Tough captaincy gig ahead for Mandhana as England threat looms large

With the Women’s World T20 less than a year away, India Women couldn’t have asked for a better time to give new faces a chance to audition for the mega-event. The three-T20I series against England will be crucial as they look to build the perfect combination especially after the morale-sapping T20I series defeat in New Zealand.
India have progressed well in the ODI format but their T20 outfit remains a work in progress with many glitches. They won the ODI series in New Zealand but were then handed a 0-3 thrashing by the hosts in the shortest format. After beating England 2-1 in the ODI series recently and bagging some crucial championship points, India will hope to replicate a similar, or perhaps better, showing in the three-match T20I series.
Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s regular T20I captain, is out of the series with an ankle injury and now the onus is on Smriti Mandhana – the stnd-in captain – to take the tough call on whether they want to play Mithali Raj or back some younger player in place of her. The think-tank decided to bench the veteran in the first two T20Is in New Zealand and the side suffered heavy defeats. In the third T20I – where Raj did play – India lost by two runs.
So the first question for the management is whether they want solidity in the middle-order, especially with Harmanpreet out injured. The answer, at this point, seems a straight-forward one. While it’s unlikely India will spring in plenty of surprises, the focus will be on the senior players to give the youngsters the cushion and freedom to perform. And with that, the spotlight automatically falls on the likes of Mandhana, Raj, Shikha Pandey and Poonam Yadav.
England can expect a relatively easier challenge once they travel to Sri Lanka after this series, but the three T20Is are also a crucial opportunity to polish off some apparent rough edges. They were outplayed in the first and second ODI – once by spin and then by the pacers – before they bounced back to seal a consolation win. The T20I series will also go a long way in soothing the pain of the missed opportunity to register their first-ever ODI series win in India. This is the first time England are playing a bi-lateral T20I series in India and they would certainly be hungry to avenge the defeat of the preceding ODI series.What to expect: Mandhana was all praise for the facilities at the venue and felt the pitch will play well keeping in mind the T20 expectations. Clear day expected with plenty of sun and no weather hindrances.India: Harmanpreet’s injury has helped Veda Krishnamurthy earn another opportunity after her prolonged dismal run in the format. A lot of the focus will be on batter Harleen Deol and pacer Komal Zanzad – both of whom received plenty of praise from Mandhana in the pre-match press conference. Pandey too will be hungry to reclaim a spot in the XI especially after her terrific showing in the ODI series.
England: Sophie Ecclestone has been ruled out of the series but England walk into the contest with a lot of firepower. Freya Davies has been included in the squad for the series and yet again, the experienced players like Katherine Brunt, Heather Knight and Sarah Taylor are expected to play a key role.
What they said:“We are looking to win the series and not just as the audition for new faces. We are going in to win the series. The first goal is that. If we win the series, we will also find new faces for the World Cup.” – Smriti Mandhana. India: Smriti Mandhana (c), Mithali Raj, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Taniya Bhatia, Anuja Patil, Shikha Pandey, Bharati Fulmali, Arundhati Reddy, Komal Zanzad, Poonam Yadav, Ekta Bisht, Radha Yadav, Veda Krishnamurthy, Harleen DeolEngland: Tammy Beaumont, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Sophia Dunkley Brown, Freya Davies, Georgia Elwiss, Amy Ellen Jones, Heather Knight (c), Laura Marsh, Natalie Sciver, Anya Shrubsole, Linsey Smith, Lauren Winfield, Danielle Wyatt, Alex Hartley.