A lot has changed since the historical T20 Women’s World Cup final that was held in front of a record crowd at the MCG between India and Australia in 2020. The world came to a standstill, sports and all outdoor activities were stalled, and financial losses caused due to the lockdown took a severe toll on the majority population. As it became apparent that the COVID-19 was here to stay, extra precautions were taken in an attempt to make lives normal again.
Let's cut to the chase here...
The Indian Women’s Cricket Team is the sixth women’s team among Full Nation Members to take the field during the pandemic era, almost five-and-a-half months after the England Women and West Indies Women played a five-match T20I series in England.
In this interim, the White Ferns have toured Australia and the Pakistan side have played six white-ball games in South Africa. The Zimbabwe Women played an unofficial ODI against Pakistan while the English and the New Zealand teams are currently embroiled in a series.
The ECB staged the women’s 50-over competition – the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – in late August, while the South African Women took part in their domestic Women’s T20 Super League in early December. The Australian Women’s Big Bash League and the Women’s Super Smash event went on as planned, as did the 50-over domestic games for women in Australia and New Zealand.
And the Indian players? Barring a Women’s T20 Challenge, that seemed more of an after thought, the cricketers have been out of action and out of news since their MCG appearance on Women’s Day last year, resorting to play in a local league in Bengaluru to stay match-fit.
Their tour of England that had a tri-nation series with South Africa as the third team was cancelled last September, as was their tour of Australia due to – brace yourself – ‘logistical reasons’.
Meanwhile, the West Indies Cricket Board and the Pakistan Cricket Board – not exactly the richest boards in the world – agreed to bear the costs of sending their women teams abroad, with the latter even offering financial support to unemployed women cricketers. Earlier, the Bangladesh Cricket Board offered a one-time monetary support to women players in March. The BCCI? Nothing.
As much as this nonchalance attitude angers, many would even call this behaviour by the BCCI normal.
The latest example of this attitude comes with the squad announcement ahead of the Indian women’s limited-over series against South Africa that is set to begin exactly 364 days since they last took to the field in the Blue jersey.
Nine days before the series was to be held, the final venue had not been assigned and the schedule still announced. Two days after the Indian Eves assembled in Lucknow, the BCCI publicly announced the squad.
According to ESPNCricinfo, the contracts of the head coach WV Raman, team manager Trupti Bhattacharya, and physio Tracy Fernandes that had long expired, had been extended but there was no official word about it.
When it comes to the squad that sees veteran Shikha Pandey and skilled wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia absent, fans are left to come to their own conclusions about the omissions, as the new selection committee did not even put themselves in a position where they could be questioned and the doubts answered.
Axings, Surprises, and Questions Galore
India Women's squad for ODI series: Mithali Raj (Capt), 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
India Women's T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Capt), 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 Bahadur
Is Shikha Pandey Injured?
That could be the only reason why the bowler missed out after ending the T20 World Cup 2020 as the second-highest wicket-taker from the side.
Since 2018, Pandey has picked up 28 wickets in 20 ODIs – the third highest by any Indian. The duo of Pandey and Jhulan Goswami has picked up 43 wickets in 14 ODIs since 2018 at an economy rate of just over 3.75 with an average of 19 and 37, of which have come in wins.
Pandey has 24 wickets in 28 T20Is in this interim, but in only 92.2 overs, as the slower bowlers dominated the proceedings. She is the most experienced pacer in the shortest format and ended as the fourth-highest wicket-taker among pacers in the T20 World Cup 2020.
Why’s Taniya Bhatia Ignored?
One of the swiftest keepers in the world since her debut, Bhatia has effected 89 dismissals since playing her first match for India in 2018 (20 more than the second-placed Alyssa Healy) with as many as 52 stumpings in 65 games. The second-highest number of stumpings in this interim is just 28 in white-ball cricket, by Pakistan’s Sidra Nawaz.
Though her contributions with the bat have been poor – with a combined tally of 287 international runs at an average of 14.69 – constantly shooting her down the order has not helped either.
She has batted at 6 or 7 consistently in ODIs, but has shuffled up and down in T20Is, batting from positions 8 to 10 in seven of the 22 innings. She has batted between positions 1 and 3 in six innings, and the extremes is almost hilarious.
Bhatia’s exclusion has made way for Sushma Verma, who has 178 runs in 38 ODIs and 31 runs in 19 T20Is in both squads, and has not played an international game for India since April 2018 (her last T20I appearance was in December 2016). Shikha has been replaced by Mansi Joshi, who has 16 international wickets and last played for the national team in the 2018 T20 World Cup – to be fair, she was hampered by a spate of injuries since then.
While Pandey lends experience with the ball and should have been in the scheme of things, at least in the ODIs with the World Cup scheduled for next year. Bhatia’s batting role was hardly defined in the T20I squad, and she paid the price despite being the best wicket-keeper in the last three years in the circuit.
On the other hand, there are as many as five new faces in the two squads who will have a chance to leave a mark, but the inconsistencies in selection is tough to ignore.
However, it is much too normal for the BCCI when it comes to the women’s team.
How else will anyone justify the omission of Ekta Bisht with 33 international wickets in 21 games at an average of 18.14 and an economy rate of 4.23 in 2018 and 2019 – the best average and economy rate by an Indian bowler in this interim from the Indian setup since 2020?
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