Neetu David admits it’s tough to pick Women’s T20 Challenge squads without foreigners

Team Supernovas lift the Women's T20 Challenge 2019 Trophy.
Team Supernovas lift the Women’s T20 Challenge 2019 Trophy.

Things looked bleak for Indian women’s cricket in July, 2020. What should have been an exciting year after reaching the T20 World Cup final in March was dampened because of Covid-19. The Women’s World Cup in New Zealand was postponed to 2022, with the T20 World Cup and Commonwealth Games also slated for the same year. A scheduled tour to England was cancelled, there was no women’s selection panel and the Women’s T20 Challenge looked dicey. 

There had been no selection panel for the women’s team since January this year. The five-member Hemlata Kala-led panel officially finished its term even before the national team departed for Australia.

Neetu David, who holds the best Test match figures in women’s cricket, will now head the women’s selection panel. Her first assignment will be to pick the teams for the Women’s T20 Challenge in UAE.  

A rejig in the IPL schedule led to the idea of an expanded 4-team Women’s T20 Challenge in November. Eventually, the BCCI reverted to a 3-team format like in 2019. The new schedule couldn’t avoid a clash with the Women’s Big Bash League which will run between 17th October and 29th November. 

This means that there would be no overseas players for the T20 Challenge. Several foreign stars such as Ellyse Perry, Danielle Wyatt, Sophie Devine and Natalie Sciver have graced the event in the past two years. In contrast to a full-fledged WBBL, just 4 Women’s T20 Challenge matches will happen beginning 1st November. 

David took 8/53 against England in Jamshedpur in 1995 as an 18 year old and she’s all for unearthing new talent. “It’s not an ideal pre-tournament situation for any team, in any sport, in any country, so when it comes to selecting the squads for the Women’s T20 Challenge, it’s going to be a challenging first assignment of sorts, but it’s not impossible to pick promising lesser-known players.”

Plenty of local talent are expected to get a look in. Promising teenagers like Chandigarh’s Kashvee Gautam could benefit from getting an opportunity to play alongside more experienced players. “We are looking forward to working as a team and introducing new players from our current domestic pool, who we think are exciting India prospects. They have the potential to do well in the T20 Challenge,” David added while speaking to Annesha Ghosh of ESPN Cricinfo.

‘Want to unearth the new Shafali’

Shafali Verma was the biggest success story of the Women’s T20 Challenge last year. She opened the batting for Team Velocity when she was just 15 and impressed everyone by scoring runs freely. A few months later, she debuted for the national team against South Africa. Her aggressive strokeplay was important in India’s journey to the T20 World Cup final.  

Franchise leagues are like active volcanoes where talent makes its way to the fore. David echoes the sentiment of captain Harmanpreet Kaur and Sunil Gavaskar, who believe that the Women’s T20 Challenge should be as long as the IPL.

“The way cricket is being played, it is quick and for that we need more players like Shafali. Earlier, the approach was different but now you see batters trying to be aggressive from the word go even in domestic cricket. We want to give opportunity to those kinds of players,” David said.   

Experience to complement youth

Shoving young players into the national team is necessary but not at the cost of discarding players based on age. Experienced heads are valuable in pressure situations such as the final of a tournament. They’re a guiding force to the younger players and help keep them in check.  David feels that the legendary Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami can carry on playing for as long they want to. 

“Nothing is permanent. Change is the rule of nature but experience counts a lot. Experience and youthful energy in the team is a good combination.

“Having said that, it is important to give youngsters the opportunity at the right time. Shafali got into the team at the right time and has done well for the country. There are a lot of young players who deserve that opportunity.”

Talking about Mithali and Jhulan’s future, she said, “You can’t pressurise anyone into retirement. If they perform well they can surely continue. But retirement decision is ultimately theirs and with the kind of experience they have, they know very well when to take that decision.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Neetu David was one of India's best spin bowlers. Now she has been tasked with the role of  Head of Selection Panel for the Indian Women's Cricket Team.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Neetu David was one of India’s best spin bowlers.

Crossing the Final Hurdle

David would want to capitalise on a good foundation laid by the previous selection panel. India reached the 2017 Women’s World Cup final before suffering a heartbreak in the Women’s T20 World Cup this year.

“We do well up to the final, but have not been able to get over the final hurdle yet. That’s something we need to find a solution to,” David said. “We are looking to work on the mental resilience and temperament aspect of our upcoming squads. We’ll work with the board, coaches, players and captains to make sure that we put systems in place that help us overcome that final barrier. We will look to go one better in the next major events.”

This is the new look All-India Women’s Selection Committee:

1) Neetu David (10 Tests and 97 WODIs)

2) Arati Vaidya (3 Tests and 6 WODIs)

3) Renu Margrate (5 Tests and 23 WODIs)

4) Venkatacher Kalpana (3 Tests and 8 WODIs)

5) Mithu Mukherjee (4 Tests)

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