Two young captains brace for Falcons Golden Jubilee T20 Tournament trophy

Prathyusha C(left) and Divya G (right) will come against each other in the final of the Falcons T20 Tournament. © Women's CricZone/Gomesh S

It is just an inter-academy tournament. It is not like the results in these tournaments are so significant that there might be consequences. But the way the players made the Falcons T20 Tournament competitive is nothing short of entertaining. As the tournament comes to an end on Tuesday (January 12), the tournament is about to witness the two teams — Herons and KiNi RR — that everyone might not have had in mind at the start, clashing for the title.

For starters, Herons are the only team, among the four, to not have any international stars. Although they have domestic players, who have proven their quality time and again over the years, they had not registered a victory after the first round before coming back firmly defeating all three teams in the second round and becoming the first team to qualify for the final.

One of their key strengths is how Herons skipper Divya Gnanananda has batted throughout the tournament. Earlier, after the first match, Gnanananda told Women’s CricZone that she had been in good form for a long time. “My training has been helping a lot to play this kind of format. The strength training I have been doing is immaculate. I think that is what is showing on the field,” she said.

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In the second round, it was her scores of unbeaten 83 and 52 that saw their team through while chasing and put them in a position, where they had a chance to qualify. It would be fair to say that her match awareness and the ability to assess the situation has been top-notch, especially while chasing. She is the leading run-scorer in the tournament with 239 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 125.79 and while the second-best batter is also her teammate Minu Manni with 116 runs.

And when Gnanananda failed in the must-win game against Sheen, the other domestic stars rose to the occasion. Aditirajesh Shimoga scored 56* and saw the chase through along with the experienced Asha Joy. In the post-match presentation, Shimoga acknowledged that Gnanananda could not bail them out in every match, and it is time that others took some responsibility.

Going into the final, it is a huge positive for the Herons that other players are coming to the fore, and it need not necessarily have to be a one-woman team when it comes to the batting department. As far as the bowling is concerned, it has been a coordinated team effort from the Herons spinners Mani, Joy and Shimoga. Despite not taking too many wickets, the Herons pacers Monica Patel and Pushpa Kiresur often provided them with a good start by keeping the opponent batters in check.

KiNi, on the other hand, have a mixture of experienced stars and young Karnataka players. Vanitha VR and Punam Raut in the top three have provided the required stability for them. Especially, Raut, who looked a bit rusty earlier in the series, has got into her groove in the second round. On the big day, KiNi might want Vanitha to play a long innings to stamp their authority early on in the game.

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Though Nuzhat Parween and skipper Prathyusha C stabilise their middle-order, the injury to Arundhati Reddy could be a crucial blow. Reddy, who got injured in the match against Herons, seems to have fractured her fingers in the right hand. She has been instrumental with the bat in the lower order. In fact, if not for her 22 from five balls against Ameya, KiNi might not have made it to the finals.

Reddy did not bowl against Ameya in the final league game and could miss the final against Herons. In that case, the top-five batters will have more responsibility to get them to a big score.

Bowling has been KiNi’s strong suit as they have won all four matches in the tournament while defending. Radha Yadav and Prathyusha form the core of the bowling with Rameshwari Gayakwad and Shishira Gowda in support. Reddy’s absence would be a huge blow as she is also their frontline seamer and might have to depend more on their spinners to pull them through.

The Herons have come a long way since the nervy start in the first match. It seems like they have gelled together as a team and are feeding off each other’s success. It will be interesting to see how Prathyusha, who would be playing her first final as a captain, takes on the challenge.

At the start of the Falcons T20 tournament, if one had said that the two teams led by young Karnataka players would be playing the finals instead of those filled with national stars, it could have been hard to believe. The young players from Karnataka have shown that it is possible.

A team that likes to chase targets comes up against a team that has been successful while defending. What else could one ask for in the final of the tournament? If one thinks that this does not serve the purpose of the Falcons T20 tournament and define the available talent pool, then they might not be looking in the right direction.