The ball pitched somewhere around the imaginary sixth stump, swerved menacingly in to the right-hander, and knocked off the off-stump bail. Wasim Jaffer called it the ‘ball of the century, women’s cricket edition’.
That ball from Shikha Pandey, to Alyssa Healy in the second T20I, offered an insight into India’s tour of Australia, which came to an end on Sunday. For, that was Shikha’s only second ball on the entire tour, before the start of which India’s biggest worry was its pace bowling.
If an experienced and skilled bowler like Shikha could be kept out of the eleven for so long, it means the competition for the pacer’s slot has become stiffer. The two women who got the nod, ahead of Shikha, certainly justified the faith the management showed in them. Pooja Vastrakar and debutant Meghna Singh formed a formidable seam trio with the veteran Jhulan Goswami in the one-off Day/Night Test.
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India’s coach Ramesh Powar had stressed on the need of pacers who could take the pressure off Jhulan on the Australian tour. Pooja and Meghna did that, and more.
When you add Renuka Singh, who made her India debut in the T20I series, and Shikha, you have enough pacers to support Jhulan at the World Cup, to be held in New Zealand in March-April next year. The vast improvement India showed in the pace-bowling department is one of the biggest gains from the Australian tour.
Thirty-eight-year-old Jhulan may not be able to go on forever, though in the Test and the ODIs she proved she was still one of the finest bowlers in women’s cricket. So the performances of the younger seamers should gladden the team management. The likes of Meghna and Renuka need to be nurtured properly even as the search for younger talents in the domestic circuit has to be continued.
The ease with which Yastika Bhatia transitioned to international cricket shows there is talent to be tapped from the domestic game. Her 64 off 69 balls, in the third ODI, helped India chase down a challenging total and thus end Australia’s stunning streak of 26 wins.
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With that magnificent servant of Indian women’s cricket for the last couple of decades, Mithali Raj, not getting any younger, the emergence of the 21-year-old left-hander couldn’t have been timed better. Yastika was perhaps the find of the tour.
The useful runs from wicket-keeper Richa Ghosh and Pooja promise greater depth to the batting. Talking of batting, the pleasing hundred by Smriti Mandhana in the Test was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the multi-format series.
The Indians may have lost the series 5-11, but that is made up for by some significant gains.