tour.
India are placed in Group B alongside Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Pakistan and will play all their matches in Guyana.
The Indian batting looks in good shape with Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj and Jemimah Rodrigues making up the top order. All three have been in scintillating form recently, Mandhana, in particular, grabbing the headlines for her incredible performances in the Women’s Super League in England. Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Hemalatha Dayalan and Anuja Patil are options in the middle order, while Taniya Bhatia, the wicket-keeper, and Vastrakar add the power at the end.
On paper, the Indian batting looks as strong as it has ever been, most bases seemingly covered with Raj providing a sense of stability in a line-up full of frantic stroke-players.
As usual, the spinners will take the main responsibility with the ball: Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav and Patil forming a deadly and diverse combination.
The pace contingent of Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy and Mansi Joshi, is fairly new and inexperienced. With 11 T20Is under her belt, Vastrakar has played the most matches, followed by Reddy (5) and Joshi (2). All three are very similar — genuine outswingers who bowl at a decent pace and can hurry the batswomen. Vastrakar and Reddy have good bouncers up their sleeve, while Joshi uses the off-cutter to good effect.
The emphasis on youth in the Indian team is clear— the average age of the squad is 24— with only two players, Raj and Bisht, over the age of 30. There are as many as three teenagers in the squad, and five others who are yet to turn 25. Hemalatha is the only uncapped player in the 15, while five more have played less than 15 matches.
The Indian team have played a combined total of 475 matches— Kaur, Raj, Mandhana and Krishnamurthy accounting for 270 of those. Compare that to Australia (541), New Zealand (585) and even Pakistan (556) and the Indian team’s inexperience is evident.
The management, however, are not too worried about the youngsters wilting under pressure.
“The youngsters are very fearless,” said Ramesh Powar, head coach of the Indian team, ahead of the team’s departure to the West Indies. "In the past eight games, we changed a lot of things… We tried to expose them (youngsters) to the (pressure) situation(s), let them go through that, and come out winners; that's how we learn.”
Previous World Cups
In five previous editions of the tournament, India have reached the final four only twice— in 2009 in England and 2010 in the West Indies. Since then, they have struggled to get past the group stage, even finishing as low as seventh in 2012.
In 2016, after a promising start against Bangladesh, Mithali Raj’s blue brigade stumbled through the rest of the tournament, losing their next three matches against Pakistan, England and West Indies. The Indian team seemed to crumble under the weight of expectation in front of the home crowd. They found it hard to adjust to the slow and low pitches, often receding into a shell — scoring at less than a run-a-ball, to finish fourth in their group.
India’s T20I performances over the last 10 months have been inconsistent. A 3-1 away series win against South Africa, followed by a forgettable tri-series against Australia and England at home, and then the disastrous loss in the Asia Cup final to Bangladesh saw the team undergo a sea of change. For starters, Powar was appointed head coach after the resignation of Tushar Arothe. Then, Jhulan Goswami announced her retirement from T20Is citing that she was no longer able to cope with the demands of the shortest format. Finally, the selectors chose to infuse some young blood — and a fresh attitude — into the team.
Powar’s entry has forced the team to change their approach in T20Is. They are now more willing to go on the attack from the very start, not worried about losing their wickets.
That mindset was on display during India’s last international assignment ahead of the World T20: five T20Is against Sri Lanka. Riding on the performances of Rodrigues (191 runs), Patil (99 runs and five wickets) and Poonam (eight wickets), India whitewashed the hosts, 4-0.
Just before their departure to the Caribbean, the Indian team also faced Australia A in three T20s in Mumbai. They won the series 3-0— the batswomen dominating on rather flat surfaces at Bandra Kurla Complex Ground. The senior batting trio of Kaur, Raj and Mandhana went out all guns blazing, scoring 143, 112 and 78 runs respectively.
Traditionally, India’s bowling unit has always been stronger than its batting line-up. Although spin continues to be India’s biggest strength, the team also boasts of a pretty powerful top-order. Mandhana hit a purple patch after the World Cup debacle — the left-hander has scored 444 runs in 20 T20Is at a strike rate of 132.93 in the last 10 months. Most impressively, she has hit 13 sixes in this period. She is the more attacking half of the team’s solid opening partnership, with Raj at the other end. Normally one to play her way into an innings and pace her knock according to the situation, Raj has also taken to Powar’s attacking style. She even scored an unbeaten 61-ball 105 against Australia A to become the first Indian woman to score two T20 centuries.
Rodrigues, who made her international debut in February against South Africa, has taken to the international level like fish to water. Alongside Bhatia, the wicket-keeper, she adds a fresh dimension to the Indian line-up. Patil, the unorthodox right-hander will play an important role as a finisher. Kaur, who has not let the captaincy affect her batting, is in splendid touch while Krishnamurthy will be hoping to turn her form around. The pair add experience and power to what otherwise feels like a rather shallow batting line-up.
While the pace department is very inexperienced, the spin quartet of Bisht, Poonam, Patil and Sharma form a deadly combination. They have taken 167 wickets between them and are India’s biggest weapons with the ball. Poonam is a traditional leg-spinner — someone who likes to give the ball a lot of air, and extracts whatever she can from the surface. She provides no pace to the batswomen, forcing them to create all the power and picking up wickets in the process. She is India’s strike bowler in the T20I format: a genuine wicket-taker.
Patil and Sharma are the off-spinners in the line-up, while Bisht, the senior-most bowler in the team, is the left-arm spinner. All three are often entrusted to bowl in the Powerplay, in an attempt to keep the opposition quiet and snuff a few early wickets. With the rise of Radha, the teenage left-arm spinner, and healthy competition for spots, it will be interesting to see whom India picks for the XI.
Areas of concern
While the top order looks very strong, India’s batting lacks real depth. The lower order is highly inexperienced, and seem a tad brittle upon closer inspection. India batted first twice in the five-match T20I series against Sri Lanka, and both times, struggled at the back end of the innings. In the first T20I, they managed to score only 31 runs in the last five overs and lost three wickets in the process; and in the final match, they went from 105 for 3 in 11.2 overs, to 156 all out— losing 6 for 28 in 4.2 overs.
In the 2017 World Cup final, it was this inexperience under pressure that caused the lower order to stumble. India will be hoping their top order is able to see most games through, and if not, that the young guns are able to fight through their fear.
Smriti Mandhana’s form over the last 10 months has been nothing short of incredible. Her exploits for India and Western Storm in the Kia Super League have made waves around the cricketing world.
During India’s poor home season at the start of the year Mandhana was the only bright spot. She scored 1,113 runs in 32 international matches since February, including one century and 11 half-centuries. A few technical tweaks have allowed her to expand her scoring areas. As vice-captain, and one of the team’s best batters, she will be expected to lead the way with the bat.
With the ball, Poonam Yadav will be India’s biggest threat. The loopy leg-spinner from Uttar Pradesh, is India’s highest wicket taker in T20I cricket with 61 scalps. Of the five spinners in the squad, she is the most attacking option— using her lack of height and pace to her advantage. Poonam often gives the ball a real rip, tossing it above the batswoman's eyeline, forcing them to create all the power in the shot. She possesses a difficult-to-read googly and also mixes in the occasional offspinner.
When the team needs wickets, they often turn to Poonam, and the 27-year old almost always delivers. She takes a wicket every 14 balls in T20Is, and for a leg-spinner is extremely miserly, going at only 5.46 runs per over.
One to watch
Jemimah Rodrigues has caught the imagination of the nation with her fiery stroke-play and electric fielding. Batting at No 3, she will play a very important role in India’s campaign. She likes to attack the bowlers, taking toll on anything even slightly off line. Her ability to score all around the ground — whether she is looking to hit boundaries or simply get off strike— is what makes her a nightmare to bowl to.
The right-hander, who made her debut against South Africa earlier this year, has scored 336 runs in 14 T20Is, including three half-centuries. Although she has a slight frame, Rodrigues’ runs have come at a strike rate of 137.14, including as many as 11 sixes and 36 fours.
Before the arrival of Powar as the coach, Rodrigues had warmed the bench more than she played, but after a stellar run in Sri Lanka, she seems to have cemented her spot in the T20I XI. The 18-year old bats with the calmness of an experienced player — she trusts her ability and is always looking to score runs. That positive approach will not only keep bowlers on their toes, but also make sure to keep India ahead in the game as long as she is out there.
Ahead of the tournament in the West Indies, the Indian team seem rather upbeat about their chances of reaching the last four. Despite the inexperience and many players going into their first major event, Powar believes that his team has the right attitude.
“This team is more about dominance rather than just competing,” he said. “They are looking to dominate everything, every situation. As a coach, I don't feel they will go under pressure in that situation [at the World T20]— I mean reaction-wise. We tried that for the last eight games to already put them under pressure— whether it's the pressure of batting in the Power Play or the pressure of chasing a total.”
Although they whitewashed Sri Lanka, India managed to beat the pressure and always found a way to come out on top. The batters were constantly looking to take the game on and attack the opposition, and the youngsters came through Powar’s pressure test with flying colours.
"Right now every player knows their plans, why they're in the team and what we are expecting from them,” Kaur told the media. “[It works well] if your teammates know what as a leader or as a team they're expected to do. So, I think, the players understand what they are capable of, which is very important. Only when your players understand this, you are ready to execute."
Grouped alongside Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Pakistan, India will have to be at the top of their game if they want to qualify for the knockouts. Australia and New Zealand have power-packed line-ups, while Pakistan are always a threat on their day. The Indian team looks confident, and in good shape going in to the mega event, but the onus will be on their batters to deliver consistently.
Squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht, Dayalan Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Pooja Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy.
9 November: v New Zealand, Guyana
11 November: v Pakistan, Guyana
15 November: v Ireland, Guyana
17 November: v Australia, Guyana