Shweta Haranhalli
16 Oct 2022 | 06:34 AM

India tick most boxes en route Asia Cup triumph

With the T20 World Cup set to commence early next year, India made optimum use of the Asia Cup to fine-tune their combinations ahead of the mega event

A slog-sweep over deep mid-wicket for a massive six to wrap things off in style from Smriti Mandhana, and India lift Asia Cup for the seventh time in eight editions. 

As the words of the commentator echoed in the minds of all the fans across the globe, it filled my heart with immense pride as the Indian team not only dominated the eight games but also showcased to the world why there are one of the firm favourites for the upcoming World Cup. 

37 wins out of 40 games across numerous editions of the Women's Asia Cup. Well, if this ain't domination, it is hard to believe what it is. 

It is fair to say that women's cricket has developed leaps and bounds in India after the team's heroics in the 2017 World Cup, and the emergence of new personnel is truly making India one of the most dominant sides in the world. 

However, the only two things synonymous with the Indian team since their standout performance on England shores five years ago have been the contributions of Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur. 

On Saturday, it was fitting for the duo to be out there in the middle as the winning runs were scored, as for years, they have toiled hard to make this young bunch of girls dare to dream of showcasing their talent at the biggest arena. 

The world will indeed point out the two heartbreaks in the form of the T20 World Cup Down Under and the Commonwealth Games, but spare a thought for the team as they embark on yet another adventure in the land of the Proteas in the next six months. 

However, this time around, they are a little bit older and a lot more wiser from their past learnings. And one of the turnarounds for the Indian team has been their ability to take the attack to the opposition in the first six overs of play. 

Ever since Shafali Verma's debut in 2019, the right-handed batter has forged a formidable opening combination with Mandhana at the top of the order. The duo complement each other's style of play well, and their lethal partnership has helped Indian script many memorable victories, especially post the T20 World Cup Down Under.

In the 29 innings played thus far, the openers have scored 993 runs at an average of 33.1 and a boundary every 4.6 deliveries in the powerplay, which is the best among the top ten nations.

While there were question marks revolving around Shafali's place in the team, the teenager finished the tournament as the third leading run-scorer with 116 runs in six innings at an average of 27.6 and a strike rate of 122.05. 

In a pre-match press conference ahead of the marquee event, Harmanpreet backed her dynamic opener to regain toucha and said, "She is working hard every day, and I think the Asia Cup is a great platform for her to play freely."

And after a fortnight, the 32-year-old and the team management reaped massive dividends of her faith in the youngster as she not only regained her form back but also produced some blistering performances in the league games to showcase glimpses of her coming back to form. 

Welcome back, Jemimah! 

Another positive for Women in Blue has been the welcome return of Jemimah Rodrigues to the side. The right-handed batter missed the Women's Hundred and the white-ball series against England due to her wrist injury and bounced back in a commanding fashion to be India's dependable number three in this Asia Cup. 

The 22-year-old was the leading run-scorer in the tournament, with 217 runs in six innings at an average of 54.25 and a strike rate of 135.62. While her numbers are impressive, to say the least, it is the manner in which she has gone about her business of using the sluggish surface on offer to her advantage. 

Growing up in the maidans of Mumbai, Rodrigues, has the technique and the temperament to succeed on slow wickets, and Sylhet provided precisely that. 

The Women in Blue struggled for an ideal number three in their tour against England away from home, with Hemalatha failing to grab her chances. With Rodrigues back in the team, it was a no-brainer to slot her at one drop, especially after her performances in the Commonwealth Games. 

And the right-handed batter made optimum use of the sweep strokes and her array of drives to score the bulk of her runs, giving India and Harmanpreet Kaur the freedom to play their strokes and dismantle the opposition bowling unit.

India's finishing trouble

While India have a more or less settled batting unit, especially at the top, there is one area of concern for the skipper as the road to the World Cup beckons. 

The team will be banking on the destructive abilities of Pooja Vastrakar and Kiran Navgire to power them through the back end of the innings. The duo have a reputation of clearing the boundary cushions with ease, and Navgire showed that in her debut appearance at the Women's T20 Challenge.

However, things seemed to have gone downhill for her since then, as she managed only 17 runs in her five innings at the international level and has an average of 5.9. 

With the World Cup fast approaching, the team management would hope to fine-tune this one aspect of the game in their bid for the elusive title. 

Is Deepti Sharma the most underrated all-arounder?

And while we are on the topic of finishers, Harmanpreet Kaur can also potentially look at Deepti Sharma as one of the options down the order, especially considering her ability to bat left-handed. 

It is strange how the past two weeks have been for Deepti after her run-out at the Home of Cricket that powered India to a clean sweep against England. 

Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding in what was a legitimate mode of dismissal, the 25-year-old has silently gone about her business to ensure her performances make the noise for all the right reasons. 

The all-arounder scalped 13 wickets in eight innings at an average of 7.9 and an economy rate of 3.3 runs per over and followed it up with crucial contributions with bat to finish with 94 runs in five innings at an average of 23.5 and a strike rate of 132.9. 

With the flamboyance of Mandhana, Harmanpreet and Shafali in the side, the contributions of Deepti often go unnoticed, and it is fair to say she is the most underrated player in the women's set-up.

The Women in Blue ought to give her a lot of credit for her ability to switch into any role seamlessly, which lends balance to the side and will hold India in a promising state as they aim for the elusive title. 

(Cover image courtesy: Asian Cricket Council)

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