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Women’s T20 Challenge – Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur identify three stars for the future

Manali Dakshini, M Anagha and Ayushi Soni. Those are the three players, according to Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, to watch out for during the Women’s T20 Challenge 2020, which kicks off Wednesday when Kaur’s Supernovas take on Raj’s Velocity in Sharjah.

In the last edition, India had discovered Shafali Verma, the hard-hitting opener who then earned a T20I call-up and was the highest run-getter for India in the T20 World Cup earlier this year.

“We do have a couple of young talents in our side,” Raj said on the eve of the tournament opener. “Manali, she is a fast bowler. And we have Anagha, the left-arm spinner and Under-19 player, in our squad. I think this platform gives them an exposure to interact with the overseas players, to see the national players, how they prepare themselves before a tournament.

“Overall, the sort approach a professional athlete has is what these young girls can learn through this Women’s T20 challenge.”

Kaur, meanwhile, has been on the lookout for a middle-order batter. “Maybe someone who can bat in the middle order,” she said, when asked which piece of the jigsaw she was looking for as India’s T20I captain. “Right now, we have good batters who can bat at the top but someone who could bat in the middle order… because that’s what we are struggling with in the Indian team. Maybe someone who can bat after me, that will be a big positive for us.”

One such candidate is 20-year-old Soni, who not only bats in the middle order but also bowls seam-up. “I guess Ayushi Soni is doing very well, she has done very well in the domestic also,” Kaur said. “She is someone who has really impressed us.”

Raj’s side will be in action again on Thursday when they take on the Smriti Mandhana-led Trailblazers. While admitting that the schedule could be hectic, Raj said it was equally important to spend some time in the middle to prepare for the future. She has also been noting how the IPL teams have done in Sharjah, the venue which will host all the women’s matches.

“I think if you give it more space in your mind, it weighs you down,” she said about back-to-back games. “You take it one day at a time. Yes, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. The recovery time is less, the next day it’s a 2pm game. But again, it’s important that we get these games going so that we have some game time for the players for the coming series.

“All I can say is that we are here to play our best cricket and also enjoy the platform because it’s a privileged tournament, everybody would want to be part of this tournament. So, as players, as a team, we are looking forward to these matches.

“I think at the start of the IPL, teams were getting 200-odd runs in Sharjah, and now the totals have come down to 120-130. That definitely reflects that the wickets are slowing down. There was a lot of dew factor in that game I watched, the RCB vs SRH. The players spoke about how it was difficult for the bowlers to grip. Again, seasoned players will find a way out, and for inexperienced players, it will be an exposure on how to deal with these variable factors during a match and how they can take help from the senior players and prepare themselves for these matches.”

For Kaur and Raj, Wednesday’s game would be their first outing after quite a while. Kaur’s previous match was the T20 World Cup final in March, while Raj, who has retired from the shortest format, was last in national colours in November last year. Understandably, both were upbeat about the resumption of cricket.

“As soon as the lockdown was lifted, I did spend a lot of time in my training sessions, in terms of fitness as well as my batting skills,” Raj said. “I am definitely looking forward to the matches because then I will be able to gauge whether whatever little changes I have made in terms of my bating help me or not in my future one-day innings.”

“I know it’s been a long time that we didn’t play any cricket but to be honest, I am very excited that at least we are getting some cricket,” Kaur said. “As a cricketer, I definitely look for more cricket and I hope we keep getting more and more matches. I am not putting too many things into my head. I am very excited because sitting at home is more painful than getting some games. So I am really looking forward to that.”

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