If any country’s governing board can name a 15-member squad for a Cricket World Cup that generates 100% agreement from all stakeholders, they would have figured out the solution to one of the game’s biggest debate-causing topics that ever was, is and will be.
It is perhaps impossible.
What is possible, however, is that there can be a squad that addresses most issues from a selection and balance point of view. Is there enough experience for the big stage? Is there enough backing for young talents who need the experience of the big stage? Are domestic performances rewarded? Have the form players been picked? Are most bases covered?
When the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced the squad for the upcoming ICC Women’s Cricket Word Cup 2022 in New Zealand, forget having consensus for a minute, there were more questions than answers to said questions.
Officially, this is all we know: “All-India Women’s Selection Committee on Wednesday picked the squad for the ICC Women’s World Cup 2022. Team India play their first World Cup fixture against Pakistan on March 6th, 2022 at the Bay Oval, Tauranga. The squad will also feature in the 5-match ODI series against New Zealand starting from 11th February, 2022.”
Unofficially, “A BCCI source confirmed to PTI that the two have been dropped on account of their form in the ODI format,” is a line that has been fed for potentially the two biggest exclusions: pacer Shikha Pandey and batter Jemimah Rodrigues. Something similar has been reported on ESPNCricinfo too, with both players evidently available for selection but not picked in the 15-member main squad or a 3-player standby list.
Squad ODIs against NZ & ICC Women’s World Cup 2022: Mithali Raj (Captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Jhulan Goswami, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav.
Standby Players: Sabbhineni Meghana, Ekta Bisht, Simran Dil Bahadur.
There is a logical argument made in men’s cricket that performance in franchise leagues shouldn’t perhaps be used as a metric to select for ODIs. But, and this is no criticism, women’s cricket hasn’t yet reached the point where 50-over and 20-over formats require completely different skillsets. The scoring rates are still comparable and if a player succeeds in the shortest format, the chances of doing so in the ODIs (and vice versa) are much higher than you could say for the men’s game.
The men play a lot more international cricket by design too, and hence there is often enough data and metrics to use for selecting in a format. For women, arguably, the competitive international series’ are still sparse (who’s responsible for that?) and the leagues that do exist are often the highest quality cricket they will play otherwise.
On that note, a penny for Jemimah Rodrigues’ thoughts. Because scoring the second-most runs overall at the third best strike rate (min 100 runs) in the recently launched Hundred and scoring the second most runs for her team Melbourne Renegades who reached the playoffs of Women’s Big Bash League are evidently not enough markers for form. Instead the two ODIs she played in England before these two tournaments and the zero ODIs she was selected in the XI for in Australia are keeping her out.
How does someone prove their form if they are not selected? And how is scoring runs in the two biggest international leagues at the moment, and the T20Is against Australia, not a sufficient indication of regaining form? If weightage was given to the domestic 50-over form, like S Meghana’s selection seems to indicate, was this conveyed to Rodrigues before she played in the WBBL and eventually missed out on the tournaments back home? If just ODI numbers are a metric, then that defies logic.
And then there is the case of Pandey. She was left out of the series at home against South Africa when the team returned to play after nearly a year, then got some chances in England, fewer chances in Australia. In the T20Is, she produced arguably the delivery of 2021... displaying the sort of seam and swing movement that could help in places like, you know, New Zealand perhaps.
She returned to play domestic cricket, didn’t set the circuit alight. But after all the talk in the lead-up to Australia tour about relieving the workload on Jhulan Goswami, reducing the pressure on her to take wickets and contain runs, giving her a chance to express herself, has it been achieved? The squad selected now has one 22-year-old only just finding her feet in international cricket, a recent debutant in Australia, and a player yet to feature in an ODI for India as Goswami’s support cast.
This is in no way a commentary on the players selected. As mentioned earlier, picking only 15 (+3) from the depths of talent available to India is perhaps the hardest task there is. Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur may all go to have impressive World Cup campaigns. Yastika Bhatia, who has played well in Australia and carried that form over to domestic matches, has earned a place in the 15 on the weight of her scores too. If you think long and hard about it, you can make strong case for a high percentage of the names that have made the cut.
But the problem, ultimately, is not the questions the selections themselves raise. It is a group of talented players with a good mix of experience and youth, tested talent and hope for the future. It is the nature in which we are left to wonder... it is the many ifs that swirl around. If you will, read the above few paragraphs another time and this time pay closer attention to how many ifs and assumptions are having to be made, and how little clarity there is.
If there is no clarity on the pathway to make it to the national squad, players will just continue to be in limbo about their personal targets and quest for improvement.
The two biggest areas of concern are this: how will there be any accountability on the team that has been selected if we don’t understand the reasoning behind the said decisions? And how will players themselves feel if those of us on the outside have these many questions that have no reasonable explanation?
Communication remains Indian cricket’s biggest mystery.
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