Two months before the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup and days before an all-important series at home against defending champions Australia, Harmanpreet Kaur-led India are undergoing a think-tank change after the transfer of their head coach Ramesh Powar to NCA.

In the build-up to the five-match T20 series, there is also the discussion over regulars of the senior team – Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh – being included in the squad for the inaugural edition of the ICC Women’s Under-19 T20 World Cup, also happening in South Africa.

Amid all that, it is undeniable that there is no better preparation for a marquee tournament than facing the all-conquering Australian side, who themselves are bracing for a test under new leadership. After leading them to the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, Meg Lanning has taken a break from the game while Rachael Haynes has since retired from cricket. It means the world champions are in Indian shores with a new captain-vice captain combo in Alyssa Healy and Tahlia McGrath.

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India handed call-ups to left-arm pacer Anjali Sarvani and Devika Vaidya (making a comeback) who had a strong domestic season. Additionally, following their performances at the Senior Women’s Inter Zonal T20 Trophy and the Women’s T20 Challenger Trophy, Yastika Bhatia rejoined the T20 squad after being left out of the Asia Cup, as did Harleen Deol.

Meanwhile, all-rounder Sneh Rana was absent from the squad named and D Hemalatha and Kiran Navgire were also missing.

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“The members of the team have performed well. Especially the new girls, they have done well in the domestic circuit,” said Harmanpreet about the squad ahead of the first T20I against Australia in Mumbai in the pre-match press conference. “Anjali took the highest wickets and then other players have done really well. Selections depend on your performance. Sneh Rana and others are good players, whenever they perform, they will come back.”

Healy leads a strong-looking side in the absence of Lanning. Nineteen-year-old Phoebe Litchfield has been included, while ex-Ireland pacer Kim Garth and Heather Graham could also be expected to make their debuts.

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As India return to action with Hrishikesh Kanitkar appointed as the team’s batting coach, Harmanpreet is confident that there will be no problems adjusting as the team has worked with him at the National Cricket Academy and India’s tour of Sri Lanka.

“We had a very good experience with Hrishi sir when we toured Sri Lanka and when we were at the NCA, he was always available, whenever we needed his help. Hrishi sir brings in a lot of experience to the team and we are looking forward and focusing on the road ahead,” Harmanpreet said.

“We are in the right hands, and whatever decision the BCCI takes, we are okay with it. Had there been a new coach, it could have been difficult, but since we have worked with Hrishi sir in the past, I don’t think there will be any problems. If a new person comes in, you need to explain a lot of things, but Hrishi sir already knows how we work, so there won’t be much changes,” she added.

While the hosts have played an away series against England and at the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, Australia will be in action for the first time since the Commonwealth Games. India’s title victory at the Asia Cup in October was encouraging, but the squad will be cautious while facing the reigning world champions Australia, who they were unable to topple once again in a major final despite Harmanpreet’s outstanding knock in Birmingham.

Middle order concerns

India had found mixed success under Powar but fell short of the finish line on several occasions and so, this series will be an opportunity for them to shine with the confidence that familiarity with Kanitkar can provide.

“We needed someone who could give us that calmness on the field. You have seen in the past that in crucial situations, girls need that support in someone who can guide them calmly and tell them what to do and there should be clear thoughts,” said Harmanpreet, talking about the change of think-tank.

“In Sri Lanka, we seen that side of Hrishi sir. When we heard that he will be the coach for the Australia series and even beyond that, there was a positivity in the team. We really liked the way he worked with us in Sri Lanka.”

Talking about whether there will be a new approach or significant changes ahead of the World Cup, Harmanpreet mentioned that India were looking to follow the same strategy they have been following in the last few months, but the skipper is hoping for the new additions to fill in the gaps that were felt in Sri Lanka and at the Asia Cup.

The addition of wrist-spinner Vaidya can be expected to bolster the spin department while adding batting depth. Anjali Sarvani, a left-arm bowler who operates in the powerplay, can be expected to support Renuka Thakur in the pace department.

Before her well-deserved break recently, Smriti Mandhana had been batting like a dream in England, and produced the fireworks at the Asia Cup final. Jemimah Rodrigues’ form since her return to the team augers well too even though she has struggled for runs domestically.

However, more will be expected from the batters in the middle order – a persistent problem area for the side – especially in the absence of Pooja Vastrakar who is ruled out due to injury. Expectations from S Meghana, Bhatia and Deol will be high so that Harmanpreet isn’t left to do the heavy-lifting as she often has to. The only blip in India’s Asia Cup campaign was a defeat against Pakistan that came about when India experimented with their middle order. That came after the captain bemoaned the solidity in that area at the CWG final too.

India have known for long that this is an area of concern, but what solutions can they find? The Kanitkar-Kaur combo have their task cut out.

India’s squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Renuka Singh Thakur, Meghna Singh, Anjali Sarvani, Devika Vaidya, S Meghana, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Harleen Deol

Australia’s squad: Alyssa Healy (c), Tahlia McGrath (vc), Darcie Brown, Nicola Carey, Ashleigh Gardner, Kim Garth, Heather Graham, Grace Harris, Jess Jonassen, Alana King, Phoebe Litchfield, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Megan Schutt, Annabel Sutherland

Schedule for the five-match T20I series

Day Date Match Venue
Friday 9th December 1st T20I D.Y. Patil Stadium
Sunday 11th December 2nd T20I D.Y. Patil Stadium
Wednesday 14th December 3rd T20I CCI
Saturday 17th December 4th T20I CCI
Tuesday 20th December 5th T20I CCI

The matches will be broadcast on the Star Sports network and Disney+Hotstar