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India women begin their Mission 2020 against South Africa today

​​Against England in an 8 PM match, India chose to bat first, hoping their five spinners could defend even a half-decent total.

Sep 24, 2019, 09.22 AM IST
It is safe to assume that this stinging loss prompted the BCCI to schedule all five of India’s T20Is against the visiting Proteas as day-night affairs.
By Snehal Pradhan

India women’s last game in a global tournament — a loss to England in the semi-final of the 2018 WT20 — is remembered for controversy. In its aftermath, a public spat between the coach and a senior player broke out over her exclusion. But that saga took the focus away from another questionable tactical decision. Yes, perhaps India lost that semi-final at the toss. But it wasn’t simply because of the names on the teamsheet.

Against England in an 8 PM match, India chose to bat first, hoping their five spinners could defend even a half-decent total. But the team management failed to account for the dew, which reduced grip in the second innings. As the night deepened, so did India’s despair: The wet ball slid off the surface without deviation, and England chased down India’s total of 113 with eight wickets in hand.

“We didn’t consider the dew factor,” said vice-captain Smriti Mandhana at the time. India had played all their group games at 11 AM, so as to fit a favourable broadcast slot for viewers back home. “Even when we practiced (before the semifinal) we hadn’t seen any dew, so we didn’t think it would play a factor. I felt that played a huge factor as rather than spinning our ball started skidding.”

It is safe to assume that this stinging loss prompted the BCCI to schedule all five of India’s T20Is against the visiting Proteas as day-night affairs. It is the first time an entire women’s series is being played under lights, a practice that has been par for course in men’s cricket. Not only will it give India much needed match-practice of playing under lights, but it will also be more favourable from a broadcast and spectator point of view. There are so many obvious advantages, that it is a wonder that the women’s team have not played more daynight games before.

The selection of a venue like the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium in Surat, which will host their first ever international game, is another positive move from the BCCI. Attendance for women’s games has traditionally been higher at Tier-II cities, but there was little in terms of advertising on the streets of Surat, so it remains to be seen how the crowd support is. Once the cricket does begin, it will christen the beginning of a new era for India, as they take the field for the first time since the T20I retirements of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. Both senior pros have chosen to focus on the longer format (only ODIs; India do not play Tests, a story for another day). So Harmanpreet Kaur will lead a team with an average age of 23, and as many teenagers as spinners (four, including star batter Jemimah Rodrigues). All the buzz is around Shafali Verma, who at just 15, could become the youngest Indian to play T20I cricket. But more exciting is the return of 19-year old Pooja Vastrakar, who has spent nearly a year on the sidelines thanks to an ACL injury. The spunky speedster made a name for herself with her brisk bowling and big hitting, and will provide India the power option down the order.

South Africa too are missing some of their key players; captain Dane van Neikerk, one of nine women to achieve the ODI double of scoring 1000 runs and taking 100 wickets, is out with a recurrence of a stress injury to her right lower leg. Big hitting Chloe Tryon, who holds the record for the highest strike rate in T20Is (minimum 20 matches) is sidelined with a patella dislocation. And star fast-bowling all-rounder Marizanne Kapp is unavailable for selection in this series, though she will join the team for the ODIs. So Sune Luus continues to standin as captain, and the bowling attack will be led by Shabnim Ismail, among the fastest bowlers in the world.

As Virat Kohli’s men began preparations for their Mission 2020 last week, the Indian women’s team will do the same, only on a shorter deadline. The Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia will precede the men’s tournament, with the final pencilled in for Women’s Day next year. Kohli’s team will play close to 25 T20Is before their pinnacle event, but Harmanpreet Kaur’s team have (so far) only two more international series on their horizon. So each game at the Lalbhai Contractor stadium will be a mini-audition, complete with floodlights focussed on the stage. Two of India’s four group games in next year’s T20 World Cup will be played under lights, as will one semi-final and the final. So the experience gained from the next five matches will be critical.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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