Young India look for positives as they seek to end the series on a high

India openers Shafali Verma (l) and Smriti Mandhana. © BCCI

With two wins from the first T20Is, South Africa have doubled their win tally against India in the format. Ever since South Africa landed in India most things went right for them. Even the defeat in the second ODI didn’t ring any alarm bells as they bounced back to put one better performance after the other, first to seal the ODI series with one match to spare and to repeat the same feat in T20Is with a thrilling last-ball win on Sunday (March 21).

The only setback the visitors seemed to suffer in the series was skipper Sune Luus falling ill and missing the last two ODIs, but Laura Wolvaardt stepped up in her absence to take South Africa to their second ODI series win India. On Sunday, once again it was Wolvaardt who stood calm and guided them home in a tight chase to remain not out on 53.

With Lizelle Lee taking her incredible run from ODIs to the second T20I to score a 70-run knock to set up the chase and young players like Anneke Bosch, Nonkululeko Mlaba stepping at different times in the company of experienced Shabnim Ismail, South Africa don’t have any visible issues. The fact that they didn’t need their talismanic allrounder Marizanne Kapp in the T20Is and their sloppy fielding effort, a first on tour, didn’t cause them much trouble points to their domination so far.

India, on the other hand, had so many things going wrong for them. Having returned to international cricket after almost a year and getting right to into the thick of actions without any training camps as such seem to have not just affected their primary skills in batting and bowling, but the fielding and the fitness aspects. They were forced to go without their regular skipper Harmanpreet Kaur as she was ruled out of the first two matches with a hip flexor injury. There were injury scares for stand-in skipper Smriti Mandhana and Radha Yadav with both turning their ankles in the first and second match respectively.

There were so many misfields and dropped chances during Sunday’s defeat that, Mandhana said “I don’t think we deserved to win the game, probably the way we fielded. We have to work on our fielding and improve our fielding standards.” Spinners, a strong weapon for India in any format, were neutralised by a rejuvenated South Africa batting line-up with everyone from experienced hands to newbies finding ways to counter and play spin on good batting conditions.

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Apart from the rude awakening they received on their return to international cricket, familiar issues also plagued India. Lack of big-hitting power in the middle and lower-order and lack of options in medium pace department has been a running theme for them in the format for a while and they haven’t found many solutions in the series so far either. The absence of Kaur and someone like Shikha Pandey didn’t help the matter either.

Having said that, not all seem to be lost for India as young Shafali Verma continues her impressive run ever since her debut against the same side in 2019. The other two young batters in Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh also showed the way with their knocks during the first two matches. For a while on Sunday, when they were at the crease it looked like India have cracked the formula middle over batting in cricket’s shortest format.

Ghosh’s unbeaten 44 off 26 in particular offered a glimpse into what the future could be like for India’s middle-order. If India can find ways to mold her into the role of a finisher and in the company of Kaur, when she returns, could prevent India’s routine tame finishes in the end overs. But that’s too much pressure to put on a young 17-year-old, as allrounder Deepti Sharma continues to find it difficult to fit in the role of a batter at positions five and six even after playing 50 T20Is.

Coming to the medium-pace bowling options, Simran Dil Bahadur, originally a batting allrounder, had an impressive debut series although she doesn’t have a wicket to show for it. She isn’t quick but likes to keep it tight between the stumps and her potential big-hitting abilities could be another addition for India in the future.

Second T20I might have offered a glimpse into what the future would look like if India make the right moves but the future will have to wait. As of now, come Tuesday (March 23), India would like to finish the series on a high, for that their present and future will have to come together and give a team performance or else it will be the Rainbow Nation once again shining high in a series that the host would like to forget.

Squads:

India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (wk), Nuzhat Parveen (wk), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Dil Bahadur

South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune

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