The BCCI on Thursday announced the Indian cricket team for the ICC Women's ODI World Cup beginning in New Zealand in the first week of March, and also the limited-over series against the hosts preceding the big event.
The inclusion of first-times wasn't so much what made the headlines, instead it was the ones who were unable to make the cut that drew focus.
The exclusions were glaringly identified -- Jemimah Rodrigues and Shikha Pandey. It is rare though that the exclusions are identified in a women's team. It can also indicate that the sport has gained in popularity and the ones omitted are now easily identified. Good news for the women's game.
Shikha Pandey has been around since 2014 and seen the wave that allowed the sport to grow. Sharing the new ball with Jhulan Goswami right through her career, she has played as a lone seamer too in T20 internationals for India.
The newly-appointed selectors in early 2021 had overlooked her in the home series against South Africa. The series, after being won by the touring team, allowed Shikha to find a seat on the tours to England and Australia. Regaining a spot in the playing XI, especially in the 50-over format, was never going to be easy for her.
When she had burst on to the domestic scene, Shikha was identified as an all-rounder. But she has barely done justice to that talent. With players being ushered in to get the perfect mix going for the Indian team, Shikha had the opportunity to grab the pole position alongside Jhulan Goswami. A slip again here now makes it an uphill climb for the Indian Air Force employee.
Then there is the curious case of Jemimah Rodrigues.
A player who continues to grab eyeballs on and off the field with her talent finds herself in a strange scenario after being left out of the Indian World Cup team, a squad of which she has been a part since Feb-March 2018.
A young Mumbai player who scored more than 1,000 runs in a season in U-19 cricket with a couple of double hundreds to her name, Jemimah promised a good future. In the 21 matches that she has played for India, she has batted in the top three batting positions. Enroute, she developed her game further to suit the T20 style of play as she has been a regular for India in that team as well.
She has been shuffled up and down in the batting order and between formats. While she continued to make an impression in T20 leagues, her consistency while wearing the India cap left a lot to be desired.
Keeping her talent in perspective, expectations kept rising alongside the competition within the young group.
It becomes extremely critical for the people handling the team to be mindful of the players' temperament. I feel an opportunity should have been given to Jemimah to stake her claim for the World Cup team.
The four-team women's challenger tournament took place in early December, and only Radha Yadav among the players who participated in Women's Big Bash League was given an opportunity to participate. Fresh from her stint at the WBBL in Australia, Radha impressed with her all-round play.
Sabbhineni Meghana, who made her India debut in T20s in 2016, showed top form as an opener and she has been selected as a standby for the tours. Simran Bahadur's outing along with that of Renuka Singh was impressive too, and their names too figure in the selected 18.
If the selectors had a plan in place, the olive branch should have been offered to Jemimah Rodrigues too to stake her claim via the tournament. On good batting tracks and with international exposure under her belt, I am sure she would have impressed the decision makers.
The last tour of 2021 in Australia was a good outing for the Indian team and the players more or less selected themselves for the New Zealand tour and the upcoming World Cup. Not many have played in New Zealand before, and the venues for the series are different from the World Cup ones. None the less, an outing in the Kiwi land prior to the mega event should serve the Indian team well.
(Anjum Chopra is a former captain of the Indian women's cricket team. The story is published in arrangement with IANS)