Despite the speculations and some controversies, the Women’s T20 Challenge finally took place in the Play-off weeks of IPL 13 in UAE this year. Played under the same protocols, the three-team tournament, witnessed the nail-biting finishes. Though COVID-19 pushed this tournament from march to November which, resulted in a clash with WBBL, it ultimately turned into a blessing in disguise.

While many of the Aussie and Kiwi cricketers missed the Women’s T20 Challenge, others got the opportunity to showcase their talent. Thailand cricketer Nattakan Chantam hit a half-century against Pakistan in the World T20 and once again attracted the attention towards her when she dived at third man to save a boundary and pulled a stunner, to get rid of Jemimah Rodrigues in the final. Trailblazers, who missed the final last year, defeated the defending champion Supernovas by 16 runs to lift their first-ever title.

Smriti Mandhana got out to Kasperek in the first match for 6, played a slow knock of 33 from 40 balls in the last match of the group stage. She got out before she could explode. However, in the final, her 68 from 49 balls was instrumental in the context of the match. On a slower surface, her knock came at a strike rate of 135, while most of the batters failed to match even the 100 strike rate. Her 68, which comprised of 9 boundaries helped Trailblazers to reach a total of 118. She is our captain as well.

Chamari Athapaththu will join her as the other opener. She is the highest run-getter in this year’s tournament with, 117 runs with a strike rate of 121. Athapaththu, who got a boundary in every seven balls, dealt spinners well. Her ability to dance down the track and sweep the spinners makes her a perfect partner with Smriti, who faces the seamers well. Athapaththu’s 44 against Velocity didn’t help to win the match but, her 67 was vital in the group match which, Novas won by only two runs.

Deepti Sharma and Harmanpreet Kaur will take care of our middle order. Sharma, who is also a handy off-spinner, is a dependable bat who can anchor the innings at one hand. Her innings of 43 from 40 balls for Blazers against the Novas in the group match, almost pulled the match in favour of her side. She is effective even in the powerplay and her spell of 3-0-9-2, which included the wicket of Chamari Athapaththu and Taniya Bhatia, gave the initial edge in that match.

Harmanpreet on the other hand, has got a start in every match (30, 31, 30) and, her mature innings took her side to a comfortable position. In most of the cases, she batted at number 4 and took the innings till the end. But the team expects more from her in the dying overs as she is the finisher of the team.

Sushma Verma, who has lost her place in the National side to Tania Bhatia showed her prominence with the bat and, her performance with the bat was better than the other three wicket keepers. Her innings in the opening match against Novas were full of maturity. She took her time in the middle adding 27 runs with Veda Krishnamurthy and 51 with Sune Luss to win the thriller. In a difficult situation, her two sixes against Sashikala and one of the difficult Indian spinners Poonam Yadav eased the pressure from other batters.

Sune Luss plays a major role in our middle order as well. She can play according to the situation, which is evident from the number of balls she had played. She has a strike rate of 132 which, proves her ability to hoick the ball. She took 6 balls to hit a boundary, but this South African also can rotate the strikes. Her match-winning knock of 37 from 21 balls earns her place in the side. At the same time, her leg-spin bowling can turn out to be useful in the middle overs and brings variety in the spin bowling department.

Jhulan Goswami has taken retirement from the T-20 international cricket, but her leadership in the bowling department has not taken a back seat. She conceded the most number of dot balls (42 out of 66 balls) with the economy less than 5. Her economy of 4.27 is the best among the bowlers while she picked up three wickets. Her miser bowling has created pressure on the opponent.

This can create opportunities for left-arm spinners like Radha Yadav and Sophie Ecclestone. While Sophie Ecclestone, the number one t-20 bowler destroyed the Velocity batting line up with 4/9, Radha Yadav became the first bowler to take 5 wickets in the championship. Ecclestone’s 4 wicket haul came against a team that has the batters like Shafali Verma and, Mithali Raj.

Ecclestone picked up Mithali Raj and Veda Krishnamurthy in consecutive balls. Radha, the highest wicket-taker of the tournament, destroyed the lower middle order of the Trailblazers in the final match with her 5/16. Both these spinners can bowl at any point of time in the match, and their economical bowling can choke the batters.

This leaves us with two positions. There are few players in the contention but, we are going to take three players for that. Harleen Deol has almost won the match for Blazers in the group stage against Novas and, she has delivered with the balls as well. Her touch in this championship edged her over the like of Dottin who, really struggled in the slow pitch. Harleen got a strike rate of 134, the 2nd best in the tournament, and can play a handy role in the dying overs.

Shashikala Siriwardene has found her place over Salma Khatun who got three wickets in the final, based on her all-around abilities. And if the side needs an extra seamer in place of a spinner, then that place will be filled by Shakera Selman. Selman, with her raw pace, can partner with Jhulan to gave the opponent the initial breakthrough.

So our team of the Women’s T20 Challenge got three specialist batters in the form of Smriti Mandhana, Chamari Athapaththu, and Harmanpreet Kaur, while a bunch of all-rounders has been gathered around to give the desired balance. Two seamers in the form of Jhulan Goswami and Shakers Selman are ready to make a mark. The variety of spinners adds more options to the bowling arsenal of the side.

Women’s T20 Challenge Team of the Tournament:

Smriti Mandhana (C), Chamari Athapaththu, Deepti Sharma, Harmanpreet Kaur, Harleen Deol, Sune Luss, Shashikala Siriwardene, Sushma Verma (WK), Sophie Ecclestone, Radha Yadav, Jhulan Goswami, Shakera Selman

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