India’s preparation for next month’s ICC Women’s World T20 hasn’t been ideal in many ways.
They failed to win the last two multi-team T20I series they played, the tri-series against England and Australia and the Asia Cup T20. They have a new coach in Ramesh Powar who has overseen only eight games so far, all against Sri Lanka. The planned T20 series in West Indies to acclimatise to the conditions was cancelled and they had to delay and then shift their preparatory from the Wankhede Stadium due to issues with the Mumbai Cricket Association.
But leaving aside the “things you cannot control”, captain Harmanpreet Kaur has high hopes for marquee event in the West Indies with a fitter and more flexible Indian team that has beaten Sri Lanka and Australia A in their latest matches.
“We were going to go to West Indies but that didn’t happen so we had the series against Australia A. We wanted to give chances to everyone and whatever plans we had we were able to execute it in those matches. We wanted the practice before the World Cup so it was good for us,” Harmanpreet told reporters ahead of the team’s departure for West Indies.
Not a pleasant situation
In coach Powar’s words, stepping in to replace Tushar Arothe who resigned after a fallout with senior players was an unpleasant situation. But in the two months since his appointment, the Mumbai off-spinner has tried to bring together the team and focus on the greater goal – playing for India.
“To be very honest, it was not a pleasant situation… Then again, I come from Mumbai, I’ve faced such situations for the last 15 years. As a Mumbaikar, I think I could manage to do that. And the experience of playing for more than 15 years, all over, and with India, youngsters and seniors, that has helped a lot.
“When you have to build a team from the scratch, I’ve had good communication with them because it’s a matter of making them realise their potential. That’s about it, make them understand what the greater cause is. That’s what we’ve tried to do. To realise we are India players, that Team India comes first, everything else comes later and it’s something I was surprised to see they realised so early. I had thought it would take them some time, but within a few days they understand what I was talking [about]. It was challenging but it’s been good,” he told the media in Mumbai.
One of the bigger challenges for the new coach is mental angle, making sure the team can hold their nerves at crunch moments and see through matches calmly, an aspect that is even more crucial in the fast-paced shortest format of the game.
Getting used to pressure
On that front, the series against Australia A was used as a simulation to get the team, especially the youngsters, used to pressure situations.
“We tried in these 8 games to put them under pressure, we changed a lot of things, we put Taniya [Bhatia, the wicketkeeper] under pressure to play her shots, there was Powerplay pressure on the top order, we played with only one seamer and put the spinners under pressure. We wanted to replicate pressure situations and we exposed them to it. Let them go through that, that’s how we learn,” Powar explained.
And the coach was happy with the end result as the youngsters have proven to be “fearless”.
India’s T20I team sports a different look to the ODI one. In February this year, India went in with four young debutants in the playing XI against South Africa and all of them proved their mettle in the matches since.
Speaking about teens Pooja Vastrakar, Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav and 20-year-old Taniya Bhatia, Harmanpreet has told this writer earlier this year that it was a calculated gamble.
“In this year we have the World T20, so we want to give chance to young players in two three series [that we are playing,] After that we will go with the team of 15 and not change [ the combination]. We felt this is the right time to give a chance to everyone so we will know which players suit us in the West Indies,” she had said.
And in the months since, India has aimed at creating a more dynamic unit in the shortest format, with each player being told that there are no fixed batting positions or bowling order to prepare them for all situations.
The India A games also gave the team management a chance to experiment with their combination and the captain and coach have a good idea of what the playing XI in West Indies will be. India play their group matches in Guyana during the day
Given the rise in their profiles in the last year, there are bound to many eyes and expectations on the Indian team. In the last ICC event, the ODI World Cup in 2017, they had finished as runners up falling short by just nine runs in the final after a late collapse.
But the captain believes that the Lord’s experience has a positive role to play in the future.
“We had not played in a World Cup final before last year except Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. But now we do. Once we get the experience of a particular situation, you are able to think about what went wrong. Had we been able to handle our nerves for a little longer and handle the situation then it would have been good. But we have learned from our mistakes and I hope that we won’t repeat the mistakes we made the last time if we get another chance,” she said.
Powar echoed her thoughts saying, “As a coach, I feel the youngsters will react differently now to pressure situation. This team is looking to dominate, not just compete.”
Armed with a mindset like that, accompanied by crucial experience, India stand a chance to make their mark at the first standalone Women’s World T20, in a format they have traditionally not done well in.