India start their T20 World Cup journey in Australia against the hosts, hoping to finally break their wait for a title in ICC tournaments, where they have come close but haven’t crossed the line yet.

Three semi-final appearances don’t make for bad reading but with the women’s team growing leaps and bounds over the years, expectations have set in ahead of the tournament Down Under.

Players don’t slip under the radar anymore. Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur are now household names, and deservedly so. Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues represent a fearless, youthful yet highly competitive side. As always, spin will be India’s trump card but pacers, led by the experienced Shikha Pandey, could have a big role to play.

Young, inconsistent, but Harmanpreet Kaur’s India have potential to go the distance

Kaur’s side will be hoping to win the event for the first time after semi-final showings in 2009, 2010 and 2018. Any team that can chase down 173 against Australia has to be viewed as a serious contender and a top four of Verma, Mandhana, Rodrigues and Kaur is arguably the tournament’s deadliest.

Here’s a look at at India’s 15-member squad for the ICC T20 World Cup 2020.

Harmanpreet Kaur (captain)

India’s captain in the last two ICC events, Kaur grabbed the headlines with her power-hitting abilities in the opener last time around with a century against New Zealand. She can put the contest beyond the reach of opponents all by herself. India could do with a similar buccaneering effort Down Under.

Being the most experienced member in the squad (with 100-plus T20I caps), India need Kaur to be anchoring the innings in the last ten overs and unleashing her trademark slog over mid-wicket. Kaur, the skipper will have her task cut out. How well she uses her spinners, one of her side’s key weapons, will go a long way in India going one better from their semi-final finish from the previous edition.

Smriti Mandhana (Vice-captain)

Smriti Mandhana has emerged as India’s most consistent performers. India’s hopes hinge on how good Mandhana can be, and she comes into the tournament with some solid performances under her belt. The emergence of younger talent has given her some breathing space but Mandhana’s runs, and the pace at which she gets them, will go a long way in India setting up victories.

A future captain in waiting and still only 23, Mandhana is already one of the best going around. If batting-friendly surfaces are on offer in Australia, it will come as little surprise if Mandhana is among the top run-getters.

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Jemimah Rodrigues

Jemimah Rodrigues took to international cricket like a duck to water in 2017 and has not looked back since. The Mumbai-based batter, all of 19, is also a live-wire on the field and a popular member in the dressing room. India’s top-order is in safe hands as Rodrigues and Mandhana, the best of friends, have plenty of years ahead of them in international cricket. The tournament marks Rodrigues’s second World T20.

Rodrigues is calm under pressure and switches gears with aplomb. With every passing season, she has proved why she is rated so highly. Last year, turning out for Yorkshire Diamonds in England’s domestic T20 tournament, Rodrigues stood toe-to-toe against the best in the business. Likely to bat at No 3, Rodrigues has the onus of building a platform at the top.

Shafali Verma

Has any Indian youngster – be it men’s or women’s cricket – generated a buzz as much has Shafali Verma in recent years? A powerful striker of the cricket ball, Verma is the poster girl of the Indian women’s team evolution over the years. The Rohtak-born teenager has earned plaudits all over the world and she hasn’t even completed a full year in international cricket.

During India’s West Indies tour in late 2019, Verma surpassed Sachin Tendulkar’s record to score the fastest fifty by an Indian in any format. Even the mighty Australians recently found out that once Verma gets going, she will be hard to stop. The 15-year-old’s daredevil approach will be pivotal should India try to cash in on the powerplay overs. Verma is one of the talents that viewers will keep a keen eye on in the tournament.

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Veda Krishnamurthy

Veda Krishnamurthy lends experience, in the batting department and on the field, where she is one of India’s major assets. The 27-year-old made a decent comeback to international cricket but has struggled for form in the tri-series. Still, she is expected to slot in at No 5 in the batting order.

Too often in the past, her approach has looked muddled, almost as if the team management are not sure how to use her talents. She has not helped herself with rash shots but India will be hoping she can live up to her talent. Getting off to a quick, fluent start will be the key for Veda, who is important to India’s scheme of things, especially with the middle-order receiving a lot of brickbats.

Richa Ghosh

The youthful Indian side added another rough diamond to their collection with the inclusion of Siliguri’s Richa Ghosh, who has played all of one international game. It remains to be see if the 16-year-old gets a look-in from the word go. In the domestic circuit, she has made a name for herself for fearless batting and will be in the mix.

Ghosh was picked for the Bengal U-19 side as a 11-year-old. Barely 13, she broke into the U-23s, and later, the senior team too. Ghosh’s handy knocks in the Challenger Trophy went a long way into getting an international call-up. Ghosh is also a wicketkeeper and provides competition to Taniya Bhatia.

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Harleen Deol

Harleen Deol continues to be on the fringes of the playing XI but at 21, has time on her hands. Deol has not had that one knock that can cause selection headaches in the top-order. The Chandigarh-born top-order batter can also roll her arm and adds to the slew of slow-bowling options India have at their disposal. She bowls leg spin. The team management, admirably, have backed Deol and if India’s middle order fails to get going early on, she could play a crucial role later in the tournament. Can she make the best use of the limited opportunities that is expected to come her way?

Deepti Sharma

Deepti Sharma has blown hot and cold in recent times. For the wealth of talent Sharma possesses, she has not quite lived up to it with the bat in hand. But on her day, she can pull off stunning catches, bowl the most economical spell in the match and score a thrilling knock with the bat.

With the bat in particular, India are waiting for Sharma to flourish down the order. She was used in the powerplay during the tri-series with the ball and it remains to be be seen how much of a threat she will be, given that she is Kaur’s floater in the spin department. This is an important tournament for the 22-year-old, and for India to go all the way, Sharma has a lot more to do than just perform a holding role.

Taniya Bhatia (Wicket-keeper)

Taniya Bhatia easily dealt with her first big challenge in international cricket: to dislodge Sushma Verma and Nuzhat Parveen and become India’s first-choice wicketkeeper. Gifted with good hands and sharp reflexes, Bhatia has seldom struggled when the spinners are in operation.

Bhatia’s batting, though, has come under the scanner. The last time the 22-year-old played a World T20 match, she took guard to face the face the first ball. With the top-order well-stocked with options aplenty, India now need Bhatia to assume the role of a finisher, a role she has struggled with. What she can produce at the back end of the innings will decide her future in the side. She certainly has to do better than her career average of 8.68 in T20Is. That is just a no-no for a wicketkeeper-batter in modern cricket.

Radha Yadav

Since India’s exit against England in the semi-finals in Antigua, Radha Yadav has emerged as a key component in her side’s T20I setup. The Mumbai left-arm spinner is brave; lures the batters into making mistakes, which brings Bhatia’s deft fingers into the picture.

A month ago, Yadav scaled to the second spot in the ICC T20 rankings, a testament to her consistent displays, but one can say that she encountered her first setback of sorts in the recent tri-series. The England and Australian batters come with more class and pedigree and took the attack to the left-arm spinner. But Yadav is now a regular starter and it won’t be a stretch to say that her performances are as crucial as Poonam Yadav’s.

Pooja Vastrakar

India could do with Pooja Vastrakar making a name for herself with the ball and bat as the pace bowling department still looks slightly threadbare. Vastrakar is pace leader Shikha Pandey’s understudy and has a big role to play.

Her big-hitting abilities are certainly an asset lower down the order and in the years to come, can be an all-rounder of repute. At the very least, India will be pinning their hopes on Vastrakar going through a consistent run, especially with the ball.

Arundhati Reddy

Arundhati Reddy, another pacer, will be in the fray if the conditions favour seam. The 22-year-old has 13 wickets in 18 appearances so far but has work to do to improve her economy rate, which is a touch over eight. She had a quiet outing in the recent T20I tri-series. Reddy will have a role to play at some point in the tournament but how much do Harmanpreet and Co trust her?

Poonam Yadav

Poonam Yadav’s numbers are a statistician’s delight – 85 wickets at 14.68 at an economy rate of 5.62 – and by a stretch is the Indian bowling attack’s backbone. A good outing for the leg-spinner invariably puts scoreboard pressure on the opponents, who, at which point can throw their wickets away. How well Harmanpreet can use Yadav will make for interesting viewing.

The leg-spinner missed out during the Tri-series due to an injury but returned action with a three-wicket haul in the warm-up match against West Indies where she was one of the main reasons for India defending a low total. Having recently slipped down the rankings, the Indian ace will look to climb back up the ladder and more importantly, her good performances will go a long way in deciding India’s chances.

Shikha Pandey

Shikha Pandey now leads India’s pace attack, a role she clearly relishes, despite spinners making all the right noises. If there is movement on offer, Pandey will be a handful and being a senior pro, will look to make a mark in a big tournament. India have been lucky to have an able successor to the legendary Jhulan Goswami and Pandey herself is enjoying a fine run in the side after being dropped for the previous edition. She will have a point to prove after that bitter experience and if her form since her comeback is anything to go by, she will enjoy a good world cup with the ball. If she can contribute with the bat lower down the order, it will be a massive boost for India’s chances.

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Rajeshwari Gayakwad

Despite the emergence of Radha Yadav, and before her, Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad has managed to hold her own in the spin attack, making the most of her chances during the tri-series. A tricky customer who can drift, loop and dart the ball, Gayakwad’s experience gives India balance. Harmanpreet Kaur has more options up her locker in the powerplay. The 28-year-old is a veteran in this young Indian side and her experience could come in handy if Kaur picks her over Radha Yadav. She did not play a single T20I since the Asia Cup in 2018 until she made a comeback in the tri-series, but immediately showed her craft and guile.

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