India after winning the T20I series against South Africa. © Lesego Pooe/Cricket South Africa

A new venue, some of the main players missing in action, some wet weather and an unprecedented action – the T20I series between India and South Africa had it all. Women’s CricZone looks at some of the major highlights of the series:

1. Spin to win

South Africa were always going to be tested by spin. It was an open secret. But figure this – three of the top five wicket-takers in the series are the Indians, all spinners at that. Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma have taken a total of 20 wickets combined. The South Africa batters largely seemed unable to work them around and score (any) runs off them.

However, in the sixth T20I – thanks to better batting conditions – they looked to have finally found a method to deal with them -better late than never! Two of the trio – Poonam and Deepti – played that match and had combined figures of 7-0-60-1. Needless to say India went on to lose the game. Whether South Africa have actually become better against spin is something that shall come to light in the impending ODI series. But that they managed to get a win under their belt after wilting away in the first few games shows the character that the young side possesses.

 

2. Pacing it well

Pace has traditionally been South Africa’s strength. The experienced Shabnim Ismail is the leader of the pack and also acts as a mentor to the younsters in the side like Tumi Sekhukhune, Nadine de Klerk etc. In the absence of Marizanne Kapp, her role was more vital and she did her bit.

“I always tell the captain to give me two balls to sum up the wicket. In my first over I assess whether the ball will come on to the bat or keep low,” Ismail had said after the fifth T20I. “But I think with my pace and variations, I can hit the deck hard and then obviously pass on my knowledge to the next players that are coming.”

Her seven wickets testify to the fact that she led the tourists’ bowling attack well. However, what will make her even happier is the fact that young de Klerk finished with eight wickets, the most by anyone in the series.

“I judge the performance of a player when (s)he does well against the conditions and hence, for me, Shabnim Ismail was the standout performer for the series,” said Snehal Pradhan in the T20I series review for Women’s CricZone.

 

 

3. Harmundred Kaur

India’s T20I captain became the first player from the country to feature in 100 T20 internationals. She beat the likes of MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma (98 matches each) to the landmark. Kaur was India’s leading run-scorer in the series with 94 runs. Her six-hitting prowess is well-known and she did no harm to her reputation, hitting the joint-most sixes in the series – three – alongside South Africa’s Mignon du Preez.

Kaur put her part-time off-spin to good use as well, picking up three wickets and giving runs away at just a tad under a run-a-ball. On more than one occasion, her ability to gauge the situation helped India, none more than the first T20I, where her innings helped India post a decent total, one that helped them end on the right side of the result. Just.

 

4. It’s a crowd!

Never mind the garba season. Never mind that five out of six matches were played on weekdays. Never mind that rain disrupted two matches of what was originally a five-match series. The people in Surat cricket-loving people in Surat flocked into the Lalbhai Contractor stadium in huge numbers to display the support that the women’s game deserves. Even in the second and the third matches, when the matches were rained out, the spectators’ presence and the decibel levels would have told an unaware passerby otherwise.

For 15.000 people to get in a stadium, whose capacity was about 10,000, almost always, showed that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hadn’t erred in choosing the venue. It is for that reason the additional T20I scheduled in the middle of the series was, in some ways, a tribute to the hordes that poured in.

 

5. On(c)e more, please!

Yeh match pehle se ghoshit nai kiya than na? (This match wasn’t announced before, right?),” asked an enthusiastic fan on Thursday (October 3) while walking to the stands. “I saw it in the newspaper today and that’s why came.”

Two things rose out of this – one, there are people who keep a track of announcements in newspapers; two, fans need no more than half a day’s notice to make a trip to the cricket ground.

After two games out of the first four were rained out, the BCCI and Cricket South Africa (CSA) got together and decided that the teams shouldn’t lose out on match practice ahead of the T20 World Cup early in February next year. Thus, an additional match was announced a day earlier.

For starters, such a decision was unprecedented. But it also brought to light that the administrators care about the game and the players’ preparation ahead of the global tournament. Apart from that, it displayed to the world, India’s might to hold cricket matches – international ones that – at a very short notice as well. Kudos!

 

 

6. Night club

All the six T20Is were evening games, meaning teams got habituated to playing under lights. It was the first time India had played a full bilateral series at home under lights. No doubt, it would have been the after-effects of India being knocked out in the semi-finals of the 2018 World T20 – their only game under lights.

The down side of the night games were the fielding standards. For a team that sets high standards on the field, South Africa dropped as many as eight catches in the fourth T20I – a contest that was reduced to 17 overs-a-side due to a late start owing to wet outfield. India then contributed to that number by dropping a few themselves. No number of practice sessions can replicate a live-match scenario and that was seen in the teams’ outings. The fielding standards did improve as the series progressed.

 

7. First look

Ahead of this T20I series, both sides had players, who were to be tested with the upcoming world tourney next year. India’s Shafali Verma was pushed to the big stage straightaway in the first T20I. She, thus, became the youngest Indian to don the national cap in T20Is. However, apart from one innings where she got going, it was a largely forgettable outing for Verma. Although captain Kaur, at the beginning of the series itself, had told the media to “leave her alone”, she remained in the spotlight and questions about her weren’t amiss in the press conferences.

If India showed the first look of Verma to the world, South Africa wasted no time to include Nonkululeko Mlaba in their XI. Some impressive outings in the Women’s T20 Super League and the Emerging side against Bangladesh saw her being fast-tracked to the national side.

 

Although the final scoreline of the series shows 3-1 in India’s favour, South Africa would quietly know that apart from two bad games, they did pretty well. In the first T20I they had given India a scare, thanks to a du Preez masterclass, and then walloped the hosts with a convincing win in the final game.

With curtains down in Surat, all eyes will be on Baroda, where the two sides clash in a three-match ODI series from Wednesday (October 9).

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