By Anjum Chopra
There have been a few areas that the Indian women's team has been consistently working on. Fielding, middle-overs batting, death bowling. Be it one-day cricket or T20 the concerns have been similar. An ODI still allows a team to come back into the contest but in T0's there is limited scope.
The Indian women begin their tour of England with a 3-match T20I series followed by 3-match ODI series. The success in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games for India in Birmingham would have served as a timely outing prior to the series. A silver medal, a win over the home team, England, and a couple of strong outings against Australia have given a good measure of the team's pathway.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the Indian captain, was visibly unhappy at the outcome of the CWG final. She felt the team lacked stroke players to carry them through and finishers in the middle and lower middle-order. When one looks at the Australian women's team -- their consistency and their ability to emerge from every challenging situation repeatedly -- it seems a very relatable concern.
Australian women over the years have raised their game to much higher ground. For the world to compete and win against Australia, consistently, there needs a lot of preparation and investment of time. It won't happen overnight. They are clearly ahead by years not just a few miles.
The Indian selectors have included a few faces -- new and old -- to allow the coach and captain to have and see their options. Dayalan Hemalatha from Tamil Nadu/Railways gets a go and so does Kiran Navgire. Now both these players have no similarity in their approach. One seems a grafter and the other aggressor. The last I saw of Hemalatha was in the ODI series against South Africa women in Lucknow. It was an ordinary outing with both bat and ball. There was a domestic season in 2021 where she got noticed more as an off-spin bowler, bagging 12 wickets and an attacking 35 not out vs Chandigarh.
The other new face in the India colours is Kiran Prabhu Navgire. A player who shifted base from Maharashtra to Nagaland in the 2021 season to explore more playing opportunities -- really made her mark. Batting in the top order for Nagaland she top-scored with 525 runs in the season and bagged 7 wickets with her part-time off-spin. A player who likes to hit the ball out of the park scored 162 in a match against Arunachal Pradesh. Irrespective of the strength or weakness in the opposition's bowling, smashing 162 does call for attention.
Kiran made that spotlight fall on her again when she despatched the first ball she faced in the women's T20 challenge in Pune stadium earlier this year for a six that landed 10 rows back. With 5 fours and 5 sixes, she helped herself to a 69 of 34 balls. But cricket being the big leveller she could not get off the mark in the 13 balls she faced in the very next outing.
Kiran who started her cricket late has progressed to an Indian dressing room in England with a huge amount of hope and potential riding on her. A special talent does not necessarily need to come through the pattern that mostly have followed. How she copes up and what she makes of these opportunities, time will indicate. It might take some time for her to find her feet in international cricket and that's why it is a good call to have her travel with the team. If the faith reposed in her succeeds then India would have found a strong batter.
England will be without Heather Knight as she is still nursing her hip injury. With Katherine Brunt opting out of the series, Natalie Sciver as captain will rely on herself and Sophie Ecclestone to lead the relatively new English bowling lineup. India vs England is always a good series to watch.
(Anjum Chopra is a former captain of the Indian women's cricket team. The views expressed here are personal)