India takeaways: Harmanpreet leads in style, Renuka breaks through and Shafali cracks the ODI code

Harmanpreet Kaur, Renuka Singh Thakur and Shafali Verma impressed for India. © Getty Images

India started their ICC Women’s Championship campaign in emphatic fashion by sweeping the Sri Lanka series 3-0. This was India’s first clean sweep in almost three years, their last one being against South Africa at home in October 2019.

With this being Harmanpreet Kaur’s first series as the full time Indian ODI captain, there were plenty of promising signs for the team. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have now won only one of their six matches and have plenty of causes for concern.

Shafali finds the right gear

Since she burst onto the scene in 2019, teenaged Shafali Verma has been a gamechanger for the Indian team at the top of the order. She has played defining innings for India in Tests and T20Is but her ODI form had been hampered by inconsistency.

She had not averaged more than 30 in any of the four previous ODI series she had played in her career. In Sri Lanka, though, she had a blockbuster series, racking up scores of 35, 71* and 49 in three ODIs to finish as the leading run getter in the series.

Shafali attributed the success to a more risk-free approach, saying, “I watched some of my matches and found that I lack in singles. I felt that I should work more on rotating the strike and have done that. I did that in T20Is – taking singles off good balls. I was looking to play longer innings.”

That was never more evident than in the second ODI, where Shafali scored an unbeaten 71 at a strike rate of 100 despite hitting only four fours and one six. With the singles code seemingly cracked, Shafali will now look to double up and convert her starts into more 50s and 100s.

ALSO READ: Shafali Verma and the unbridled joy of batting

Harmanpreet aces the leadership test

As far as full-time captaincy debuts go, it would be hard to better Harmanpreet Kaur’s effort in Sri Lanka: Player of the Match in the second T20I and Player of the T20I series; Player of the Match in the third ODI and Player of the ODI series.

Kaur has had plenty of ODI success in the nascent stages of her captaincy. She has now won seven of the eight ODIs she has been in charge of. Her current win per centage of 87.50 is the best for any Indian captain in the format.

Kaur’s captaincy was aggressive, be it deploying fielders in catching positions even deep into the innings or fronting up to bowl the difficult overs herself. Harmanpreet put her success down to greater freedom and enjoying her cricket. She also said that the players responding to her and repaying her faith in them made things easier for her.

“Moreover, the way the team is responding is something I’m enjoying more. Because when you have experienced players with you, they want to support you in all the parts. Our medium-pacers, I actually wanted to give more opportunities to them. I’m happy they have grabbed that opportunity. We were always depending on spinners in the first few overs but they took the responsibility and gave those results. When whatever you have planned goes your way, you are going to enjoy it. Maybe that was the reason I was more relaxed and happy because everything was going according to our plans.”

Even on the rare occasion when things did not go to plan for India, Harmanpreet was almost always there to make the decisive intervention, be it dismissing Chamari Athapaththu in the final ODI after she had gotten off to a flier or rescuing India from a familiar collapse in the final ODI after dropping herself down the batting order to no. 6 to give the younger players a better opportunity.

Renuka Singh Thakur’s blockbuster entry

This was India’s first ODI series without the iconic duo of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami in almost ten years. Goswami’s absence meant that India’s young pacers had an opportunity to make their mark and also stake their claim to being the next pace bowling spearhead.

Thakur was one of only two players in India’s World Cup squad to not feature in a single match in the tournament (the other being reserve wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia) but she made of the opportunity to open the bowling attack in Sri Lanka.

Thakur picked up a three-wicket haul in the first ODI and then picked up a four-wicket haul in the second ODI, in the process improving her career-best in each of her first four ODIs. Her ability to swing the ball into the right handers and away from the left handers proved particularly lethal for the Sri Lankan left-handers.

ALSO READ: Renuka Singh Thakur: The girl from Pahad stands tall with her swing bowling

She dismissed Athapaththu with perfect awayswinger in the first ODI and rocked Sri Lanka early in the second ODI by dismissing both Hasini Perera and Harshitha Madavi, an effort that saw her become the Player of the Match. Thakur’s return of ten wickets from her first four ODIs is the best ever for an Indian bowler and with India scheduled to play in much more helpful conditions in England for the Commonwealth Games as well as the bilateral series, Thakur might get even more of a chance to show her full range of skills as a new ball bowler.

Speaking to BCCI after the first ODI, Thakur said, “I had been bowling well in the T20Is too. The ODI wicket is little different and a little slower, so I just focused on using my variations because that is what we had worked on in the practice sessions too.”