Women’s T20 World Cup: India’s steadfast teen soldiers
ICC website’s page on the Indian women’s team has a video of Jemimah Rodrigues from the 2018 T20 World Cup in West Indies, where the teenager is talking about her urge to mature fast in a dressing room full of seniors. She was 17 then. As India start in the T20 World Cup, against hosts and defending champions Australia on Friday, nearly one-third of the 15-member squad is in Rodrigues’ age-group. Four are teenagers—Shafali Verma (16), Richa Ghosh (16), Rodrigues (19) and Radha Yadav (19) – and Pooja Vastrakar turned 20 five months ago.
Should India go deep in the T20 World Cup—they have been losing semi-finalists thrice—a lot would depend on these young players. Over the past three years, India has seen a consistent rise with the ODI team reaching the World Cup final in 2017 and the T20 side finishing among the top four in the World Cup next year. Two important members of those teams, Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj, have since retired from the shortest format.
The Indian women’s team has often shown a knack of trying out youngsters in T20s. India’s T20 World Cup squads in the last two editions had two teenagers each with the 2018 roster also having four 20-year-olds.
Verma is an opener, Rodrigues usually bats at the No. 3 or No. 4 and Yadav is a left-arm spinner. Ghosh, a rookie, is another top-order batsman while Vastrakar is a right-arm medium pacer. Because of the quintet, the Indian team’s average age is under 23.
“Young players come with a fresh thinking. They don’t have anything behind them. They know nothing. They’re very different people to who we were when we came into the side at 17. They are very fearless; they don’t have a lot of pressure on them. They think like it’s any other match and coming into a World Cup, that’s the best thing about them,” Smriti Mandhana, another top-order mainstay for India, told the ICC recently.
Mandhana must know a thing or two about being young and fearless. At 21, she was instrumental in India’s entry into the semi-finals in 2018. With 178 in five matches, she finished third highest scorer among all teams. Rodrigues scored 125 in five games. Verma, who had the highest strike-rate of 137.83 among Indians in the recently-held tri-nation series in Australia, is another vital component in the batting line-up. It would be interesting to see if Ghosh, a surprise pick, makes the XI after debuting in the Tri-nation series final against Australia.
“In today’s era, age on either side is just a number. It’s about the talent, what they can do, what they can bring to the table as far as the requirement of the team is concerned. So I don’t think we should necessarily focus on the age part of it,” said WV Raman, India coach, before departing for Australia.
“If we’re talking about somebody like Shafali, who is 16, we all have heard of the adage saying, ‘young cubs know no fear’. So this is a brand of cricket we look to play and it is a format where we need to be positive.”
Since her debut in 2019, Verma has played 14 T20Is and scored 324 runs. Along with Rodrigues, the duo will have to provide support to the likes of Mandhana and captain Harmanpreet Kaur.
“We need a lot more people with fresh minds and with a lot of positivity, with no fear at all. I think that’ll be a big advantage and they complement the more experienced predators like Smriti, Harman and Veda (Krishnamurthy). So, this is a good blend I think,” said Raman.
With a shaky middle-order, it’s the top order and the bowlers that India would rely on to put on a consistent display.
Apart from Shikha Pandey, India often don’t quite go with a pacer in T20s. It would be interesting if Vastrakar makes the cut in the playing XI, after missing the 2018 edition with injury. The squad has quite a few spinners with Deepti Sharma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad leading the attack. Supporting them would be Yadav, who holds the No. 3 spot in the ICC T20I rankings and made it the ICC T20I team of the year in 2019.
“Spinners are doing quite well. I’m excited about the spinners and what they are going to bring for the team. The message for the youngsters is that to play their natural game without any pressure,” said Kaur.
Aussies get a jolt
Australia received a blow when pace bowler Tayla Vlaeminck was ruled out of the tournament with a foot injury. Vlaeminck was a likely starter for Friday’s match against India until she succumbed to the stress injury in her right foot. She would be replaced by off-spinner Molly Strano, Cricket Australia told Reuters.