Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur’s return from an injury layoff will prove to be a shot in the arm as a buoyant India look to challenge a world champions Australia in a three-match T20I series beginning in Carrara, Gold Coast on Thursday.
In the multi-format series, Australia currently hold a 6-4 points lead, with each of the three T20Is worth two points. India will need to win two at least level the series.
“The momentum we created in the ODIs, it’s important, and we want to continue that in the T20Is,” Harmanpreet Kaur said ahead of the T20I series. “We need to win all three to win the series, and we want to go all out. We will go with our best talent because we want to win this series at any cost.”
The 32-year-old seasoned campaigner missed the ODI leg and the day-night Test against the hosts owing to a thumb injury. But she is now back in the team to add firepower to a batting line-up that comprises the swashbuckling Shafali Verma, who complements the flamboyance of Smriti Mandhana at the top of the order. And both are among runs on the tour.
Mandhana will be high on confidence heading into the last leg of the Australian tour, having scored a magnificent maiden Test hundred less than a week ago, not long after an impressive return to form in the ODIs as well. The senior opener will certainly look to sustain the momentum, notwithstanding the change in format.
While Harmanpreet is a welcome addition, the highly promising Shafali will be the cynosure of all eyes given her penchant for batting in an aggressive manner, which is aided by her repertoire of strokes on both sides of the wicket. T20 is, after all, her favourite format given she is the world No 1.
During the tour, the visitors have shown that they can take the fight to the brilliant yet rusty and somewhat weakened Aussies, something that helped them dominate the pink ball Test, shortly after bringing to an end Meg Lanning and Co’s three-year world-record streak of 26 wins in ODIs.
Can Harman start firing?
Injuries (groin before series against South Africa and thumb here) and Covid-19 weakness may have set her back in recent times but the upcoming three matches, plus the Women’s Big Bash League, will give Harmanpreet the perfect opportunity to regain her touch in the shorter formats before next year’s ODI World Cup.
Harmanpreet remains, without an iota of doubt, one of the biggest match-winners in the game’s shorter formats and she will fancy her chances in the coming days.
“I’m batting well, I’m fielding well. I didn’t play the Test because my fielding was being hampered. Had there been a four-day gap, maybe, I could have. But now I’m confident. I’m absolutely fine and looking forward to lots of cricket coming up,” the captain said, adding that she had difficulties holding the bat not too long ago.
It’s been a tough year for her but she is focussed on looking ahead.
“You have to accept it sometimes and give time to yourself. Personally, if I keep feeling things aren’t going my way, I’ll end up draining myself, which isn’t good for me. Right now, I am looking forward to playing whatever comes my way. I want to give it my 100%. I’m very thankful to the support staff for taking care of me and managing my workload,” she said.
While the Australian bowling attack trains its guns on the likes of Shafali, Mandhana and Harmanpreet, it will be another platform for young Jemimah Rodrigues to regain her form.
Jemimah hasn’t had the best of time with the national team but will take confidence from her impressive showing in The Hundred. The bouncy Australian pitches could help her free-flowing game, something that her captain would also look to make use of, as she too is a natural stroke-maker. The Indian captain hinted strongly that Rodrigues will get her chance in the T20Is and hoped that her batting can flow the same way it did in England.
Pace force for Australia
A plethora of all-rounders makes Australia a formidable outfit in the shorter formats but this Indian team has the wherewithal to rattle the hosts.
For inspiration, the Indians can go back to the near 180-run chase against them in a T20I before the World Cup last year, and also Harmanpreet and Co’s win at the start of the T20 World Cup. The final, the two teams’ previous meeting, went in favour famously of the Aussie against a record MCG crowd.
As has been the case for a while now in the T20s, veteran seamer Jhulan Goswami will not be there but India are expected to be well served by the likes of Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar and Shikha Pandey.
In batting, the visitors can also look up to wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh and Yastka Bhatia for runs in the middle-order.
As has been the trend in recent times, Australia will bank on their all-rounders to give them the edge. Captain Meg Lanning is confident a couple of her multi-skilled young stars can make an impact with the bat.
Australia are set to hand a T20I debut to in-form all-rounder Tahlia McGrath, who is coming off an impressive outing in the pink ball game.
On the back of her recent form with the ball, Annabel Sutherland is also making a case for selection, while Nicola Carey’s fine track record will ensure she remains in the scheme of things. From the hosts’ point of view, all eyes will be on tearaway quick Tayla Vlaeminck, who could feature here after being rested in the other formats over injury concerns. Considered one of the fastest bowlers in the game, she will pose a handful to the Indian batters.
“There’ll be a couple of changes I think,” Lanning said, according to cricket.com.au. “It’s been spoken about Tayla (Valeminck) being available which is really exciting, so we’ll have a look at (the wicket) and see if that makes an impact on selection in terms of bowling.
“We’ve chatted a little bit at selection about whether we want to stick with that specialist batter or whether we feel like we’ve got enough coverage with those allrounders.
“I certainly think both of those options could work, but the depth within our allrounders is incredible, really – there’s a lot of really good batting that we haven’t seen at this level just because of the strength of our top order, so potentially we could utilise that a little bit more in this series.
“Balance is important and so is having variety with the ball, and making sure we match that up with the conditions is crucial as well.
“We feel like we’ve got really good depth in all those areas, we just need to make sure we get those selections right.”
India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (vc), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Shikha Pandey, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh (wk), Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Renuka Singh.
Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham.
Match starts at 2.10pm IST.
With PTI inputs.