England take on Board President’s XI led by Smriti Mandhana in a warm-up 50-over match in Mumbai on Monday (February 18) to kickstart their tour of India.
The BP XI consists of players who have performed consistently in the domestic circuit in the recent past, and a few who have already played for India but are currently not in favour. While it is an opportunity for all the players to take a step forward, the game could be a bit more important than others for Veda Krishnamurthy, Devika Vaidya, R Kalpana, Priya Punia and Manali Dakshini in the big picture.
Veda’s poor form in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year led to her being dropped for the tour of New Zealand. India struggled there in the Twenty20 Internationals as the middle-order lacked depth and were unable to build on the foundation led by Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues. This means there is always an opportunity for Veda to make a comeback with a few good performances. She did decently in the Challenger Trophy where her team, India Red, won the title, but would have loved to score more after settling down in two innings. With the team for the World T20 next year not settled yet, the door is always open for Veda.
Vaidya’s has been a curious case. She did well at the 2017 World Cup qualifiers in Sri Lanka, but was not picked up for the World Cup in England. Since then she has been affected by poor form and illness. When England came to India last year she made a century in the warm-up match and earned back a place in the ODI squad. Promoted to open the innings, she struggled and was again left out. She went as a replacement for Pooja Vastrakar for the World T20, but did not play a game, and on return was not included in any of three teams for the Challenger Trophy. Still 21 years old, age is with her but she would be wanting to be back in the main team at the earliest.
R Kalpana made her India debut in 2015 during the series against New Zealand in Bangalore, but she dropped a few easy catches which meant that she was still not ready for top-level cricket. After that she shifted from Andhra to Railways and has been doing consistently well in the domestic circuit. She was terrific behind the stumps for India Red in the Challenger Trophy, and that has earned her a place back in the Indian squad as a reserve wicketkeeper for the ODIs against England. A good show in this game could push her ahead of Taniya Bhatia in the queue. She recently helped Railways win the Under-23 T20 Championship with a brisk knock against Maharashtra in the final.
Punia’s form in the inter-state 50-over competition where Delhi missed out on a knockout berth by a whisker caught the attention of the national selectors. A regular at India A level since 2015, she was named for the T20I series in New Zealand. She not only failed with the bat in all three games, but was also ordinary in the field. She dropped Sophie Devine at a crucial stage in the third game, and it proved decisive as India were whitewashed 3-0. Having got the international exposure, she would be keen to make an impression against England and show that she is a quick learner.
Dakshini was the biggest find from the Challenger Trophy. A opening bowler with decent pace, it is her runs lower down the order, which included a match-winning knock in the first league game, that caught attention. She has the kind of variety that the Indian team could do with. Though observers feel that she is still some distance away from being a complete cricketer, Dakshini has shown that she has a strong temperament and can absorb pressure. The game against England gives her a chance to take another step forward in her career.
Board President XI’s squad: Smriti Mandhana (capt), Veda Krishnamurthy, Devika Vaidya, R Kalpana (wk), S Meghana, Bharati Fulmali, Komal Zanzad, Priya Punia, Harleen Deol, Reemalaxmi Ekka, Manali Dakshini, Minnu Mani, Tanuja Kanwar.