Shafali Verma
Shafali Verma can wield an influence in the women's game like Viv Richards in years to come, says WV Raman. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata: With cricket making a return to the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next week, the fortunes of India’s Women in Blue is likely to enjoy a lot of eyeballs right from their first game against world champions Australia on July 29. A total of eight teams, split into two groups, will be playing 16 matches at the Edgbaston with the final being scheduled on August 7.

It’s after 24 years since the 1998 edition, where India had fielded a second string men’s team, that the T20 format of the sport is making a comeback in the multi-discipline Games at a city in England known for its strong presence of ex-pat population from the sub-continent. The India-Pakistan game on July 31 is already a sellout and the organisers have been pitching it as one of the high points of the Games.

Group A features Australia, Barbados, India and Pakistan while Group B comprises of England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The top two from each will qualify for the semi-finals - side finishing first in their group will take on the second-place finisher in the opposite group, with the winners of the semis reaching the final.


The losers of the semi-finals will face off in a third-place playoff for the bronze medal with the final determining the gold and silver medallists.

Speaking about India’s chances, WV Raman, who was the coach of Indian women’s team for a period of three years and was in charge when they ended as runners-up to Australia in the T20 World Cup final in 2020, was quite upbeat about the prospects of Harmanpreet Kaur-led side.

Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview over phone, the former Indian opener felt the Commonwealth Games will offer a ‘‘good test of temperament’’ for the team ahead of the World T20 in South Africa next year. ‘‘The challenge of playing in a multi-nation tournament, unlike a bi-lateral series, is that you are playing a different opponent in every game and have to strategise differently. It’s a difficult proposition as there are no easy games,’’ said Raman.

It will be more of a psychological battle for the Indian women when they take on their bogey team, Meg Lanning’s Australia, in the opener. ‘‘You see, the ultimate objective of the team is to win the gold. We have got a young side with good balance and some lovely hitters of the cricket ball. The first game against Australia will not be easy as they are like a well-oiled machine, but conversely speaking, if there is any team which can beat them in this format - it is India,’’ said Raman.

Cricket - WV Raman
India are taking a balanced, young team with some fine hitters of the cricket ball, says the southpaw once known for his lazy elegance. Image Credit: Twitter

The Indian team is rich in star power with captain Kaur and her deputy Smriti Mandhana being their batting mainstays along with allrounder Jemimah Rodrigues, but Raman cannot stop praising the 18-year-old precocious Shafali Verma. ‘‘She will be a key to India’s fortunes. Shafali has fired on all platforms - be it Tests, ODIs or T20s and will continue to dominate the sport for a long, long time. She can be what Viv Richards was to the game in those days in terms of entertainment value,’’ Raman observed.

The conditions in England, even in late-summer, will aid the seam bowlers and Raman has faith in the current crop. ‘‘Spin had been the strength for our girls, but Pooja Vastrakar’s development as an allrounder has given the team a lot of balance. She has got the pace and she can hit the long ball. Meghna Singh can swing the ball while Renuka Thakur is a hard-working support bowler. They have been playing together since the Australia tour last year. It’s important for a bunch of cricketers to be sticking together,’’ Raman said.

Asked if they are certainties to qualify for semi-finals, Raman sounded a word of caution about the uncertainties of the T20 format, along with the conditions in England. ‘‘They should qualify, but the girls should take it nice and easy and not look forward too much. Meanwhile, it’s however too early to say if a successful women’s event in the UK can open the doors for women’s cricket to make it to the Olympics. If it eventually happens, it will be a dream situation,’’ he said.

Finally, what’s his take on the women’s IPL becoming a reality ? ‘‘It will happen, sooner than later. It should be a good thing in many ways as it will inspire a lot more girls to take up cricket and it will be great for the health of the women’s game in the country,’’ he signed off.

Team India: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, S. Meghana, Taniyaa Sapna Bhatia (Wk), Yastika Bhatia (Wk), Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Thakur, Jemimah Rodrigues, Radha Yadav, Harleen Deol, Sneh Rana.