Time for the Women in Blue to take the leap towards the holy grail
June 2017. Only a dozen or so journalists were in attendance during the press conference where Mithali Raj briefed about her preparations before flying to England for the Women's World Cup.
A little over a month later, more than sixty journalists gathered at the Ballroom of the JW Marriot in Mumbai when Raj and co addressed the press after ending up as the runners-up in a closely contested finale against England.
Each player was awarded Rs 50 Lakh by the BCCI and it was not only the press. In the dead of the night, thousands of fans thronged in numbers to catch the glimpse of their favorite starts- the Women superstars
The 2017 World Cup was an event like no other in Women's cricket - They'd reached the finals in 2005 but this was different. It caught the imagination of the cricketing folklore, and it is these gains that will be on the line in the Caribbean.
Inconsistent performances since 2017; Issues with Former coach headlined the past year
India's performances post that landmark event last summer has not been in sync with the aforementioned highlights.
"I think once you experience something, you're able to process better the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. If we would have handled our nerves better, we would have probably won. But we've got to learn a lot from our mistakes. I hope we don't repeat our mistakes. If get a similar chance the next time, we've hopefully handle the situation with a cool mind," Harmanpreet Kaur spoke to the media on how her team will handle the rising expectations.
A lot has happened over the past year, inconsistent performances on the field, ouster of the coach [Tushar Athrote] in the most controversial turn of events, a shock loss to minnows Bangladesh in the Asia Cup Final, retirement of their most experienced team member in Jhulan Goswami and inconsistent returns of the middle-order have headlined India Women's Cricket over the past year.
All this, putting an additional pressure on Smriti Mandhana and Mithali Raj, and an influx of as many as six World Cup debutants in the squad, putting up a valid question as to how the Harmanpreet Kaur-led unit will cope with additional pressure that will accompany them after a path-breaking World Cup campaign last year in England.
Mandhana, Bist-The X Factor - The influx of youth
But despite all the aforementioned problems, it will not be an aberration to say that Smriti Mandhana has come off age in the past year or so.
Not only her strokeplay but the panache and elegance that the southpaw has displayed has made everyone in the Cricketing world sit up and take notice. Mandhana finishes as the top run-getter in the Kia Super League. The left-hander was adjudged the Player of the tournament after scoring 421 runs at an average of 60.14 which included a swashbuckling ton and an astounding strike-rate of 174.68.
Mandhana is set to be the X-Factor in a side loaded with youthful exuberance. Jemimah Rodriques, with a strike-rate of 137.14 and a healthy average of 37.33 in 14 games has undoubtedly been the find for India this year.
But, India's strength in the World Twenty20 will obviously be their spin quartet spearheaded by Ekta Bist along with the likes of Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav, and Dayalan Hemlatha, as has been evident in the ongoing practice matches. The trio managed to spin a web around the opposition batters and the low and slow pitches of the Caribbean seem to assist their style of bowling.
The last practice game against England saw the troika help India defend 6-144 with Yadav (2-21), Poonam Yadav (3-20) and Hemlatha (1-22) sharing wickets among them. Bist will undoubtedly spearhead the bowling attack. One of the four players in the squad to previously play in the West Indies, Bist has 50 T20I wickets at an average of 14.50 (economy of 5.20) and will have the responsibility to guide the more inexperienced members of the spin attack.
But, India will be worried about Veda Krishnamurthy's form leading into the tournament.
The swashbuckling middle-order batter has tapered off ever since her exploits in the last World Cup. In the six T20Is since June, Krishnamurthy has scored a mere 91 runs and her poor run-of-form have continued in the warm-up matches. Krishnamurthy is a vital cog in India's unit whose swashbuckling returns at the death can make a difference of 20 runs in the eventual total.
A tough Group, a history to change
Despite finishing as the runners-up in the 50-Over World Cup last year, India will not enter the tournament as favorites; the T20 format of the game has never been their stronger suit.
India's performance in World Twenty20 over the years
Total Matches- 21
Win % - 42.86
Best Result:- Semi-Final (2009 & 2010)
They won just a solitary game in the last edition and with the likes of New Zealand, Australia, and Pakistan in their group, the task is all the more herculean.
But, as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and the time is ripe for the Women in Blue to materialize the gains of the last World Cup and take the leap towards the holy grail.
India kick-off their World Twenty20 campaign against the White Ferns' on Novemeber 09, 2018.
Harmanpreet Kaur (captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Veda Krishnamurthy, Deepti Sharma,Tanya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Ekta Bist, Anuja Patil, D Hemalatha, Mansi Joshi, Pooja Vastrakar, Arundhati Reddy.