The Shafali Verma-led side won the inaugural edition in Potchefstroom last month and the senior side, which is chasing an elusive ICC Trophy, will open their Women’s T20 World Cup campaign at the other end of South Africa, in Cape Town on Sunday.
Bunched in group B along with Pakistan, England, Ireland and West Indies, first up for the previous edition’s runners-up are the neighbours marshalled by Bismah Maroof.
While the storied battles between the two famed opponents spans over seven decades in men’s cricket, it is relatively new among women with the first match between the two sides played in 2005. That said, the freshness of the rivalry takes nothing away from the intensity or spotlight surrounding it.
In the shortest format, India are the dominant side, having won 10 of the 13 face-offs between the two sides. But the last time the two sides met in the Asia Cup last year, Pakistan ended on the winning side. But come Sunday, India, given their preparations and line-up will start as formbook favourites. This, despite a major setback in the form of the absence of Smriti Mandhana. The vice-captain and batting ace, is down with a finger injury.
Confirming the same, Hrishikesh Kanitkarthe stand-in coach, said: “Smriti has a finger injury and is still recovering, so she won’t play most-likely. It’s not a fracture and we’re hopeful she will be available from the second game onwards.”
On the other hand, in a huge relief, skipper Harmanpreet has recovered from a shoulder niggle and is fit to lead the side. “Harman is fit to play. She has batted in the nets for the past two days and is fine,” Kanitkar added.
Perennial underachievers on the ICC platform, India have ticked many boxes in the run-up to the competition. Their preparations have included a five-match home series against defending champions Australia, an intense camp and acclimatisation over three weeks which included a tri-series. Pakistan on the other hand prepared for the competition with a home series against Ireland before travelling to Australia for a limited overs tour.
Even without Smriti, India’s batting has depth with Shafali, Richa GhoshHarmanpreet, Deepti Sharma and Devika Vaidya. The toss up for Smriti’s No. 3 position will be between Jemimah Rodrigues and Harleen Deol.