Who are India’s best T20 players on current form?

Smriti Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues and Pooja Vastrakar will be key for India © BCCI

The Women’s T20 Challenge has, in the past, catapulted young players from India into the spotlight. Just think of Shafali Verma in 2019 or Richa Ghosh in 2020. Shafali’s fearless batting saw her fast-tracked to the national team and she repaid the faith by doing the start turn in India’s glorious run to the final at the T20 World Cup in 2020.

Similarly, the latest edition of the tournament saw plenty of young and experienced players impress and stand out. With a packed 12 months of T20 cricket coming for the Indian team, including big ticket events in the form of the Commonwealth Games in less than two month and T20 World Cup in South Africa next, we look at all the major contenders and pick a squad of 15 based on displays in the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy and the Women’s T20 Challenge.

Batters:

Openers

Contenders: Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Sabbineni Meghana and Priya Punia

Among players that have scored a minimum of 20 runs for India in T20Is, Shafali (141.12) and Mandhana (120.84) sit on number one and three in the list of players with the best strike rates. Mandhana is third on the list of highest run getters for India in the format, while Shafali is seventh.

Their opening partnership has the added advantage of being a left-right combination and both players have the ability to take on the bowlers in the power play and take advantage of the fielding restrictions.

Shafali prefers to go on all-out attack, whereas Mandhana has the ability to change gears if needed and can also play the anchor role to perfection if needed. She, afterall, has 14 50s in the format from just 82 innings.

Shafali and Mandhana have been in good form domestically, finishing 3rd and 9th on the run getters list in the Senior T20 Trophy at very healthy averages and strike rates. Shafali also finished third on the run getters list in the Women’s T20 Challenge and her strike rate of 169.64 was the best among all the players who scored more than 20 runs in the tournament.

S Meghana is the other opener who has been in supreme form since her comeback into the Indian team. She was a key player for champions Railways in the Senior T20 Trophy, scoring 50s in the semi-final and final and was fifth on the list of run getters for the tournament.

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After being mysteriously benched in Trailblazers opening game in the Women’s T20 Challenge, she notched the highest score of this edition of the tournament, scoring 73 against a strong Velocity attack.

Meghana’s ability to hit over the top merrily, even against pacers, makes her truly unique, with her propensity to play in the ‘V’ serving her particularly well.

The other opener whose game has improved significantly is Priya Punia. Punia has always been technically sound but her strike rate has not always been in tune with the needs of the format. She has worked on her lofting ability though and was the 7th  highest run-getter in the Senior T20 Trophy.

Middle-order (nos. 3-5)

Contenders: Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Dayalan Hemalatha, Harleen Deol and Taniya Bhatia

Other than Shafali and Mandhana, Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues were key batters in India’s final appearance in 2020. They were also a key part of the team that made the semis of the 2018 edition.

Captain Kaur and Rodrigues have excellent career numbers, they are second and fourth respectively on the list of all-time run getters for India and also boast the fifth and fourth best averages respectively.

The ideal middle order batter needs to be adept against spin especially and also be capable of taking on the pacers in the end overs. Kaur is India’s best player as well as hitter against spin, while Rodrigues is very comfortable against pace and very good at running between the wickets and in the field.

Both Kaur and Rodrigues are in excellent form. Kaur topped the run charts and captained her team admirably to the title in the Women’s T20 Challenge, whereas Rodrigues was the 5th highest run getter in the Women’s T20 Challenge and the 8th highest run getter in the T20 trophy.

Dayalan Hemalatha was the highest run getter for Railways in their title-winning effort but she didn’t get selected for the Women’s T20 Challenge. She’s a handy option with the ball too and can bat anywhere in the middle order. Harleen Deol also brings similar skillsets to Hemalatha and is arguably India’s best fielder too.

She (Harleen Deol) was one of only two batters to score a 100 in the Women’s T20 Challenge and her strike rate was healthy at 122.39, but that is the one area of her game that is still a work in progress. Deol has all the shots but she needs to improve her strike rate and reduce her dot ball percentage to be a fixture in the Indian side.

Yastika Bhatia and Taniya Bhatia have both had success opening the batting and batting at no. 3 for Baroda and Punjab respectively but Yastika has the edge here as she has also had success for India in the one-down role and her backfoot play, which will be a key factor on the bouncier pitches in South Africa, is among the best in the country.

Lower middle order/Finishers (no. 6 and 7)

Contenders: Richa Ghosh, Pooja Vastrakar, Kiran Navgire

Kiran Navgire scored the most runs in the Senior T20 Trophy and also scored the fastest 50 in the Women’s T20 Challenge. While she opened the batting for Nagaland in the former, she batted at no. 3 for Velocity in the latter. However, she started her career batting at no. 6 for Maharashtra and it is a role that she can do justice to with her ability to go big from the outset.

The two other Indian players who have shown the ability to find the boundary frequently and clear it as well are Richa Ghosh and Pooja Vastrakar. Ghosh can also double up as the wicketkeeper, while Vastrakar is a 3D player who brings immense value with the ball and in the field as well, as one of India’s fastest movers with a really strong arm.

Navgire can also contribute with the ball and opens the bowling regularly for Nagaland on the domestic circuit. Her bowling, though, in untested at the highest level. While still raw, in Navgire and Ghosh, India has two very good solutions to what has historically been a problem position/role for them.

Bowlers:

Spinners

Contenders: Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Poonam Yadav, Maya Sonawane, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav

India have historically followed the spin to win approach in T20s and had a fair bit of success with it. They bowled as many as 16 overs of spin in the T20 World Cup’s final in 2020. Moreover, eight of the top ten wicket takers for India in the format are spinners.

Deepti, Poonam, Gayakwad and Radha were a part of the 2020 final and performed well through the tournament. Poonam is India’s highest wicket taker in the format but the pace at which she bowls is not ideally suited to the T20 format in its current state as batters are no longer bothered by lack of pace with their increased power. India might be well served looking at someone like Maya Sonawane, who is also a leg spinner but has an unorthodox action that is hard to pick.

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She has all the variations and her control is improving, as evidenced by her finishing fourth on the top wicket takers chart in the Senior T20 Trophy. Deepti’s spot has been challenged with the second coming of Sneh Rana, but what gives Deepti a slight edge is that she has the ability to bowl in the power play and at the death, whereas Rana is more suited to bowling in the middle overs.

Gayakwad and Radha had a tough time in the Women’s T20 Challenge, as they rain into Navgire and Harmanpreet at their best respectively, but bowled well in the Senior T20 Trophy. With most teams having plenty of right handers, India will look to have at least two left arm spinners in their squad.

Pacers

Contenders: Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh Thakur, Simran Dil Bahadur, Arundhati Reddy and Shikha Pandey

Ever since Jhulan Goswami retired from the format, pace bowling has been one of India’s biggest weaknesses in the format. The problems have largely come about as a result of inexperience and inconsistency in section.

Shikha Pandey is the only other pacer to feature in the top ten on the list of India’s highest wicket takers in the format but she struggled to pick wickets in the Senior T20 Trophy and was not picked for the Women’s T20 Challenge.

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Vastrakar was the highest wicket taker in the Women’s T20 Challenge and is also India’s best death bowler with her ability to execute the yorker effectively.

Simran Dil Bahadur doesn’t have a lot of pace but she showed impressive poise and death bowling skills in the Women’s T20 Challenge. She’s also capable of chipping in with the bat in the end overs and that gives her an edge over the other competitors.

Arundhati Reddy was a part of the team in the T20 World Cup but she has since been overtaken by Meghna Singh and Renuka Singh Thakur in the pecking order. Both Meghna and Renuka are capable of swinging the new ball and are generally at their best in the power play, with Meghna predominantly getting the ball to move away and Renuka bringing it back in.

The ideal T20 squad for India

The ideal T20 squad for India ©Women’s CricZone