SL vs IND: India’s tour of three T20Is and as many ODIs to Sri Lanka from June 23 to July 7 will be the first after the captain Mithali Raj announced her international retirement earlier this month. Moreover, along with her, veteran speedster Jhulan Goswami, who didn’t play in their final league match of the ODI World Cup against South Africa, which ended in a last-ball thriller and brought curtains on India’s journey won’t be around this time as well. And, after Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur has been appointed the new captain of Team India.
However, without these duo, Team India are now embarking on a journey of rebuilding their squad, especially their bowling attack for the Commonwealth Games this year, T20 World Cup next year and ODI World Cup in 2025 as well. Apart from young pacers Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh and all-round skills of Pooja Vastrakar, they also have another pace bowler in Simran Bahadur, who has done well recently. While she was asked in the pre-departure virtual press conference about India’s rather inexperienced bowling attack, Harmanpreet Kaur insisted that the Sri Lanka tour will give young bowlers chances to showcase their skills.
“If we talk about our bowling unit, this is the time where they can take the responsibility. This tour will be the ideal platform for them to perform and take the charge of bowling their full quota. For me, it’s a great opportunity to build a good team. Sri Lanka will not be an easy tour for us. But whatever we are planning, we should go and deliver, which is what we are looking forward to as a unit,” she said.
However, apart from Mithali and Jhulan, veteran speedster Shikha Pandey, left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht as well as all-rounder Sneh Rana are the notable absentee from the series. On the other hand, Harleen Deol returned after being the third-highest run-scorer and averaging 60.33 in the Senior Women’s One-Day Challenger Trophy recently. Meanwhile, Harmanpreet Kaur has also opened up about the camp where they prepared for the Sri Lanka series.
She stated: “I think this is the time where they take the responsibility. This will be the ideal platform to perform, where they can take charge. For me, it’s a great opportunity where you can build a good team because Sri Lanka is not going to be an easy tour for us. If I talk about our team, we have a great combination. It’s a good tour to start as it’s the first time we are going to play without our seniors and I think a great opportunity for all of us to build a team. I think we have done great preparation during this NCA camp. The camp we had was very small of only four-five days. We tried to cover each and every thing like where we are standing right now in our fitness. We tried to play one 50-over game because of rain. But we did cover all the things which we wanted to do as a unit.”
However, the biggest challenge for Harmanpreet Kaur & Co. will come from Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu, who smashed a blistering 101 and took two wickets while signing off from their tour of Pakistan last month with a win in the third and final ODI earlier this month as well.
She again expressed: “If we talk about Chamari, we know that she is someone who is leading from the front. We do have some plans for her and last time when we went to Sri Lanka (in 2018), we did try those things. This time also, we have been watching her videos and we did plan a few things for her. Now when we will get two-three practice sessions, we will try those things. Once we get to playing, we will make sure that we will be clear with our plans and what we will be able to execute in the game.”
“I don’t think there is anyone who can fill this place” – Harmanpreet Kaur on Mithali Raj
However, Harmanpreet Kaur also paid gratitude to Mithali Raj and her impact on the national side. And, she also believed it will be easier for her and the team now that she has also been named the ODI captain after Raj. Notably, Kaur has been captaining India in the T20 format since 2018.
“As we all know she has done great for women’s cricket. I don’t think there is anyone who can fill this place. We are working hard on the team where we can create some winning combinations and all. If we talk about Mithali di, I don’t think there is anyone who can take her place and we will always miss her in our dressing room,” Kaur stated. “When two different captains were there, sometimes things were not easy because we (Mithali and I) both had different ideas. Now it’s easy for me to ask them (my teammates) what I am expecting from them. Things will be much easier for me and clear for my teammates also.”
While she was being asked if she planned to become a proper all-rounder in the ODIs, not having been given many opportunities to bowl before, Harmanpreet Kaur said that she has planned the same not just for herself but for her teammates as well. It is also noteworthy that, as a part-time bowler, Kaur had done quite well in India’s last outing, a must-win World Cup group stage match against South Africa. She had registered figures of 2/42 in her eight overs for a losing cause.
She shared: “Yes, definitely, not only me but this season we have seen Shafali also doing really well with her bowling. As a captain, I am very open with ideas. You were right when you said, ‘I didn’t get the opportunity (to bowl much in the ODIs).’ But this time whoever is doing well, I will definitely give them a chance.”
While talking about what kind of cricket she expected from the team in the ODI format, Harmanpreet Kaur stated that she was positive the team could breach the 300-run mark more often in future.
“We did set some goals during the World Cup where we were looking for 300 runs but we were only able to score 280-270. This time, I think we will be going to score more than 300 runs because now we do have some players who are playing really good cricket. We can look for a bigger score for us,” Harmanpreet Kaur concluded.