India’s T20 World Cup squad: no space for pace?

India have gone ahead with a spin-heavy side for the T20 World Cup 2020. ©ICC

India’s squad for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 grabbed headlines for two main reasons – one, the young uncapped Richa Ghosh had made it to the team for the global event and two, the dearth of seamers (and the abundance of spinners) was glaring.

Shikha Pandey is the only frontline seamer in the squad with allrounders Pooja Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy for company. Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s T20I captain, made it clear that “our strength is spin and we have to stick to that”. The result? A presence of tweakers aplenty in Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and more in part-time services of Kaur and Harleen Deol. And well, even Jemimah Rodrigues can bowl those loopy off-spinners as seen when South Africa had come calling to India.

In order to have the cushion of extra spinners, Mansi Joshi, the seamer, who was a regular in the side since 2018 and also played a lone game in the World T20 that year, couldn’t find a spot for the event in 2020. Figure this – Joshi made her T20I debut in November 2016 but has, to date, played just eight games. Five of those were in 2019.

That she wasn’t India’s preferred seam-bowling option showed in the pattern she was played. Against New Zealand at the start of 2019, Joshi featured in two of three games. Versus South Africa at home, she was brought in only in the final match of the series. She went for 49 in her four overs in that game.

Next, when India toured West Indies in November 2019, she was brought in only in the fourth T20I – after India had sealed the series – which turned out to be a curtailed nine overs-a-side match. She bowled just one over for six runs; Deol bowled two overs of her leg-spin for 14 runs. Joshi then was again economical in the final match of the series.

In what seemed to be signs that Joshi could indeed be in the mix for the T20 World Cup, she was a part of India A’s side that toured Australia early in December. She was consistent then and also picked up four wickets in the three T20s. Pretty good signs for her inclusion, perhaps.

In the Senior T20 Challenger Trophy that followed, Joshi bowled a total of seven overs across three matches, taking two wickets while conceding 59 runs. Although she was expensive, the right-armer bowled with good pace, hitting the deck hard, hurrying the batters with her pace. Both wickets she picked up – Yastika Bhatia and Vanitha VR – showcased the steep bounce she was able to extract from the surface. Both helped her team put the brakes on the scoring rate. Excellent signs heading into Australian conditions, one would think…

… Not to be, though.

That brings us to the question: are India going to the T20 World Cup 2020 thin on seam-bowling?

In T20Is played in Australia since the start of 2018, four of the top five wicket-takers are seamers. Extend the period to the start of 2017, and the number still favours the quicks. Pacers have picked up 67 wickets as opposed to spinners’ 58 in the shortest format Down Under from January 2017. Their averages also are not too different – pacers average just a tad over 25 while the spinners go at 24.24.

Looking ahead to the T20 World Cup, many experts have said that the pitches in Australia would tire and therefore be slow, with the tournament to be held towards the end of the season. The Sydney Showground Stadium, which hosts the opening match of the T20 World Cup and four more matches later, has just two Big Bash League games scheduled. The Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) ground in Perth has just two Women’s National Cricket League (WNCL) matches scheduled.

The Junction Oval in Melbourne, that hosts India’s other two group games, has four matches of the tri-series featuring Australia, England and India. Thus, there are not enough games at most of the venues for the tracks to tire. That makes the decision to go with just three seamers all the more difficult to comprehend.

In the World T20 in 2018, Reddy was the only pacer to pick up wickets for India. But then again, she was also the only seamer to feature in all the games. Perhaps that might have something to do with the call to travel light on pace this time round.

Interestingly though, hosts Australia have named a squad that included six pace bowlers, including the uncapped Annabel Sutherland. Georgia Wareham is the only specialist spinner, with Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Molineux and Jess Jonassen, the allrounders.

South Africa are slated to carry a good number of seamers and have just four spinners, two of them being allrounders Dane van Niekerk and Sune Luus.

“We are looking for more spinners in our side and we have got that,” said Kaur after the team was announced. “Now, the only thing is how we are going to use their strengths. They are very good and always give us breakthroughs.”

That perhaps tells that India have gone with the options that are likely to get them wickets, as opposed to the containing role that seamers appear to do for them.

Lisa Sthalekar, former Australia captain, wrote in the second edition of Women’s CricZone magazine that “spinners are winners”. Kaur would love to believe the same with the bowlers at her disposal, while the others will continue wondering if India are indeed a seamer short.