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Selection questions resurface as India women embark on historic England tour

India Pakistan Women
Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

The Indian Women’s cricket team has been in the news lately due to a number of inconsistent selections and lack of clarity over the absence of some proven match-winners.

The return of the Women in Blue on the field after a gap of 364 days earlier this year was met with much relief but also a lot of discussions. While the BCCI’s apathy towards the sport was — and remains — a major talking point, it was tough to ignore the omission of the stalwarts who deserved the spot courtesy of their performances.

This constant changing and chopping to the side along with the move to drop youngsters without many opportunities resurfaces once again following Mithali Raj’s virtual press conference before the team’s departure to England.

The ODI skipper was asked about the return of Taniya over Sushma for the upcoming tour, to which Mithali replied, “Sushma got an opportunity in the last series (against SA). She got to play all the 5 ODIs and we wanted to get in Taniya again to see how good she can be. Taniya did have a good domestic season and we would want to see her in the English conditions. As Sushma already played the 2017 World Cup in the UK, so we wanted to see how Taniya fares in the UK.”

The answer, however, gave rise to a number of lingering questions that seem to be doing the rounds since the series against South Africa.

Dropping Taniya — the best keeper — while giving her replacement a run of three ODIs

The exclusion of Taniya Bhatia from the South African squads was another decision that was widely criticized. Though the wicketkeeper was poor with the bat – she has scored only 287 runs at an average of 14.69 across formats — she is one of the swiftest keepers in the world, with 14 more dismissals than second-placed Alyssa Healy. Ever since she first played for India in 2018, Taniya has effected 52 stumpings in white-ball cricket, with Sidra Nawaz second in line, with 28 stumpings in this period.

Though her batting returns have been poor, she has constantly been pushed up and down the order — she has batted in spots eight to ten on seven occasions and was asked to open the innings during the T20 World Cup Finals last year.

However, her keeping skills were ignored for her batting performances as she was replaced by Sushma for the home games against South Africa. Sushma, playing her first game for India since 2018, was unable to get going as she scored only 15 runs in three ODI innings and did not get a chance to bat in two games.

Sushma has now been dropped with Taniya coming into the squad once again.

Ahead of their departure from England, ODI skipper Mithali Raj stated why Taniya made a return.

But, just eight months ahead of the World Cup, is the decision to keep changing combinations the best move? Shouldn’t a longer rope be given to players — if they picked Sushma over the best keeper in the country, surely more than three innings were needed for her to prove her mettle?

Shikha was dropped for “fitness reasons” or to try out “combinations”?

Shikha Pandey, the second-highest wicket-taker from the Indian team in the T20 World Cup last year, was surprisingly not a part of the white-ball series against South Africa. T20I skipper Harmanpreet Kaur reasoned that the all-rounder was not picked to try out different combinations, but her statement was questioned as reports emerged that Pandey had not been picked due to her fitness levels. If the side wanted to try new “combinations” why tinker with players who are expected to play in the 2022 World Cup and rob them of valuable match-time?

Since the start of 2018, Pandey has picked up 28 wickets in the last 20 ODIs — the third-highest by any cricketer from India. She has formed a lethal combination with Jhulan Goswami in ODIs, and stole the show from the spinners in the shortest format, with 24 wickets in just 92.2 overs since 2018.

She was replaced by Mansi Joshi in the squad for the South Africa games, a bowler who last played for Team India during the T20 World Cup in 2018. Joshi only picked up one wicket in two ODIs against the Proteas and was eventually dropped for the tour of England, with Pandey returning to the side.

Has Pandey managed to regain her “fitness” or is the Indian team not keen on trying new “combinations” anymore?

Overall lack of chances to youngsters

A lot of changes have been made to the squads that were picked for South Africa and for the England series. Youngsters such as Yastika Bhatia, Swetha Verma, Ayush Soni, Monica Patel, Nuzhat Parveen, and C Prathyusha were picked for the South Africa games, but have been ignored for the upcoming series against England.

What makes the decision bewildering is the lack of chances given to them before they were ignored.

Of the above, only Soni and Parveen played T20I matches (a combined tally of three matches). Though Parveen kept wickets, their services in any other department were not utilized. Monica played two ODIs, while Yastika, Sweta, and Prathyusha warmed the benches.

They are dropped a series later, which raises pertinent questions about the overall squad for the 2022 World Cup and the unflattering moves by the selectors.

Why was Shikha dropped if India didn’t field different “combinations” in the first place? And, what happens to the youngsters, who were so close to fulfilling their dreams and now face an uncertain future ahead?

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