Women’s T20 WC: Which Teams Are India’s Biggest Rival for Title?
India are placed alongside Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Group A of the ICC Women’s World Cup.
A year and a few months since Team India crashed out in the semi-finals of the Women’s T20 World Cup in West Indies, the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side will be eager to take field in Australia with renewed vigour and zeal. Under the tutelage of WV Raman, the team has regrouped from the controversial exit back in 2018, when the move to omit Mithali Raj in the semis made bigger news than the ouster itself.
With a younger, albeit inexperienced, and a seemingly excited side at their disposal this time around, the Eves in Blue will be looking to recreate history after missing out in the last two World Cup events.
They had faltered by just nine runs in the finals of the 50-over tournament in 2017, a loss that still stirs up emotions as the visuals of the side cracking under pressure are relived.
India’s top four — Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Kaur and Smriti Mandhana — look strong as ever and Australian head coach Matthew Mott admitted that India currently have the “most feared” batting unit in the world.
The experience of Mandhana and Kaur lends solidity to the side; with the former stamping her class since the end of the 2018 World T20.
Smriti Mandhana is the leading run-scorer for the side across formats, and enters the event in Australia in a rich vein of form.
Kaur, on the other hand, might have a strike rate of just 98 in T20Is since 2019, but her class is unquestionable, and another big knock after her 171 and 103 in the last two ICC events cannot be ruled out.
Verma and Rodrigues, the teenagers, have taken on the responsibility with the bat as well while Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav and Radha Yadav head the spin department. Shikha Pandey, the warhorse, will lead the seam attack.
However, despite their visible strengths, India have not had the best record in T20Is since the end of the last T20 World Cup, including getting whitewashed against New Zealand and England in early 2019.
Though emphatic wins against South Africa and West Indies restored hope, the inability to handle pressure in big games came to haunt them once again in the T20I Tri-series earlier this month, when they succumbed while chasing 156 in the final against Australia.
While the hosts will be India’s biggest nemesis once again, we look at the sides who can stall India’s run to the title in the upcoming event.
England – The Party Spoilers
The reason for India’s agony in the last two ICC events, England have a stellar record against the side in T20Is, winning 15 of the 19 contests between the two, including the last two bilateral series.
Though England were trounced in the Women’s Ashes last year, losing six of the seven games across formats, Heather Knight’s time have assembled a number of world beaters, who have consistently fared well against India and can once again prove to be a thorn.
Knight herself smashed a fine 45-ball 78 in the recent Tri-series before sending Ellyse Perry all over the park in the Super Over to help her team to a win.
Danielle Wyatt, at the top of the order, has amassed 333 runs against the Indians at an average of over 30, way more than her career average of 20.54.
All-rounder Natalie Sciver has excelled as well and Amy Jones has whipped out her aggressive best against India. Katherine Brunt, with the ball, has 19 wickets at a stunning average of 14.26, while Anya Shrubsole has scalped 11 wickets in nine games at 15.54, including three in the recent tri-series.
Sophie Ecclestone, too, averages less than 20 with the ball against India, while Tammy Beaumont, batting at No 7, can be a game-changer in the death overs.
Though India is not in the same group as England, they might face off in the knock-outs, a prospect that will send jitters to the Kaur-led team, who will be eager to reverse the trend of falling prey to them this time around.
Australia – Can Never Be Counted Out
India’s rivalry with Australia has entered folklore, with both the men’s and the women’s teams playing out some memorable games against each other.
Starting from the 2003 Men’s World Cup final to the 2005 Women’s World Cup final, the Kangaroos had made it a habit of hunting down the Blues in matches that matter.
However, the last decade has seen a much more balanced equation — the monstrous 171 that Kaur played against the side in the semi-final of the 2017 World Cup is still one of the best innings against the mighty Australians.
Despite defeating them in the last two World Cups — in 2017 and the T20 World Cup in 2018 — India have a poor record against the defending champions, winning just five of 18 T20I games.
In the recent tri-series, the visitors did win one clash at Melbourne, but lost two, including the final, where they were well-placed at 115 for three in pursuit of 156, before they lost their next seven for just 29.
And the very same weaknesses that had haunted India last week could affect them in the tournament opener on 21 February as well.
In Meg Lanning, Beth Mooney and Alyssa Healy, the team has the best batters occupying the top four spots in the order.
Though opener Healy is in the midst of a dismal run, scoring just 15 runs in her last five innings, the Player of the Tournament in 2018 is one of the most destructive players in the world, and will be eager to shrug off her indifferent form.
Mooney and Lanning had both scored quickfire runs in the Tri-series final.
And how the Indian spinners stop the trio on grounds that offer little assistance is something that has to be carefully charted out. Ashleigh Gardner, meanwhile, has amassed 193 runs against India at a good average of over 32, and there is no doubt that getting through the top order will be the key for India.
Ellyse Perry, the best all-rounder in the world, is the highest wicket-taker against India Women with 21 scalps at 14.04, while Megan Schutt, the top ranked T20I bowler, has picked nine at an average of 20.77.
Jess Jonassen (11 @ 16.72), meanwhile, is among the top-ten wicket-takers to have gotten most Indian wickets.
And with an inexperienced Indian middle order that thins down after Kaur at four, Jonassen will want to add to that tally.
The top-ranked team have won the T20 World Cup four times of the last five. And though they will be under pressure at home, if they can get off to a perfect start against India in the tournament-opener, they will once again be firm favourites for the title.
New Zealand – The Dark Horses
The Kiwis had whitewashed India at home in early 2019, and will be eyeing an encore this time around as well. India are placed in the same group as Australia and New Zealand, and a loss against either side will put them under tremendous pressure.
Sophie Devine, Suzie Bates and Lea Tahuhu have been around the team for a while now, and their experience will be key when they take on India on 27 February.
Devine has scored 281 runs at a phenomenal average of 35.12 against India and at a strike rate of over 157.
Bates, the No 1 batter in the world has 239 runs in 10 games and will be responsible for giving the side a solid foundation in the powerplays.
Devine has also picked up 11 wickets, and will be tough to navigate. Leigh Kasperek can be the dark horse for the side along with Rachel Priest, while youngsters like the Kerr sisters — Amelia and Jess — along with Rosemary Mair will be itching to leave their mark, and will be dangerous prospects in the middle overs.
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