The T20 World Cup is almost here, and with it is another chance for women cricketers to showcase their game at the highest level with a global audience glued in.
Australia is hosting the tournament for the first time and for the second straight edition, it is a stand-alone affair after the success of the 2018 one. The stage is set for prime time cricket Down Under.
This tournament is set to be bigger in every sense – the grounds, the way it has been marketed and produced by Cricket Australia, the hype surrounding it and the anticipated level of cricket. A tri-series between three powerhouse teams – Australia, England and India – preceded the event while the host country held the first standalone Women’s Big Bash League at the end of last year, setting the tone for a potential record-breaking event.
The stars in action will be aplenty, from Cricketer of the Year Ellyse Perry to WBBL highest run-getter Sophie Devine, from Harmanpreet Kaur to teenager stars in the making across teams. The likes of Meg Lanning, Suzie Bates, Chamari Atapattu, Lizelle Lee will be keen to show at the biggest stage why they are some of the superstars of the game.
But while the established names are all proven performers, this tournament offers plenty in terms of firecracker youngsters who can turn the game with one spell or knock.
In the shortest format of the game, the difference between victory and defeat can often be a few balls and a player who can change the game in a short span often holds the key. Most top teams have a player like that – the X factor – who can alter the direction of a match. More excitingly, most of these game changers are still young with ages ranging from 16 to 20.
Here’s a look at five such wildcards to keep an eye during the T20 World Cup.
Shafali Verma turned 16 at the end of last month and has played all of 14 international matches in her five-month long career. But it will not be incorrect to say that she will be one of the most sought-after wickets once the tournament begins.
The young Indian opener has become one of the most-talked about names after her performances in the last year. The Rohtak teenager’s performance in the IPL-adjacent Women’s T20 Challenge alongside international stars in 2019 first brought her big-hitting prowess to a bigger audience. Since then she had been fast-tracked into the national team and shown her ability at the international stage.
In her first overseas tour, she broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record to become the youngest Indian to score an international half-century in November. She was also part of the India A squad that recently toured Australia where she smashed an impressive 124 from 78 deliveries in the first one-day game.
In India’s record chase of 177 in the recently-concluded tri-series, she set the tone for the innings blasting a 28-ball 49. Her knock included a straight six against world No 1 Megan Schutt, which highlights the raw potential she has.
There is a fearlessness about the teen. Of course, there are still many aspects about her game that needs working on but when she gets going, there is very little to stop her.
The best description of her role in the upcoming World Cup perhaps comes from Australia’s Rachel Haynes, who called Verma “a player with a bit of X-factor”.
Australia’s Ashleigh Gardner is only 22 years and already has the experience of being the player of the match in a T20 World Cup final. The spinning all-rounder was instrumental in Australia’s win over England in 2018 with figures 3/22 and an unbeaten 33 off 26 balls as the 2020 hosts won by eight wickets.
Four-time champions Australia are a squad full of match-winners, even after the unfortunate injury withdrawal of Tayla Vlaeminck a day before the tournament. And in Gardner, they have the X Factor that can alter the course of the game with both bat and ball.
Australia have used her at the crucial No 3 position with Alyssa Healy suffering a loss of form and she has responded well to the added pressure. In the recently concluded tri-series, she had slammed a 93 off 54 balls against India, albeit in a losing cause, and it highlighted once again the huge power-hitting game she possesses. Her record of 114 off 52 balls still remains the highest score in the Big Bash league history.
On slower pitches, her off-spin can be very handy coming on the back of the pace duo of Ellyse Perry and Megan Schutt.
In the recent WBBL season, she was in the top of five in both the batting and bowling list for Sydney Sixers, no mean feat given how loaded with all-rounders the team is. Gardner had a total of 11 wickets and 275 runs across 14 matches.
If Gardner can continue to prop up the Australian team with her timely contributions, she will make the defending champions an even more lethal unit.
Sophie Ecclestone is another youngster who has the experience of playing at the T20 World Cup when she was part of England’s squad that finished as runners up in 2018.
But where the left-arm off-spinner fell short then as a teenager, she is well capable of fulfilling now. Only 20, she can almost be considered a veteran of the format and a crucial cog in the England wheel with her crafty spin bowling.
It is evident that England see her as trump card of their bowling attack. She was entrusted with the Super Over in the second match of the tri-series, restricting Alyssa Healy and Ashleigh Gardner to just eight runs.
She topped the wicket-taking charts in both the series against West Indies as well as the Ashes for England last year. The ICC Emerging Player of the Year for 2018, Ecclestone is also the first player to retain the Women’s Player of the Summer award in England.
Not gone wicketless in an international match since 2018 (14 matches) and with her orthodox left-arm spin, she can always be trusted to give her captain a breakthrough, even in Australian conditions.
South Africa’s Chloe Tryon is no newcomer to the game, having made her T20I debut back in 2010 and played 61 matches in the format.
But the 26-year-old is a player who has the ability to change the complexion of a match with a few swings of her bat. She is one of the cleanest hitters of the ball in women’s cricket.
Ask New Zealand, who very recently saw the damage she can do when she blasted an unbeaten 34 off 16 balls to clinch a match South Africa had no business winning. When she walked to the crease, SA needed 52 from 33 and in the end they won with a ball to spare.
Her six-hitting ability is at the very top of the women’s game and she is second in the list of players in terms of balls faced per six.
Balls per six in T20Is sine Jan 2015
|Player||Inns||SR||4s||6s||Balls per six|
|SFM Devine (NZ-W)||43||147.21||137||68||14.54|
|CL Tryon (SA-W)||32||141.47||40||22||15.45|
|R Muriyalo (FJI-W)||12||115.72||15||10||15.90|
|Shafali Verma (IND-W)||14||140.86||40||12||19.17|
|A Gardner (AUS-W)||30||132.16||66||22||19.50|
|DJS Dottin (WI-W)||36||122.19||90||32||24.22|
|H Kaur (IND-W)||54||113.64||126||46||26.93|
|L Lee (SA-W)||46||116.75||127||32||28.34|
|RH Priest (NZ-W)||24||114.07||65||12||33.17|
|AJ Healy (AUS-W)||51||142.56||173||25||33.36|
|HK Matthews (WI-W)||42||113.54||106||23||34.35|
The South African’s experience in Australia will count for a lot as well. In the recent WBBL, Tryon had the highest strike rate of all batters (more than 5 matches) scoring at a rate of 178.41 across 13 games. (248 runs in 13 innings, 6 not outs)
Big-hitting opener Lizelle Lee will carry South Africa’s batting might on her shoulder, given her showing in the Big Bash League. But Tryon will be the game changer in the Proteas batting lineup, no matter where she plays.
Amelia Kerr was barely 16 when she made her international debut for New Zealand and in the three and a half years since has gone on to establish herself as one of the stars. Who can forget her record-breaking performance against Ireland in 2018 when she first scored an unbeaten 232 and then claimed figures of 5/17.
That match was but just one glimpse of the potential she has and still only 19, the leg-spinning all-rounder will be playing her third ICC world event.
Primality a leg-spinner, she is clearly capable with the bat and that makes her a valuable asset in the format. In the Australian conditions, the value of her frugal spin, with a career economy of under 6, becomes even more important.
She has not been in the best of touches this year in the series against South Africa, but in the 2019 WBBL, she shone on debut for champions Brisbane Heat. In her first match, she snared three wickets in four balls against the Sydney Sixers and finished with a total of 14 wickets in 16 matches apart from being handy with the bat lower down the order.
Although not an unknown quantity by any measure, teams will be wary of the teen who backs up the formidable batting unit White Ferns have.