Shweta Haranhalli
19 Nov 2022 | 07:12 AM

With minor chinks in the armour, Women in Blue aim to unearth new stars

As the road of the T20 World Cup beckons, India will kickstart their preparations for the mega event with a four-team Challenger trophy

There is something about the summit clashes of a world event and the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It is a match made in heaven! 

While cricketing fans across the globe are recovering from England's emphatic win against Pakistan a week ago, as an ardent fan of women's sport, my mind rallies back to the final featuring the Women in Blue and Australia right before the pandemic hit us. 

With a stadium packed to capacity and expectations of millions of fans back home, Australia and India entered the 'G, marking a new beginning for the women's sport. 

Despite falling agonisingly short in the final, Indian cricket has improved leaps and bounds after their spirited performance in the shortest format. 

And a lot has changed since that day as the world was derailed due to the unprecedented chaos amid the pandemic. Two years later, while we have slowly moved on to a certain level of normalcy, the scars are still fresh in the minds of the people. 

As far as the Indian team is concerned, the team is undergoing a significant transition phase in the fifty-over format as the two stalwarts Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami have called time on their two-decade glittering career. 

With Harmanpreet Kaur at the helm of affairs across formats for the Indian side, the Women in Blue incorporated a fearless brand of cricket under the right-handed batter, something that was evident in their 3-0 ODI series win against England in their backyard. 

In the 29 matches played post the iconic event, there have been a plethora of changes to the personnel of the Women in Blue, with young players stepping up the ranks and creating a niche for themselves in international cricket. 

After a near-successful campaign in the first-ever Commonwealth Games and the Asia Cup triumph, India will be one of the firm favourites to lift the coveted trophy in the land of the Proteas. 

While they have most of their bases covered, Harmanpreet Kaur and the team management would be hoping to iron the minor chinks in the armour as the road to the World Cup beckons. 

We provide you with a detailed analysis of the squad and the potential areas of improvement for the Women in Blue as they kickstart the preparations for the high-voltage competition with the Challenger Trophy starting Sunday, November 20, in Raipur. 

Let's get started!

For most fans of Indian cricket, the month of October was all about the Men in Blue and their performance in the recently concluded World Cup. However, for their women's counterparts, it was all about cherishing the Asia Cup title, returning to their respective states, and grinding through domestic cricket. 

And after a riveting month of domestic cricket including players, the selectors have shortlisted 56 players who will compete in the T20 Challenger Trophy, the stepping stone for the players in their bid to stake a claim in the national side. 

Let us divide the players who were part of the squad in the Asia Cup into three zones and identify the potential players who can replace them. 

Green: The confirmed XI

Players: Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Shafali Verma, Radha Yadav, Richa Ghosh and S Meghana

Well, needless to say, the green zone consists of the players who have performed for the Women in Blue in the recent past and form the core group of people who are expected to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility of the side in the tournament. 

With the likes of Smriti, Jemimah and the skipper herself, the batting unit looks settled and will be keen to produce some consistent performances in conditions conducive to strokeplay. 

However, one of the areas of concern for them is the lack of a finisher in the side along with Vastrakar. While they tried Kiran Navgire for a brief while, the experiment seemed to have backfired as the right-handed batter has struggled for consistency at the international level. 

Yellow: The spin dilemma

Players: Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Meghna Singh and Sneh Rana

Two of the mainstays in the spin bowling unit of the Indian side, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Sneh Rana, will have to fight for their places in the Indian squad courtesy of some lukewarm performances in the white-ball series against England and the Asia Cup. 

While the left-arm spinner scalped ten wickets in Sylhet, her inability to create inroads in the opposition batting unit early is an area to ponder for the team. 

With the emergence of a young left-arm spinner, Rashi Kanojia, as the leading wicket-taker in the inter-zonal competition, it is fair to say that the clock is ticking for Gayakwad. 

The 24-year-old rattled the opposition with ten wickets in six innings at a strike rate of 12.9 and conceded at an economy rate of 4.9 runs per over and is touted to be an ideal replacement for Gayakwad in the coming years. 

On the other hand, India's crisis player Sneh Rana is too enduring a dismal phase in the last six months. The all-rounder has been in and out of India's playing XI in the recent past, and her performances in all three facets of the game have been underwhelming, to say the least. 

The off-spinner scalped only seven wickets in six innings in the Asia Cup and was relatively ineffective on the sluggish surface on offer in Bangladesh. 

Is it time for India to give left-arm seamer a go?

While India did not utilize the services of Meghana Singh much during the Asia Cup and the England series, her expensive returns in the Commonwealth Games can prompt the selectors to look at new options. 

And one young left-arm seamer creating ripples in domestic cricket due to her ability to move the ball into the right-handers has been Shraddha Pokharkar. 

Plying her trade for Maharashtra, she has been the catalyst behind their steady rise in domestic cricket. She has often dismantled batting units with her swing while operating with the new ball. 

She will not only add a different dimension to the Indian squad with her left-arm abilities but also be the perfect foil to Renuka on the fast and bouncy wickets in Africa. 

Red: End of the road

Players: Kiran Navgire and D Hemalatha

The latest edition of the Women's T20 Challenge unearthed the destructive ability of Kiran Navgire and fast-tracked her selection in the Indian squad for the T20I series against England and the Asia Cup. 

While she smashed the fastest half-century in the T20 Challenge and was one of the players to watch out for in the international circuit due to her sheer ability to clear the field, she failed to replicate her form in the national jersey. 

In the four innings played for India thus far, she has scored 17 runs at an average of 5.5 and a strike rate of 89.47, leading to her downfall. With the team management looking for some solidarity down the order along with their hard-hitting abilities, she will struggle to book her spot for the World Cup. 

Along with Navgire, another player who made a comeback for the two series was D Hemalatha. The 28-year-old was given ample opportunities at number three in the absence of Jemimah but failed to make the most of it and scored only 64 runs in seven innings at an average of 12.8. 

With India also having an option of using the part-time spin of Shafali or Harmanpreet, Hemalatha's position in the squad looks gloomy at the moment. 

The only thing missing in the Indian bowling arsenal is a quality leg spinner, as Poonam Yadav's diminishing returns have resulted in her ouster from the squad. 

With various off-spin options available in the team, Harmanpreet can look to Harleen Deol and Devika Vaidya as the all-around leg spin bowling options for a potential spot left vacant by Hemalatha. 

The duo have scalped nine wickets a piece in the inter-zonal competition and are among the leading wicket-takers in the league. While Harleen followed it up with 117 runs with the bat at the top for North Zone, Devika played some useful cameos lower down the batting order for the West. 

They will provide Harmanpreet with all-around skills, enabling her to tinker with the playing XI without disrupting the balance of the side. 

Well, only time will tell how the selectors and the team iron out their flaws in the lead-up to the World Cup, but for the 56 players competing in the Challenger Trophy, it is a chance to weave their magic and hopefully inch closer to their dream of being part of the World Cup squad.  

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