SURAT: The T20I series against South Africa, that begins on Tuesday in Surat, is a fresh chapter of sorts for India women. After the last series loss against England at home, there have been a noticeable number of changes on and off the field. There is no Mithali Raj. There are a number of youngsters in the team picked for the series.
At 15, Shafali Verma has earned a maiden international call-up. Jemimah Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma have made their Kia Super League debuts. Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur herself is making her first appearance in India colours after three months on the sidelines. With that, pace-bowling all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar is coming into the side after a year-long hiatus due to injuries.
With around a dozen T20Is before the Women’s World T20 in Australia next year, India need to find their feet as quickly as possible. This was evident from the pre-match press conference on Monday, where Harmanpreet stressed thrice on giving youngsters chances irrespective of results.
“As you know, the World T20 is nearing. Our focus is on the shorter format. That’s why we are playing more T20Is. Before that, we have 10, 15 games to experiment, give chance to youngsters and see if they fit into the side,” said the 30-year-old at Lalbhai Contractor Stadium.
In the last series, when they suffered an embarrassing 0-3 defeat against England in Guwahati, much of the scrutiny was around India’s fragile middle-order. This time, with no Mithali around to shepherd youngsters in the middle, it has to be seen how coach WV Raman’s trial-and-error approach works.
That apart, they will also be tasked with the challenge of playing under lights. Unlike men, women play a majority of their white-ball games during the day. This five-match series is also the first time that a women’s team’s bilateral in India is being played at night.
“It’s a very good opportunity for us. We hardly get any chance to play under lights,” explained Harmanpreet. “Now that we are getting it, it’s good for the team. I hope when we play any big tournament, at that time we won’t feel like we have missed out on something during our preparation. It’s about how you plan, prepare and execute.”
In bowling, Shikha Pandey is expected to spearhead the pace attack. With Vastrakar back in the squad, there will be stiff competition between Manshi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy.
On the other hand, South Africa have won six of their eight matches this year, with all of them being played at home. The visitors will be without the experienced bowling duo of Marizanne Kapp and Dane van Niekerk. India are yet to win a single T20I this year (they’ve played six). Harmanpreet and Raman have five months to get their final combination for Australia right.