India to test bench strength in home series against South Africa

All-rounder Shikha Pandey and Ekta Bisht have been left out of India's limited-overs squad as the women's team aims to gauge its bench strength before next year's World Cup.

Shikha Pandey was India's second-highest wicket-taker during the women's T20 World Cup in March last year.   -  Vivek Bendre

India's home series against South Africa will not only mark the resumption of women’s cricket in the country but also serve as a preparation for next year’s World Cup. And it seems the selection committee has decided to check the bench strength by including rookie right-arm medium pacers C. Prathyusha and Monica Patel - in place of the seasoned Shikha Pandey. 

Soon after the squads were announced on Saturday, Pandey's exclusion had raised eyebrows but Sportstar understands that the new selection committee led by Neetu David wanted to gauge the bench strength.

“Shikha is not dropped. It's just that the selection committee thought it was the best time to test the bench strength since it was a home series. There is still some time left for the World Cup, so this series will help them get a fair idea where things stand,” a BCCI insider told Sportstar.

India announces women's squad for home series against South Africa  

It will be the first international cricket India women will play since the T20 World Cup final a year ago. Due to the pandemic-induced lockdown across the country, there was no cricket for women. So, it was a challenging task for the five-member selection committee to pick the best XI.

“The selection committee wanted to give opportunities to the youngsters. Because going forward, we would require a pool of pacers, so it is important to groom the youngsters and make them ready for major events. That was the whole idea of the selection panel - to try them out in the home series,” the Board insider said.

Not just Pandey. Even spinner Ekta Bisht has been replaced by youngster Yastika Bhatia in the 50-over squad. Similarly, wicketkeeper-batter Shwetha Verma has also been added to the team for both formats. “Some of the top players (Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj) have retired from T20s, so we need their replacements as well. So, the selection committee thought that it was the best time to start preparing for the future.”

South Africa women's team to arrive in Lucknow on Feb 27

Another decision that has surprised many is the omission of power-hitter Shafali Verma for the ODIs. Having featured in 19 T20Is, she was one of the talked about cricketers in the T20 World Cup last year. But the selection committee may not want to draft her into the 50-over format hastily.

After a year-long hiatus, the women cricketers will have a lot to play for when the series begins at the Ekana Stadium in Lucknow next week.

ODI Squad: Mithali Raj (Captain), Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), D. Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma (wicket-keeper), Swetha Verma (wicket-keeper), Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, C. Prathyusha, Monica Patel 

T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (wicket-keeper), Nuzhat Parveen (wicket-keeper), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Dil Bahadur