The 2018 ICC Women’s World T20 – the first ever standalone edition – has arrived with a lot more fanfare and expectations as compared to the 50-over World Cup in June 2017.
In the fifteen months that have passed since the 50-over World Cup, the profile of the women’s game has grown and this change is reflected in how much more women’s cricket was played in the last year. India has at the forefront of this new wave, playing the most international cricket in the last year, with mixed success.
Surprise finalists and narrow runners-up in the last ICC event, the Harmanpreet Kaur-led India also have an added layer of fan expectations on them.
Majority of these expectations are justified; India is going in with a strong team with veterans Harmanpreet, Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy as well as rising stars Jemimah Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia, Pooja Vastrakar along with Smriti Mandhana, who will be India’s biggest game-changer.
However, the World T20 will be challenging for India and an encore of 2017’s blistering final run will be easier expected than done.
For one, the shortest format of the game is a lot more competitive with almost all teams on equal footing. West Indies stunned three-times champions Australia in the last edition in 2016 and closer home Bangladesh shocked six-time India twice in the 2018 Asia Cup to lift the title.
Secondly, India have not traditionally done well in the Twenty20 format as a team. And their history at the World T20 doesn’t paint a different picture either.
India has progressed to the semi-final stage once twice, in the first two editions in 2009 and 2010. Since then, it has been downhill on the big stage. In 2012, they were without a win in the group stage, in 2014 they won two games but couldn’t make it to the last four and at home in 2016, could beat only Bangladesh.
But 2018 could well be the turning point in the shortest format for India. With a lot more experience and specialised training in the format, this young Indian team is much better equipped than the ones in previous World T20s.
The unit has clicked together fairly quickly as the Indian team, according to new coach Ramesh Powar. “It’s a matter of making them realise their potential… make them understand what the greater cause is. 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,” he had said before the team left for the Caribbean.
Captain Harmanpreet had added that this team is also a lot more flexible when it comes to batting or bowling positions, which make them more dynamic.
The new-look team is infused with youngsters, a decision that was taken at the start of the year when India played their first international game six months after their World Cup final. Teens Pooja Vastrakar, Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav and 20-year-old Taniya Bhatia made their debut against South Africa while 21-year-old Arundhati Reddy played her first t20I against Sri Lanka.
The presence of the youngsters, tempered with the experience of Harmanpreet, Raj, Mandhana and Krishnamurthy means India has a very balanced batting unit.
The bowling, in the absence of retired Jhulan Goswami lacks the same depth. But the three fast bowlers – Arundhati Reddy, Pooja Vastrakar and Mansi Joshi – are vastly talented and the team management’s faith in them is highlighted by their decision to keep Shikha Pandey out of the squad.
But as was the case during the World Cup in England, spin will be India’s bigger weapon. Poonam Yadav, Deepti Sharma and Radha Yadav will lead this artillery with Anuja Patil chipping in while senior Ekta Bisht is there as back up.
This time, the spinners also have the advantage of the expertise of new coach Ramesh Powar, a former India international off-spinner. During the preparatory camp in Mumbai, he was seen guiding the young spinners in the nets after the first match against Australia A. The form book seems to be India’s favour as well, as they blanked the Australia A team 3-0 after the 4-0 win in Sri Lanka and are unbeaten in their warm up matches in West Indies so far.
But all of this will amount to little if India can’t hold their nerve, something that was evident when they fell nine runs shorts of the World Cup trophy. But this time, Powar has focussed more on learning how to deal with pressure, as facet that could prove to be a big differentiator should India go deep.
India will open their campaign against New Zealand on Friday play Pakistan on November 11, Ireland on November 15 and three-time champions Australia on November 17. The top two teams from each group will then progress to the semi-finals
A lot will depend on how India play the White Ferns in the opener in Guyana. If they can start on the right note, the momentum will make it easy to beat Pakistan and Ireland, with the clash against Australia being the biggest worry.
If they can tick the boxes and maintain the flexibility and cohesion the team management alluded to before their departure, there is a good chance India can string together another run to the final. But the onus will be on the top order and spinners to ensure this.
Squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma, Tanya Bhatia (wk), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Anuja Patil, Ekta Bisht, D Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy