A week after India scripted history at the Home of Cricket, the Women in Blue have very little time to celebrate their heroics as they are back on the road for the eighth edition of the Women's Asia Cup.
Ever since the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the historic first-ever Women's Future Tour Programme in August, women's players across the globe heaved a sigh of relief.
It was tough being a women's cricketer at the international level.
Imagine representing your country at the highest level and not knowing when you will play the next series or what the near future holds for you and the team.
However, after years of wilderness, the highest governing body in cricket prioritised the women's sport and chalked out a schedule that will run till the 2025 World Cup in India.
While the increase in the bilateral series and one-off Test matches were the biggest takeaways from the announcement, the Asian teams have plenty more reasons to smile as the Women's Asia Cup was making a return to the international calendar after a four-year hiatus.
The tournament was scheduled to take place in 2020 in Bangladesh but was postponed for the following year amid the pandemic. However, the competition was cancelled in 2021 due to the unprecedented chaos surrounding the health and safety of the players.
And, after four long years, it is back again in the land of the defending champions, Bangladesh, with a new format that promises to enthral the people with an increase in the number of games and a round-robin form.
With seven teams vying for the coveted trophy, the sides will play six league matches, with the top four progressing to the semi-final stage of the competition.
There is no doubt that India set foot at Sylhet as the firm favourites to clinch the title, considering their performances in the T20 World Cup Down Under and the recently concluded Commonwealth Games.
The Women in Blue have been the most dominant side among all the Asian teams in the recent past and are surely head and shoulder above the rest of the teams as they have managed to win 30 out of the 32 matches played thus far.
However, Harmanpreet Kaur and the team management will know that this tournament is not the final goal for the side as they build up for the much-awaited T20 World Cup early next year in the land of the Proteas.
While the team seemed to have all the bases covered heading into the marquee event, they would be itching to use this competition to iron out the minor chinks in their armour.
Shafali Verma in dire need of runs
Despite going agonisingly down in the T20I series in England, the Women in Blue produced dominant performances in the three outings, with Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur shouldering the bulk of the responsibility of the side.
However, one of the glaring issues will be the form of Shafali Verma heading into the Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup. While scores of 14, 20 and 5 in the three games do not do justice to her talent, it is fair to say that the teenager is struggling to find her mojo.
A detailed graph helps us understand that Shafali has scored only 438 runs in 21 innings at an average of 20.85, which is the second-worst among openers with a minimum of 15 innings since the T20 World Cup in 2020.
With the wickets in South Africa assisting pace and bounce, Shafali ought to work on her back foot play in order to succeed. However, there isn’t any doubt that she and the team management will be well aware of her crucial role in maximising the powerplay as the road to the World Cup beckons.
Harmanpreet Kaur will be hoping it is only a matter of time before Shafali displays her array of strokes and takes the world of cricket by storm yet again for India to inch closer to the elusive world title.
The return of Jemimah Rodrigues
While India would be sweating over Shafali's lukewarm outings, they have a reason to smile as their premier batter Jemimah Rodrigues has recovered from her wrist injury and is back for the Asia Cup.
The 22-year-old made a comeback to the national side in the T20I series against Sri Lanka earlier this year and was one of the standout performers for the Women in Blue in the near-perfect campaign of the Commonwealth Games.
However, the right-handed batter suffered a wrist injury during the Games and missed out on The Hundred and the white-ball series against England. The right-handed batter was under rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and is expected to be fit in time for the mega event.
The Indian side struggled to find an ideal replacement for the Mumbai player in the three T20Is against England, as Hemalatha scored 10,9 and 0 in the three matches, leading to India's downfall.
With Rodrigues back in the mix and slated to take the number three spot in the batting unit, it provides Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur to bat more freely and help India post a formidable first innings total or chase any target in the second innings.
Can India use Kiran Navgire as a finisher?
Another area that the team management will be aiming to find a solution for is the role of a finisher in the Indian side. With Pooja Vastrakar shouldering the responsibility of the side in the back end of the innings, Harmanpreet Kaur can opt to use the services of Kiran Navgire, especially in the Asia Cup.
The 27-year-old was the leading run scorer in the domestic circuit and also smashed the fastest half-century in the Women's T20 Challenge to showcase her talent in the league.
While he had a forgettable game against Supernovas the next day, her hard-hitting ability in the first encounter prompted the selectors to draft her in the side for the series against England.
One of the standout qualities about Navgire is her ability to attack the spinners and clear the boundary cushions with ease. The right-handed batter smashed 60 runs in 33 deliveries at a strike rate of 181.8 in the three T20 matches compared to 16 runs off 27 deliveries at a strike rate of 59.26 against pace.
With the wickets in Bangladesh set to be sluggish in nature and conducive for spinners, Navgire will be more than a handful for the Women in Blue lower down the order.
Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Deepti Sharma, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Sabbineni Meghana, Richa Ghosh (wicket-keeper), Sneh Rana, Dayalan Hemalatha, Meghna Singh, Renuka Thakur, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav, K.P. Navgire