Poonam Yadav's (R) loss could be Devika Yadav's gain. © Getty Images

Rain seems to be following the Indian women’s team wherever they go this 2019-20 season. First rain lashed Surat during the team’s T20I series against South Africa; then, there was the intermittent rain on their tour of the West Indies; and now Harmanpreet Kaur and company have been greeted by more rain ahead of the Women’s Senior T20 Challenger Trophy in Cuttack.

The tournament— set to be a final audition for all India hopefuls looking to secure a place in the side for the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia later next month— will kick off on Saturday (January 4) with a high-profile encounter between Harmanpreet’s India A and Smriti Mandhana’s India B at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack.

While neither team was able to get any practice in on Friday (January 3), the broadcasters were busily setting up their cameras in anticipation of the big opening day. 

On paper, it is Mandhana’s side that looks the stronger unit. With the ‘Wrong sisters’, Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues, making up two thirds of the top order, the batting looks in good hands. Alongside Vanitha VR, the opening batter, who has been in splendid T20 form, the middle order is full of quality allrounders including Anuja Patil, Pooja Vastrakar and Shikha Pandey. 

Although the allround trio double up as highly skillful bowlers, India B will begin their campaign on the back foot, without one of their key performers.

Poonam Yadav, the leg spinner, has been ruled out of the tournament having suffered an injury to her left-hand little finger during the Indian team’s recent training camp in Bangalore. It is understood that her participation in the T20I tri-series in Australia later next month is also under a cloud of doubt.

For India B, while the leg-spinner’s absence will no doubt significantly weaken their attack— especially considering her striking ability in the middle overs— it also provides an opportunity to some of the younger bowlers like Tanuja Kanwer to step up and take up the role of lead spinner.

Poonam’s absence from the tournament will also shine a brighter light on the performances of Devika Vaidya who is set to turn out for India A. The allrounder, who was given charge of the India Emerging team earlier this year, has shown a sense of consistency in her game— something that was often missing. Alongside Mansi Joshi and Radha Yadav, Vaidya will be a key cog in India A’s bowling attack if they are to restrict a powerful India B line-up.

Komal Zanzad, the left-arm seamer who sparked the imagination of the country around the same time last year, with a wonderful spell of swing bowling in the one-day Challengers, has found her way back in the national setup after having recovered from injury. Her Vidarbha skipper, Bharti Fulmali also returns to the grand scheme of things.

Fulmali will join Harmanpreet, Deepti Sharma, Priya Punia, Vaidya and Taniya Bhatia as one of India A’s batting centerpieces.

Aside from the names that have come to dominate Indian cricket in recent times, there is also some exciting new talent this tournament will showcase. 14-year-old Richa Ghosh (part of India B) made a mark during the Senior Women’s Inter-State T20 Trophy, playing some incredible knocks for Bengal through their run to the final. She tonked a number of massive sixes, scoring her 188 runs at a strike rate of 132.39.

With Friday’s rain yet to stop, the weather forecast not looking good for Saturday (January 4), and the ground only partially covered, the chances of a game certainly look bleak. However, the players will be aware that with limited opportunities to showcase their skill ahead of the big team announcement, whatever game time they get will be worth its weight in gold. They will no doubt be hoping against hope that the dark grey clouds looming over Cuttack float away in another direction.

Teams:

India A: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Taniya Bhatia (wk), Shivali Shinde (wk), Jasia Akhter, Priya Punia, Deepti Sharma, Devika Vaidya, Sneh Rana, Mansi Joshi, Meghna Singh, Komal Zanzad, Bharti Fulmali, Radha Yadav.

India B: Smriti Mandhana (c), Sushma Verma (wk), R Kalpana (wk), Vanitha VR, Jemimah Rodrigues, Anuja Patil, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Singh, Anjali Sarvani, Sushree Dibyadarshini, Tanuja Kanwar, Richa Ghosh.

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