The Women’s T20 World Cup this year might have just been a watershed moment for the sport around the globe. The constant buzz in the air over the last two weeks culminated with a record audience turnout at the MCG on Women’s Day, and though the quality of cricket was rather lopsided, administrators and fans alike will be counting the positives.
If the 2017 Women’s World Cup started the rise and thrust women’s cricket into the limelight, the 2020 T20 World Cup further established its presence with aplomb.
In all this, the role of India, right from the players to the officials to the fans, has been immense.
A sell-out crowd at the Lord’s in 2017 after a Harmanpreet Kaur blitzkrieg in the semis propelled the sport towards fame. A semis appearance in the 2018 T20 World Cup further strengthened the emotional bond between the fans and the players, and it all unleashed on Sunday as the Indian Eves turned out to play a historical final. While it would be unfair to state that the hype around the event would have been lesser had India not qualified for the finals, the colour and the vibrancy that the team’s supporters bring does add to the overall atmosphere.
It is thus imperative that the Indian women’s cricket team keeps improving leaps and bounds to help in the overall development of the game. Better returns will bring in more viewers, which is the primary step in ensuring that this branch of cricket is always in the news.
And for that, the Women in Blue need to develop into world beaters. Though their run to the finals Down Under was on the back of a brilliant team effort, the side has to polish the chinks in their armour to make big statements event after event.
Over-Reliance on Spinners
Players like Poonam Yadav, Deepti Sharma and Radha Yadav have been the soul of the Indian team in the last few months. They were on the mark in the T20 World Cup in West Indies, helping India to the semis with an all-win record in the league games. In Australia as well the slower bowlers led the charge, picking up 25 of the 34 opposition wickets. Be it in the power play, middle or the death overs, the spinners won games with their variations, control and tight bowling in the four league games that were held at the Sydney Showground Stadium, WACA Ground and the Junction Oval - wickets that were slightly sluggish with enough grip for the tweakers.
But come the finals, and the spinners faltered on a track that was faster and bouncier. Deepti started the game with three full tosses and continued flighting the ball up on either side of the stumps. Poonam’s wrong un’s were no threat to the duo of Alyysa Healy and Beth Mooney while Radhav was quicker and fuller. The only economical bowler on the day, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, conceded 29 in her 4 but failed to pick up a single wicket.
A similar trend had followed in 2018 as well, when the spinners of Team India struggled in the semis at Antigua, where the pitch was flatter. The side had played all four of their league games at Guyana then, one of the slowest wickets in West Indies, which allowed their spinners to get help and into the game. However, up against England on a different track, the spin web failed to work its magic.
While backing one’s strengths is always the key, building a horses-for-courses policy is what leads to long-term success.
Where Are the Pacers?
The over-reliance on spinners has led to another major concern. Team India’s fast bowling resources look barren, with the seamers not having regular exposure due to the success of the spinners.
Since 2019, four fast bowlers Shikha Pandey, Arundhati Reddy, Pooja Vastrakar and Mansi Joshi have bowled in international T20 games, of which only Pandey and Reddy have bowled more than 20 overs. Though the side play a majority of their matches on sluggish wickets, when they do travel abroad, the lack of a pacer does come to haunt the side.
The Harmanpreet-led team had gone down 0-3 to New Zealand in New Zealand early last year, a series where the spinners struggled for any sort of rhythm. Poonam had bowled at an average of 32.66 while Deepti just picked 3 wickers in 3 matches. Reddy and Mansi Joshi had spearheaded the bowling attack against the White Ferns, but returned with just 6 wickets combined in helpful conditions.
In the T20 World Cup, Pandey, with her length deliveries and full tosses ended up being the dark horse, and it would do the camp no harm if they start grooming a fast bowler who can hurl down pacy balls over-after-over. With the 50-over World Cup next year slated to be held in New Zealand, India’s inexperienced pace department needs serious looking into so that the pressure on Jhulan Goswami and Pandey is halved.
Repeated Failure of the Big Batting Guns
Smriti Mandhana has a below-par record in ICC T20 events, averaging just 18.62 in 17 games, way below her career average of 25.23. Her repeated failure along with Harmanpreet’s woeful run was overlooked due to Shafali Verma’s big hits, but in the finals, when the side needed them the most, the two failed to get going.
On a day when the two most experienced Aussie batters Mooney and Healy stood out for their fearless batting in the absence of injured Ellyse Perry, the no-show from Harmanpreet and Mandhana remains a cause of worry. In the 2018 T20 World Cup, the duo had been unable to lead the side to glory in the semis as India had collapsed to 112 all out. The English run chase had been coordinated by Amy Jones and Natalie Sciver after the quick dismissal of the openers, and the Indians would desperately want their two anchors to pull their socks up in ICC events.
With Mithali Raj not in the T20I fray, the average side of the Indian team currently is just 22. Three teenagers, two of whom are aged just 16, need the power players to perform and provide them with a cushion so they can play their natural game in crucial moments.
The Big Event Jitters
This is not just limited to the Indian women’s cricket team. Since 2014, the Indians have lost 10 ICC events after reaching the knockouts, winning just 1 title (across men’s, women’s and U19 competitions), and it is not long before the “chokers” tag gets associated with the side. In the big finale, the jitters within the Indian camp were all too visible. Right from Deepti, who started with three full tosses in the first three balls of the match, to Verma, who dived unnecessarily and dropped Healy in the first over, the big match nerves needs to be managed better, going forward.
True, it is intimidating for players who have hardly seen crowds in their domestic games to turn out at a venue that has 86,000 screaming fans, but champion teams soak in the atmosphere rather than succumb to it. The Women in Blue seemed too overawed by the momentous game, which led them to drop regulation catches and concede boundaries that should have been stopped. WV Raman, thus, needs to work on this aspect primarily if he wants his wards to come home with the title next year.
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