India T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur has been ruled out of the first T20I match against South Africa on Saturday due to an injury. The three-match T20I series will take place at the same venue in Lucknow. In her absence, Smriti Mandhana will lead the team. However, this is going to be their first appearance since the T20 World Cup final on March 8 in 2020.

Harmanpreet Kaur had sustained a hip-flexor injury in the fifth and final One Day International match against South Africa on Wednesday. She was involved in a half-century stand with the captain Mithali Raj before retiring hurt and walking out of the field in the 31st over. While she didn’t return to the field in the second innings too, her absence made things difficult for the host as both Mithali and Kaur were looking comfortable in the middle and they could manage some more runs o the board as well.

“She (Kaur) has been ruled out of tomorrow’s match and the rest of the updates on her injury will be given by the medical team and the team management,” Smriti Mandhana said on the eve of the first T20I. “It will be better for them to speak about it rather than me.”

Mandhana has led the team in four T20Is so far. She first led the team in March 2019 in the absence of an injured Kaur in the three-match T20I series against England in Guwahati. India faced a 0-3 loss, but in her next match as captain, in November in the same year, she led the team to a 61-run win against the hosts West Indies.

While there were a lot of speculations going on over the new faces, Smriti Mandhana confirmed that Team India would be going in with the same opening pair they had in the T20 World Cup. That means, they will go with the 17-year-old Shafali Verma, alongside Mandhana. Notably, there were a lot of buzzes over Verma’s inclusion in the ODI squad. The highest run-getter for India in the T20 World Cup last year couldn’t find a place in the ODI squad although the ODI captain Mithali Raj is hopeful for her inclusion soon.

“India have done well in the last couple of years all thanks to the spinners. I wouldn’t say they were bad; I felt they were a bit inconsistent in their bowling (in the ODI series). As of now we both, together, have had good partnerships since last two years, so we are looking at the same combination,” Mandhana added.

However, India’s 4-1 loss in the ODI series against South Africa left many questions than answers. Bowlers, especially spinners failed to live to the expectations and their key player Poonam Yadav went wicketless. While batting looked more poised, the bowling department cost the hosts the series.

“Spinners have been our biggest strength for the longest time. India have done well in the last couple of years all thanks to the spinners. I wouldn’t say they were bad; I felt they were a bit inconsistent in their bowling. They were very good in patches and there’s was the one odd ball which didn’t go our way, or didn’t go their way, so that’s the talk of being more consistent in pitching the ball in good areas because if you keep pitching the six balls in the same areas, it gets tough as a batter. In T20Is, with just four overs – 24 balls – I think it will be easier for the spinners to focus on the 24 balls rather than the 60 balls. I look at it that way,” Smriti Mandhana further added.

Meanwhile, Mandhana also shared that the BCCI is in talks with the England Cricket board about the participation of the Indian players in The Hundred. The inaugural season will begin on July 21 but also revealed that a final call will be taken after seeing the schedule of the national team as well.

“The ECB is in talks with the BCCI but we don’t have an update yet about it. Let’s see, it will be highly depending on the schedule what the Indian team will be having because our first priority will definitely be the India matches, so I am sure the BCCI and ECB are working towards it and let’s hope to hear something around 100-ball (tournament) from them soon,” Smriti Mandhana concluded.

India T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (WK), Nuzhat Parveen (WK), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Bahadur

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