ICC Women’s T20 World Cup: Giving it air, making rivals gasp
The Indian women’s team in Australia has four spinners, each capable of playing the lead role in a game, with former India leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani their guide. For all his guile, Hirwani, who captured 16 wickets on his Test debut against West Indies, could not build on that sensational start and his deliveries lacking speed through the air was given as a major reason.
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However, Hirwani the coach has remained an advocate of giving the ball air; it is about flighting the ball above the batsman’s eye level, making it tough to pick the loop and dip. It is this sucking out the speed that’s doing the trick for India at the Women’s T20 World Cup.
India have reached the semi-final by winning all their group matches, and 21 of the 30 wickets to fall to bowlers have been scalped by their spinners.
Currently the leading the wicket-taker of the competition with nine scalps, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav has provided the best wicket-taking moments for India. Her loopy deliveries set up the best of batters and the wrong ‘un does the damage. Her four-wicket haul against defending champions Australia—it could well have been five had a catch not been dropped off the hat-trick delivery—can be watched in a loop, for all the drama and trickery. “We don’t get leg-spinners coming down at 60kph very often and she’s incredibly skilful,” Australia’s Alyssa Healy said after the defeat, pointing to the difficulties posed by the diminutive bowler.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav—both left-arm-spinners with five wickets each—and off-break bowler Deepti Sharma (2) complete India’s spin quartet in Australia. (Seamer Shikha Pandey has taken seven of the other nine wickets).
In 2019, India’s top three wicket-takers were spinners. Radha Yadav (21 wickets), Deepti Sharma (19) and Poonam Yadav (16) led the bowling charts.
The plan to stick with spin was drawn up very early, says former India stumper Saba Karim, who oversees Indian women’s cricket in his role as BCCI general manager.
“We have discussions with the team management on a regular basis. We got head coach WV Raman on board at the end of 2018 and had discussions on preparations, not just for this World Cup but also on how to take women’s cricket forward. We realised that our strength lies with our spinners, and we felt Hirwani with his experience would be a very handy addition to the support staff,” Karim said.
Hirwani is attached to the National Cricket Academy and roping him in as spin-coach for women’s cricket was a plan made in consultation with Rahul Dravid, the NCA director of cricket, who has been Indian cricket’s behind-the-scenes planner.
“Hirwani had the coaching experience, working in the NCA for two-three years. Dravid is also involved in the growth and development of women’s cricket and we decided to use the expertise of our NCA coaches for women’s cricket, based on home-and-away requirements,” said Karim.
Radha Yadav credited Hirwani with sharpening the mental approach. “Mentally he helps us a lot. He talks about understanding the bounce, (says) we all have variations, but (the key is to know) when to use them, how to use the bounce, and the right areas to pitch.”
The selectors recalled left-armer Gayakwad for the T20 World Cup and for the Tri-series tournament in Australia in the lead-up. They did this although Radha Yadav was already in the team. Yadav was India’s joint-highest wicket-taker in the 2018 T20 World Cup. But Gayakwad bowls quicker through the air, and emerged the highest wicket-taker in the Tri-series, bagging 10 wickets. She started ahead of Yadav in the first two World Cup games.
When India decided to play all four spinners, Yadav came in against New Zealand and immediately impressed with an all-round showing, scoring a crucial nine-ball 14 at No. 9 and taking 1/25 in the thrilling three-run win.
Against Sri Lanka on Saturday, the 19-year-old took a career-best haul of 4/23.
Before the Tri-series, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur had told HT in an interview, “We totally count on our spinners to change the game for us. The day they perform, we always win. Having a decent number of spinners in the squad gives us confidence. I am confident they will justify their role in the side.”
So far, the tweakers have proved their captain right every time.