Ten wins and as many losses in T20Is since 2019 speak for the inconsistency, and unpredictability, that have become so entrenched in India’s frail middle order that awkward conversation fillers are a must when describing their chances of winning that elusive maiden world title. Chiselled under the watch of new head coach WV Raman and chastened through recurring T20I collapses over this 13-month period, India, if Raman’s views are to go by, are “definitely one of the favourites“, but perhaps, erm…only to make the semi-finals at the T20 World Cup, if not lift the trophy.
A title triumph, to echo former India captain Diana Edulji, is unlikely, unless the hurt of the botched chase in last week’s tri-series final against Australia spurs India on to chanelling their unpredictability. On a teamsheet that no longer has Mithali Raj, India shocking themselves out of their rhythm could read anything between a blockbuster three-digit score from captain Harmanpreet Kaur, a jaw-dropping 40-plus blitz from 16-year-old Shafali Verma at the top, or a solid stand between opener Smriti Mandhana and pretty much anyone not carrying drinks that day.
On slightly less exciting days, it could simply translate to the middle order scoring at just a run a ball to avert sending a chase into a tailspin, or the fielders clutching on to chances, their wicketkeeper converting straightforward chances, stump-mic covers not denying potentially momentum-changing run-outs in a knockout, or, if a touch ambitious, the pace attack outperforming those of strongest Group A opponents Australia and New Zealand and even their own world-class spin contingent.
Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Deepti Sharma, Veda Krishnamurthy, Richa Ghosh, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy (Head coach: WV Raman)
February 21: Australia, Sydney Showground, Sydney
February 24: Bangladesh, WACA, Perth
February 27: New Zealand, Junction Oval, Melbourne
February 29: Sri Lanka, Junction Oval, Melbourne
T20 World Cup history
India failed to go past the semi-finals stage in their three knockouts appearances (2009, 2010 and 2018) across the six editions so far. Their 2018 campaign, though, came to be entrenched in public consciousness more due to the controversial omission of Mithali Raj in India’s semi-final loss to England than their splendid unbeaten league-stage run which involved resounding wins over heavyweights New Zealand and eventual champions Australia.
Since the 2018 T20 World Cup, India have won two T20I bilateral series (against South Africa at home and West Indies away) and lost as many (one to New Zealand away and then England at home). Their stiffest challenge, though, was the recently concluded tri-series, where they oscillated between the outstanding (beating England in the opener and recording their highest successful chase against hosts Australia) and trademark India (losing two league-stage games and then the final due lack of support with the bat to an excellent Mandhana).
The world’s most prolific batter in women’s T20Is since 2018, opener Smriti Mandhana will look to tap into the experience of her two WBBL seasons and extend her form from the tri-series, where she finished atop the run-charts. The smarts of another left-hander India will rely on is Deepti Sharma, an offspin-bowling allrounder who can impair the opposition in all three disciplines. Still only 22, Sharma is as impressive as a wicket-taker across various stages of an innings as a sprightly fielder. It is Sharma’s newly honed finishing capabilities as a middle-order floater that need harnessing by the captain – and channeling by Sharma herself – at the T20 World Cup. The onus will also be on medium-pacer Shikha Pandey to summon her best from the reserves of her dogged determination that fuelled her superlative comeback to India’s T20I set-up after being left out of the 2018 T20 World squad.
What would be a success at the tournament?
Qualification for the final – if somewhat fanciful, the prospect. Anything less than a runners-up finish would leave them licking their wounds in the lead-up to the ODI World Cup that begins in less than a year. Anything more than that would be…historic.