Shikha Pandey's form a big positive for India, says Harmanpreet Kaur

S Sudarshanan
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Shikha Pandey's form a big positive for India, says Harmanpreet Kaur

Shikha Pandey exults after a wicket. © Getty Images

the first T20I with two wides and a couple of leg byes. Her first spell of three overs went for 15 runs.

Not extraordinary at this point.

But returning for her final over in the penultimate one of the innings, Pandey picked up three wickets – she would have done well to send a thank you letter to Harmanpreet Kaur, Harleen Deol and Richa Ghosh – to finish with an economy of under five runs an over when the innings moved at 8.85 an over.

“Shikha is the most experienced bowler in our team,” said Kaur on Saturday (July 10), speaking ahead of the second T20I.

“She has always stepped up when the team needs. I’m really happy that she is also enjoying her bowling and not overthinking much. That is a positive sign for us.”

While Pandey’s first wicket was Natalie Sciver who was dismissed by a terrific catch by Kaur running in from long on, her second was Amy Jones, who was brilliantly caught at wide long off by an acrobatic effort by Deol.

Deol ran to her left from long on and caught the ball but threw it back in the air, realising that her momentum was taking her outside the boundary rope. But she quickly dived back in to dismiss the England wicketkeeper-batter. That effort was worth a re-watch. And another one. And another.

While saying that such efforts lift the morale of the team, Kaur credited Abhay Sharma, India’s fielding coach, for the improvement.

“He is working with us for a long time. He helps in creating the little awareness that you need as a fielder. He helped in little adjustments and took individual fielding sessions with all of us. The best thing I liked about him is his judgement about the best position for every fielder. That helps in field placements and it is all a result of that.”

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Pandey rose up to the occasion on a day when India’s traditional strength, spin, didn’t click. Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma both completed their quota of four overs and ended up giving away over 30 runs. Radha Yadav continued her streak of picking up at least a wicket in a T20I for the 27th time but went at 11 runs per over in her three.

“When you play on flat tracks, you just need to put away one or two balls away,” said the Indian T20I captain in the spinners’ defence. “Our job is to cut those down and we will aim to do so. We need to focus on those one or two balls that are being put away.”

One of the battles of the entire India tour of England has been the teenaged Shafali Verma versus Katherine Brunt, who is in the last leg of her career. While Verma escaped unscathed against Brunt in the one-off Test, the English seamer has got the better of the Indian opener once in the ODIs as well as in the first T20I.

“Shafali is very positive and she likes to stay in the moment. She just wants to react to whatever comes her way,” said Kaur about the battle.

“But the good thing is she is young and one of the senior players in the (opposite) side is competing with her. It’s a great sign that a young player from India is dominating other players.”

“For her we keep it very simple, we don’t want her to think too much. She is very someone who understands her game well. We want her to go out and express herself.”

ALSO READ: Shafali Verma and the unbridled joy of batting

Kaur also had a word of advice for leg-spinner Poonam – to stick to her strength of giving the ball some loop instead of trying to fire it in. Throughout the series against South Africa, Poonam failed to pick up a wicket. She was left out of the final ODI and also played just one of the three T20Is.

Against England, the leggie didn’t start the ODIs but then returned three for 62 in the second ODI before picking up a wicket each in the final ODI and the first T20I.

“Poonam is a wicket-taking bowler for us. For us it is very important for her to back her strengths. If she doesn’t do that and tries to look at other bowlers and ape them, then it is not useful.”

“Her strength is to give the ball some air and look for turn but if she tries to bowl fast and try too many stuff, it is not advantageous for us. She was trying to beat them with her pace which is not possible, because her strength is to deceive the batters in the air. So we want her to stick to her strengths,” concluded the 32-year-old.