When Mithali Raj announced her retirement from T20Is in September last year, she made it clear that the idea behind it was to allow the team management to groom new talent for the Women’s T20 World Cup.
Almost six months later, as India gears up for the tournament which gets underway in Australia later this week, there are still questions on whether the team will miss the presence of seniors like Mithali and Jhulan Goswami, who retired from the shortest format a few years ago and wasn’t even available for the 2018 edition of the competition.
Such questions have become quite common in media interactions as well. India captain Harmanpreet Kaur admitted recently that the two stalwarts would be missed, but clarified that “the young girls are showing their talent and ability.” “The team-mates never show us that they are young. They can always do what is expected of them. The team is looking in really good shape and showing what they can do with extra responsibility,” Harmanpreet had stated.
With Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana in the team, India does have a strong batting unit. The team has been quite consistent over the last few years, even though a world title has been elusive — India bowed out of the last edition of the World T20 in 2018 after it lost to England in the semifinals. But since then, the team management has been able to get the house in order, and former India captain Shubhangi Kulkarni believes that this tournament could eventually help India cope with life without Mithali and Jhulan.
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“There is going to be a stage when you will have to play without the seniors and this is the stage. In the T20 format, where things happen quickly, you can try out newer players. In 50 overs, you do need the experience because you need those minds and the time to strategise as per situations. In T20s, things are quick. I am sure they will miss them, but this team has the talent to go through,” Kulkarni told Sportstar.
However, Kulkarni also believes that it is important for the team to be more consistent. “In this team, we have got Smriti, Harman, Deepti Sharma, Poonam [Yadav] — who are experienced. Even Jemimah has had some experience, so these [experienced players] need to tell the youngsters like Shafali or Richa on how to balance out things. This experience will eventually help the youngsters as well,” Kulkarni said.
Shubhangi Kulkarni: “There is going to be a stage when you will have to play without the seniors and this is the stage.”
Former India head coach Purnima Rau, too, believes this team has the talent to achieve success. “There was a time when we would chase around 140, and now, it has gone up to 170s. That’s a huge thing. It has to go on. I don’t think [the absence of Mithali] will make a huge difference. It might make a difference only if the inconsistency remains and we lose,” Rau said.
Like Kulkarni, Rau, too, focussed on the fact that the team needed to be consistent and show its character in big-ticket events. “The hunger, the consistency and the character should show. Otherwise, it will just be another World Cup, where you just go and come back,” Rau, who was in charge of the team during the 2016 World T20, added.
Having seen most of the players from close quarters, Rau believes that a good start will make the difference in the tournament. “It’s not just about Shafali. It’s more about Smriti and Harmanpreet converting good starts to a big score and being consistent. And also, Veda [Krishnamurthy] needs to take charge and finish off the games. It is important to pass the baton in the innings so that there’s no roadblock. It’s not happening properly and that’s one area the team needs to focus on,” Rau said.
She added: “The experienced campaigners should take charge in crucial times. It’s going to be an exciting World Cup as all the teams have improved globally.”
Since the inauguration of Women’s T20 World Cup in 2009, Harmanpreet has featured in all the editions and as another tournament beckons, it’s time for her to lead from the front and make sure India’s T20I squad gets used to life without Mithali and Jhulan.
Kulkarni summed it up aptly: “You eventually need to move on.”