Defending champions Trailblazers to square off against favourites Supernovas in tournament opener
Smriti Mandhana (L) and Harmanpreet Kaur (R) © Getty Images
When Supernovas had stepped onto the field against Trailblazers in the final of the Women's T20 Challenge 2020 at the Sharjah Cricket Ground, it was an opportunity for them to win their third title on the trot. But it didn't happen.
Trailblazers bagged a 16-run victory to win their first-ever title and ended the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side's dream of making it three on the trot. Two years later, both teams are sizing each other up yet again as the battle to drive home the bragging rights is about to take centre stage.
Although both teams look good on paper, Supernovas seem to have a slight edge over Trailblazers.
Supernovas have two world-class spinners in Sophie Ecclestone and Alana King and if the wicket at MCA grips a bit then they can make life miserable for the Trailblazers batting order.
In addition to that, the seam attack of Trailblazers looks a bit undercooked and might not stack up well against Supernovas' batting order that has some dashers, who, on their day, can make mincemeat of any bowling attack.
What's at stake
Often the tournaments that are short in terms of longevity require teams to hit the ground running.
Since the format of the Women's T20 Challenge is such that all the three teams get to contest against each other only once (except for the finals), it becomes highly significant for everyone to gain the winning momentum early and peak from the first game itself.
Hence the team that wins this match will have the much-needed momentum, which might end up propelling them to the title eventually.
What they said:
"Supernovas spinners are very good but we have a good idea of how we want to play the match tomorrow."
– Smriti Mandhana on Supernovas' spin attack.
"We are a very balanced side and we have a few new faces. We had a few team bonding sessions."
– Harmanpreet Kaur on preparation from her side.
ALSO READ: Women's T20 Challenge Preview: Will Supernovas regain bragging rights?
Players to watch out for:
The English batting all-rounder has been making people take notice of her talent ever since she started playing but more so in the last 12 months.
With 244 runs across nine matches, she was the third-highest run-getter in the inaugural edition of The Hundred. But mostly in T20Is, it is not about the runs you are getting, what matters more is at the pace you are getting them at. Dunkley scored all those runs at an impressive strike rate of 141.86.
As far as her recent form is concerned, it is as red hot as any of the others in the circuit at the moment. She ended up as the third-highest run-getter in the recently concluded FairBreak Invitational T20 tournament in Dubai. She aggregated 263 runs at an outstanding strike rate of 152.90, including a sensational 123* off just 73 balls. But there are a lot of others who can claim to be a dasher, then what really sets Dunkley apart?
Dunkley as a batter in T20Is doesn't only guarantee you runs at a brisk rate but in addition to that, she also scores runs in almost every other outing of hers. She returned an average of 40 in both The Hundred and the Fairbreak Invitational.
Dunkley is also a wily leg-spinner but doesn't get many opportunities to showcase that aspect of her game. She bagged six wickets in the Fairbreak tournament and we might get the opportunity to see her bowl too as her skipper (Smriti Mandhana) at Trailblazers must have observed her bowling from close quarters at Southern Brave.
ALSO READ: Women's T20 Challenge Preview: Revamped Velocity all set to spring a few surprises
The 26-year-old wrist-spinner made her international debuts across formats earlier this year in just 15 days. She was an integral part of Australia's Ashes-winning campaign earlier this year and also displayed her magic in the 2022 World Cup-winning campaign.
Her debut World Cup turned out to be a dream campaign for her as she bagged a total of 12 wickets in nine matches, with a match-winning three-wicket haul in the final against arch-rivals England.
King can extract a lot of purchase from the wicket in Pune, which is traditionally known to assist spinners and can form a lethal combination with England's Sophie Ecclestone. King also has the advantage of being new on the circuit and since not everyone has played much of her, she might use that to her advantage.
Head to head: Played 4 matches, Supernovas 2– 2 Trailblazers
Trailblazers: Smriti Mandhana (c), Hayley Matthews, S. Meghana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Sophia Dunkley, Richa Ghosh (wk), Arundhati Reddy, Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Sharmin Akter, Renuka Singh Thakur
Supernovas: Priya Punia, Deandra Dottin, Suné Luus, Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Harleen Deol, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Pooja Vastrakar, Sophie Ecclestone, Mansi Joshi, Meghna Singh, Alana King