About 10 months back, things were rosy in Indian cricket as Harmanpreet Kaur and Co put together a superb winning run at the ICC Women’s World T20 in West Indies. The captain had hit a sparkling century against New Zealand, Pakistan were then defeated, and even the eventual champions Australia. Little did we know then that the semi-final defeat against England will kick-start one of the most tumultuous times for the women’s game in the country.

Without assigning causality, in the shortest format, the Mithali Raj saga had coincided with a seven-match losing streak that started with that defeat in Antigua.

And as the home season restarts for Harmanpreet Kaur and Co, it is well and truly time for Indian cricket to move on.

For starters, Raj has decided that she is done with the shortest format. It was a decision that she took to focus on One-Day Internationals where she is still the captain and the foremost batter in the game. Now, there could be an argument or two over whether she could have still contributed in the shortest format (perhaps as a middle-order anchor) but those are now moot.

The T20 World Cup is less than five months away and India need to arrest their losing run and fast. And they cannot afford to take South Africa women lightly despite their recent domination over the visitors in T20Is when the two sides face off in the first game of the five-match T20I series in Surat, starting on Tuesday.

Away from India’s horror run in the shortest format, in the last five matches between India and South Africa, the women in blue have won three while losing one with the other game ending in no result.

Playing on familiar home conditions, India would definitely have an edge over the visitors in the upcoming series but they can’t take things for granted as South Africa showed glimpses of their strength during the solitary warm-up match. After the first of two scheduled games was washed out, South Africa crushed Board President’s XI by 83 runs in a lop-sided affair.

Come Tuesday, the Proteas would be brimming with confidence. They would be depending on opener Lizelle Lee, who scored a quick 65 in the second warm-up game, and Mignon du Preez to take the responsibility of their batting department in the company of skipper Sune Luus.

India's losing streak in women's T20Is

Margin of defeat Opposition Ground Date
1 runs England Guwahati 9 Mar 2019
5 wickets England Guwahati 7 Mar 2019
41 runs England Guwahati 4 Mar 2019
2 runs New Zealand Hamilton 10 Feb 2019
4 wickets New Zealand Auckland 8 Feb 2019
23 runs New Zealand Wellington 6 Feb 2019
8 wickets England North Sound 22 Nov 2018

India look to youngsters

It’s weird when you spell it out: Smriti Mandhana is just 23 years old and yet, she is already the mainstay of this Indian batting line-up along with her skipper. India would once again heavily rely on opener Mandhana and in-form Jemimah Rodrigues for a good start, while the skipper herself would need to be at their best to help India dish out a fine batting effort. Those three, without a doubt, will have to do bulk of the scoring, given India have crossed 140 only once in their last seven matches.

There has been an over-reliance on the top order, and there have been inexplicable collapses (like the ones in New Zealand) if and when they are back in the pavilion.

The good news for India, however, is that all three of them are in good form, having done well in the KIA Super League in England. Rodrigues, especially, was a revelation and she would be keen to replicate that form for India. Deepti Sharma, the fourth Indian who was in England over the summer, also showed she is a batter worth backing in the middle order. Apart from the star names, there is also the swashbuckling 15-year-old Shafali Verma to watch out for, if she gets game or two.

India’s bowling attack will be led by pacer Shikha Pandey and fast bowling colleague Pooja Vastrakar, who is making a comeback to the national side. She was in fine form at home before the World T20 last year but injuries have hampered the youngster’s progress.

The spin department will be spearheaded by leg-spinner Poonam Yadav, who bagged the Arjuna award this year, while the likes of Anuja Patil and Sharma also shoulder the responsibility.

South Africa women’s tour of India, 2019

Date Day Match Venue
24th Sep Tuesday 1st T20I Surat
26th Sep Thursday 2nd T20I Surat
29th Sep Sunday 3rd T20I Surat
1st Oct Tuesday 4th T20I Surat
4th Oct Friday 5th T20I Surat
9th Oct Wednesday 1st ODI Vadodara
11th Oct Friday 2nd ODI Vadodara
14th Oct Monday 3rd ODI Vadodara

This Indian squad begins a new era so to speak in the absence of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Ekta Bisht. A winning start would go a long way in helping Harmanpreet steady the ship before the World Cup.

Indian women’s squad for first 3 T20Is: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Poonam Yadav, Shikha Pandey, Arundhati Reddy, Pooja Vastrakar, Radha Yadav, Veda Krishnamurthy, Harleen Deol, Anuja Patil, Shafali Verma, Mansi Joshi

South Africa women’s squad for T20Is: Sune Luus (capt), Anneke Bosch, Tasmin Brits, Nadine de Klerk, Shabnim Ismail, Sinalo Jafta, Ayabonga Khaka, Lara Goodall, Lizelle Lee, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Tumi Sekhukhune, Nondumiso Shangase, Mignon du Preez, Laura Wolvaardt

Match starts at 7 pm IST and will be telecast on Star Sports 3

(With PTI inputs)