You don’t see many press conferences these days in sport where a question to a captain of one of the two teams competing, is about the broadcast of the series they are about to play in less than 24 hours from the time of said press conference.
But where women’s cricket is concerned, expect the unexpected.
India captain Harmanpreet Kaur had to answer a question about potentially playing a series in Sri Lanka where the fans back home in India perhaps won’t be able to watch them. Harmanpreet then had to tell the media that there is something happening in the background that could mean we hear some sort of official confirmation soon. And so, past midnight, officially on the day of the first T20I in Indian Standard Time, came the confirmation that the series will indeed be available to stream in India.
The many questions that the followers of the Indian team have are around the composition of the team itself, what goes into making decisions, but often we are left with very little pieces of information to put these puzzles together (like the ‘BCCI or selectors will be able to answer your queries’ but from where?). Even on Twitter, all the buzz on the night before the series – the team’s first international assignment in nearly three months – is about whether we will be able to watch them, when there is so much else to speak about. And promotion for the series from the official BCCI social media? Good luck with that.
Even in 2022 where resources are no bar for the BCCI, the treatment handed out the women’s game remains abysmally poor in the subcontinent, as the Indian and Sri Lankan women’s national cricket teams take to the field in preparation for Birmingham 2022.
India begin to rebuild
So, as we must, now we turn our attention to the game. This series marks the return of India to proper T20I cricket for the first time since the tour of Australia in October 2021. (The one T20I in New Zealand doesn’t count, because it was essentially played with the ODI squad).
Jemimah Rodrigues’ omission from the World Cup squad made little sense back then, was even more puzzling as the tournament progressed, seemed downright ridiculous when she piled the runs on during the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy and looked impressive in the Women’s T20 Challenge. And yet she gets to feature only in the T20I-leg of this Sri Lanka tour. At this point, it reeks of outright apathy from the selectors but for her part, assuming she gets the nod for the three T20Is, the Mumbai batter should do her utmost to make a case for inclusion in the squads for CWG and beyond.
“Jemimah is truly an experienced player. She will definitely play a crucial role in the T20 series,” Harmanpreet said. “I will ensure that everyone has enough chances to prepare. If you look at Jemimah’s case, she always grabs whatever opportunities come her way. Similarly, it’s very important to keep talking to other players and find out the right combination for big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games.”
Part of the Jemimah puzzle is also the abundance of top order batters in the Indian set-up. Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, S Meghana, Yastika Bhatia and Jemimah herself are all comfortable in the top two or three and the Indian think-tank will have to figure out ways to best utilise their skills.
“We do have many top order batters, including three to four of them, who can play as openers. But, when it comes to this team, everyone will have an opportunity to showcase their skills,” Harmanpreet said when asked about this dilemma. “We all are representing our country and whatever opportunity might come at some point, we must make the best use of it. We have many batters who can play at any position. We will try to give everyone the space to bat where they feel comfortable.”
The problem though, that has been there for a while for India, is trying to fit batters into roles in the national side that they are simply not well versed in. Square pegs, round holes and all that. And it will be once again an issue that the team has to find answers for.
Harmanpreet though, in both her interactions with the media, was clear with the fact that she wants her side to play aggressive white-ball cricket with the bat and push the boat out in terms of scoring rate.
The other area that warranted mention on more than occasion is fitness and fielding. Both areas will be worth keeping an eye on in this series.
Chance for young pacers to impress?
On the bowling side of things, it won’t be a surprise – based on the conditions – to see India place a bulk of the workload on spinners, with Harmanpreet too hinting at using herself as an out-an-out allrounder option. But the pacers who do get selected will have a chance to impress in an area of obvious concern in recent times. Jhulan Goswami hasn’t been in T20I scheme of things for a while now, and Shikha Pandey – who bowled arguably the ball of the year in the shortest format in 2021, the last series she played – seemingly out of favour permanently, the likes of Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh and Simran Dil Bahadur have a chance here to show what they are capable of.
“As far as pace bowling is concerned, you’ve seen from the Australia tour, we’ve introduced Renuka and Meghna, we introduced a few bowlers in the system as well. So, it will take a little time to see the results because they have to address their fitness and match experience,” head coach Ramesh Powar said before the team’s departure to Sri Lanka.
“Whichever bowlers are there - we are carrying four fast bowlers - you will see results from them. Pooja Vastrakar has been an outstanding bowler for the last six months. Moving forward, we will try and fast-track this fast bowling attack’s improvements.”
India's record in Sri Lanka
|Team||Mat||SL wins||India wins||Tied||NR|
As for Sri Lanka, things have not been easy for the country in recent times and the women’s team’s fortunes have not been great in recent years as well. Game time has been a serious issue for them but in Chamari Athapaththu they have a feisty leader and one of the all-time great batters to lead the charge. They too will have eyes on Commonwealth Games having qualified for it and could well still be smarting from the fact that they had to miss out on the recent ODI World Cup. Their Pakistan tour wasn’t the most productive, but at home they will hope to provide stiffer resitsance.
India’s T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), S Meghna, Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Simran Bahadur, Richa Ghosh (wk), Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh, Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav.
Sri Lanka: Chamari Athapaththu (C), Nilakshi de Silva, Kavisha Dilhari, Vishmi Gunaratne, Ama Kanchana, Hansima Karunaratne, Achini Kulasuriya, Sugandika Kumari, Harshitha Madavi, Hasini Perera, Udeshika Prabodhani, Oshadi Ranasinghe, Inoka Ranaweera, Sathya Sandeepani, Anushka Sanjeewani, Malsha Shehani, Tharika Sewwandi.
India's tour of Sri Lanka
|1||Thursday||23rd June||1st T20I||Dambulla|
|2||Saturday||25th June||2nd T20I||Dambulla|
|3||Monday||27th June||3rd T20I||Dambulla|
|4||Friday||1st July||1st ODI||Kandy|
|5||Monday||4th July||2nd ODI||Kandy|
|6||Thursday||7th July||3rd ODI||Kandy|