The last few months have been quite eventful for India’s women’s cricket team. Taking over as captain after Mithali Raj’s retirement earlier this year, Harmanpreet Kaur has ensured that the team puts up a smart and brave show.
Over the last three months, the Women in Blue won a bilateral series in Sri Lanka, reached the final of the Commonwealth Games and went on to defeat England 3-0 in ODIs. Their consistent performances led to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announcing a “pay equity policy”, ensuring that its centrally-contracted men and women players would get the same match fees.
Being a seasoned campaigner, Harmanpreet is aware of the fact that with pay equity policy in place, the responsibility will also increase and when India takes on Australia in a five-match T20I series, beginning on Friday at the DY Patil Stadium, the home side will be hoping to keep the momentum going.
The build-up to the series hasn’t been perfect. Just a couple of days ago, Hrishikesh Kanitkar was named as the batting coach of the team, while ‘former coach’ Ramesh Powar was sent back to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) as a spin bowling coach. But having worked with Kanitkar in the past, the players believe that they will be able to handle situations.
India and Australia have faced each other 25 times in T20Is, with Australia winning on 18 occasions. India won six times, while one game had no result. But the home team isn’t thinking too much about the statistics and Harmanpreet believes that her team has enough firepower to dominate the Australian team in familiar conditions.
With the DY Patil wicket likely to aid the batters, both the teams will be pinning their hopes on their big guns - while India will be hoping for Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues to come good early on, Australia, too, has its hopes pinned on stand-in captain Alyssa Healy.
Shafali, who was recently named captain of the India U-19 team for the U-19 Women’s World Cup, and Richa Ghosh will miss part of the series as they will join the camp in Bengaluru. However, before that, Shafali has a perfect opportunity to get into the groove. The dashing Indian opener has had a mixed year so far, and it would be interesting to see how she copes against the Australian fast bowlers.
With the Women’s T20 World Cup lined up in February next year, the series against Australia will be important and Harmanpreet believes that the team will want to “continue the kind of cricket that we played for three months and we won’t make any changes to our approach…”
The captain has had a successful year so far with the bat, having amassed 387 runs in 17 T20Is at an average of 35.18, and going forward, the team management will be expecting the batters to regroup and re-strategise ahead of a packed international calendar.
For the home series, India has left out seasoned all-rounder Sneh Rana, Kiran Navgire and Dayalan Hemalatha, making way for left-arm seamer Anjali Sarvani, who had a successful outing in the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy as well as the Senior Women’s Inter-Zonal T20 Trophy, and leg-spinner Devika Vaidya.
As Devika returns to the set-up after eight years and under a new coach, it would be interesting to see whether she fits into the scheme of things.
Australia, on the other hand, finds itself in a spot of bother. After landing in India, fast bowler Darcie Brown and opener Beth Mooney missed the first two training sessions due to illness, but captain Healey hopes that Mooney will be available for the first match.
“India in their home conditions, no matter what the format, is is a real task and is different to what we have at home. We’re fresh off the WBBL (Women’s Big Bash League) back in Australia playing on Australian type of wickets and coming here and adjusting to different types of conditions that get thrown at us. You have to adapt quickly. Generally in T20 you get batting friendly wickets,” Healey, who will make her captaincy debut on Friday, said.
With Rachael Haynes retiring from the game and Meg Lanning on a long break, the windows of opportunity have opened for Tahlia McGrath, Ashleigh Gardner and Ellyse Perry. Over the last few years, India and Australia have emerged as two of the fiercest competitors and when the action begins at home, India will hope to make a strong statement.