It is that TIME of the year again!!
We are only hours away from one of the most-awaited tournaments in the history of women's cricket, as the T20 World Cup is all set to kickstart in the land of the Proteas.
The last time the T20 World Cup bandwagon was in full glory, women's cricket scripted a glorious chapter as the Melbourne Cricket Ground witnessed more than 86000 people thronging the stadium for the summit clash with Australia locking horns with India.
A couple of weeks later, the world came to an absolute standstill due to the unprecedented chaos amidst the pandemic. While the sporting world resumed activities after six to 12 months of hiatus, cricket was never really the same again. It took almost three years for government officials and the health authorities to allow maximum capacity for any sporting event.
Over three years since the day women's cricket scripted a new leaf, a lot has changed for the Women in Blue in terms of personnel, and also, the reforms introduced by the board mark a new beginning for the Indian women's side in world cricket.
Equal pay for Indian women's cricket players ✅
Inaugural edition of the Women's Premier League ✅
Deja vu of sorts, cricket fans?
And speaking of the much-awaited Women's Premier League, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the tournament even before the first ball is bowled.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Women's Premier League is ABOUT TO GET REAL!!!!!
Well, excuse me for being overly dramatic, but as a fan of Indian cricket and, more specifically, the women's side, it is heartening to see them emerge from the shadow of their male counterparts and create a niche for themselves.
And NOW is their time to shine.
It almost seems inevitable that every cricket fan's mind rallies back to the first edition of the T20 World Cup in the same nation, with the Indian Premier League, set for a blockbuster start a few months later.
While the Men in Blue led by MS Dhoni scripted history in the inaugural edition and revolutionised the way people accept the shortest format of the game, the Indian women's outfit are on the cusp of creating history and repeating the heroics of the Under-19 starts after agonisingly falling short on three occasions.
With the stakes rocketing sky-high and a vital chance to etch their name in the record books, here are some of the critical factors that could decide the fate of the side in the next fortnight.
Onus on the opening pair
One of the most destructive opening pairs currently in women's cricket, Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, have changed the way the Women in Blue go about their business in T20Is.
Over the years, India always relied on the spinners and shades of brilliance from Harmanpreet Kaur and Mandhana to guide the team over the line. However, things have changed a bit since the inclusion of a Shafali at the top, as India have incorporated an aggressive style of play which has been reaping massive dividends.
In the 39 innings played after the 2020 World Cup Down Under, Shafali and Mandhana have smashed 1594 runs at a strike rate of 115.5 and a boundary every 5.4 deliveries in the powerplay, which is the best among the top ten nations.
The duo have been one of the significant reasons behind India's steady rise in world cricket and their dominance in global tournaments. Needless to say, they will hold the key to India's chances in the upcoming mega event.
India's middle overs muddle
While the opening combination and India's powerplay with the bat and ball seem to be sorted heading into the World Cup, Harmanpreet Kaur and the team management would be racking their brains on India's woes with the ball in the middle overs.
There is no surprise that India have a truckload of spinners at their disposal in the playing XI that well and truly does add variety to the team. However, one of the glaring issues for them is the lack of wickets by their tweakers between overs 7-15, which is leading to India's downfall.
In 36 innings since the last World Cup, India have conceded at an economy rate of 6.6 runs per over in the middle overs and scalped 79 wickets at a balls-per-wicket ratio of 24.5, which is the worst among the top ten nations.
Despite rattling the opposition in the powerplay with Renuka Singh wreaking havoc on a consistent basis, the Women in Blue have often been guilty of letting go of the advantage in the middle overs, which often leads to a formidable first-innings score or the team chasing down a stiff target.
Will India regret some of the selection calls?
And while we are on the topic of spinners and their exploits in the middle overs, it is ought to discuss one of the most curious cases in Indian cricket.
Well, you guessed that right, we are talking about SNEH RANA and her exclusion from the Indian side.
One of the most underrated all-rounders in the women's circuit, the 28-year-old failed to find a place in the 15-member squad for the World Cup.
Surprising, to say the least, considering her performances in the Commonwealth Games and the Asia Cup.
While the team management opted for a four-member pace attack with the inclusion of Shikha Pandey and Pooja Vastrakar, along with Renuka and Anjali Sarvani, the wickets in South Africa have been on the slower side.
In the tri-series featuring South Africa, West Indies and the Women in Blue, the average first innings total was around the 120-run mark, with the surface offering a considerable amount of turn to the spinners.
There ain't any doubt that India have the option of Deepti Sharma and her off-spin, but with spin set to play a major role in the tournament, the team management would be regretting their decision to drop Rana from the team because along with her bowling, she also adds a lot more value lower down the order with the bat.
As the Indian team aims to get a step further and win the elusive world title, hope remains that this decision does not hamper the team's chances.
Over to Cape Town!