By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
Both teams will need more than a few batters to shine in Monday's World T20 Group B clash
To make matters worse is its lack of exposure to quality opposition like England and Australia. Three short limited-overs tournaments (against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) in a year isn't ideal preparation. However, the fact that it has had time to acclimatise to the conditions, having spent close to two weeks in Bangladesh, should stand it in good stead in its first Group B fixture of the ICC Women's World T20 against Sri Lanka at the Sylhet Divisional Stadium on Monday (March 24).
India, for a long time now, has been dependent on Mithali Raj, the captain, with the bat and Jhulan Goswami, the seamer, with the ball. But it can draw a few positives from the recently concluded series against Bangladesh and the two warm-ups that provided it an opportunity to test a few young players. Among the ones who impressed were Sravanti Naidu, the off-spinner, and Shikha Pandey, the medium pacer.
There is no doubt India's strength is its batting; while Raj has recently promoted herself to open the innings, the presence of Harmanpreet Kaur and Poonam Raut should boost the middle order. India's traditional approach to the modern game hasn't paid dividends, but Raj's move up could bring about a change in team dynamics and give it a much-needed lift.
Raj was the first to admit India is still far from attaining the standards set by Australia and England, but expressed faith in her young group. By standards, she wasn't merely hinting at batting or bowling, but fitness levels and the standard of fielding. Understandably, that was the focus at training at the Cadet College Grounds, where the team put in the hard yards immediately after a 40-minute flight from Dhaka on Saturday.
India's plea for more opportunities is widely echoed by Sri Lanka, which has had to grapple with its own set of internal issues. It has improved by leaps and bounds, and wins over India and England at the World Cup promised to usher in a new era. But it has not been able to sustain sparks of brilliance over a period of time and, like India, has depended heavily on a few individuals to steer the team forward.
Shashikala Siriwardene, the captain, has been the torchbearer of the team. Eshani Kaushalya's ability to hit the ball a long way adds some muscle to a batting thin on firepower. The onus is on Deepika Rasangika and Chamari Atapattu to lend solidity to the batting upfront, while the plethora of spin options at Siriwardene’s disposal would be needed to choke the runs.
The fact that Sri Lanka had to qualify for the event could be a blessing in disguise, for it provided it more exposure, albeit against the teams forming the next rung below the top eight. Its performances in the warm-ups was encouraging, where it ran Australia close before registering a comprehensive win over Ireland.
Sri Lanka’s recent triumph in the T20 series in India in January would be a big morale booster going into a tournament where it's trying to step up a few notches. If it can outclass India’s talented three, it would have gone a long way in nurturing those ambitions.
India: Mithali Raj (capt), Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Vellaswamy Vanitha, Madhuri Mehta, Latika Kumari, Karuna Jain (wk), Jhulan Goswami, Gouher Sultana, Soniya Dabir, Shikha Pandey, Poonam Yadav, Sravanthi Naidu, Shubhlakshmi Sharma.
Sri Lanka: Shashikala Siriwardene (capt), Chamari Atapattu, Eshani Kaushalya (wk), Deepika Rasangika, Sripali Weerakkody, Chandima Gunaratne, Chamari Polgampola, Rebeka van Dort, Oshadi Ranasinghe, Hasini Perera, Yashoda Mendis, Maduri Samudikka,Udeshika Prabodhini, Nilakshi Silva.