Everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Gujarat Giants in the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League last year. They lost the tournament opener after Mumbai Indians piled on a massive 207/5 batting first and were bundled out for a mere 64 runs in 15 overs.

They lost their captain in the match too with Beth Mooney sustaining a calf strain, playing just three balls as an opener in the chase. The Giants promoted Sneh Rana as the captain for the season, but there was little the Indian domestic veteran could do as the side slumped to defeats after defeat.

With a highly unreliable middle order and a seemingly weak pace-bowling outfit, the Giants eventually ended the season as the wooden spoon holders, finishing with just two wins in eight matches.

As expected they hit a full reset ahead of the 2024 Women’s Premier League season. The Giants went for a complete overhaul and released ten out of their 18 players before the auction. There’s a change in the backroom staff as well with Michael Klinger replacing Rachel Haynes as the head coach.

The 2024 player auction saw them splurging a whopping Rs 4.5 crore – the highest among the five franchises, for ten players.

They spent Rs 1 crore to get the services of Phoebe Litchfield to bolster their middle order, while also spending Rs 2 crore for left-arm pacer Kashvee Gautam – making her the costliest buy of the auction.

Injuries and withdrawals

However, as was the case in the last season, bad luck seems to be never ending for the Giants ahead of the second edition of the Women’s Premier League.

Firstly, Lauren Cheatle – one of their latest Australian recruits at the auction to strengthen the pace attack, withdrew from the tournament. The 25-year-old underwent a procedure for skin cancer removal last month.

Gautam, on the other hand, has been ruled out with an injury, courtesy a stress fracture she suffered late last year.

Though they have brought in the experienced Lea Tahuhu and the young Sayali Sathgare as replacements for Cheatle and Gautam respectively, they have already been pushed into Plan B.

Strengths and Weakness

The biggest positive for the Giants though will be Mooney’s return to lead the team. None of their batters featured among the top ten run getters last season and the team management would hope that the Australian southpaw’s return changes their fortune.

The Gujarat Giants also seem to have a much stronger middle order post the player auctions as compared to the inaugural season. Besides the young Litchfield, they have also bought in the experienced Veda Krishnamurthy to strengthen their power hitting in the middle and death overs.

The retention of Laura Wolvaardt, who came in as a replacement for Mooney last year, gives them a strong opening combination followed by Harleen Deol at number 3.

The Giants will also have the luxury of fielding five foreign players, if they end up naming the associate player from Scotland – all-rounder Kathryn Bryce, in their playing eleven.

All-rounder Ashleigh Gardner will also be a sure shot starter in the team, meaning the Giants will have a headache in deciding which four or five foreign stars make it to their first team.

Even if they decide to start with Bryce, there will have to be a toss up between opener Wolvaardt and Tahuhu.

The fact that there’s virtually zero experience in their pace attack means that Tahuhu becomes a vital cog in their wheel. However, Wolvaardt notched up 143 runs with two fifties at a strike rate of 140.19 last season after coming in as a replacement means that the South African cannot easily be ignored.

Will the Giants have it in them to keep Litchfield out of the playing eleven in this case? Especially considering her performances during Australia’s tour to India last year and the fact that they broke the bank for the youngster. Or will they ask Litchfield to open the innings at the expense of Wolvaardt?

In any case, it will be the pace bowling department which seems to be a bone of contention for the Giants ahead of the season. Tahuhu has the experience but the White Fern bowler last played in India six years ago in 2018.

Their other pacers include Meghana Singh – an India international but an unproven quantity in T20s, the U19 World Cup winning Shabnam Shakil, and Bryce.

Players to watch out for

Beth Mooney: One of the best T20 batters in the world, a lot will ride on Mooney if the Gujarat Giants are to turn around their fortunes in the Women’s Premier League. The 30-year-old comes in with a wealth of experience and will aim to lead from the front with the bat. Additionally, Mooney’s astute tactical skills as a captain will also play a major factor in this almost brand new team.

Sayali Satghare: A pace bowling all-rounder, who plays for Mumbai in the domestic circuit, Satghare is a very exciting prospect. The youngster enjoyed a fruitful domestic one day season recently, averaging 52 win the bat, while also scalping ten wickets. Though it seems near impossible for Satghare to break into the first team, she should surely be the one to look out for Indian fans.

Squad: Ashleigh Gardner*, Beth Mooney*, Dayalan Hemalatha, Harleen Deol, Laura Wolvaardt*, Shabnam Shakil, Sneh Rana, Tanuja Kanwar, Phoebe Litchfield*, Meghna Singh, Trisha Poojitha, Sayali Satghare, Priya Mishra, Kathryn Bryce*, Mannat Kashyap, Veda Krishnamurthy, Tarannum Pathan, Lea Tahuhu*

— * denotes overseas player

Predicted XI: Beth Mooney*, Laura Wolvaardt*, Harleen Deol, Phoebe Litchfield*, Dayalan Hemalatha, Ashleigh Gardner*, Sneh Rana, Kathryn Bryce*, Mannat Kashyap, Meghana Singh, Shabnam Shakil

— * denotes overseas player