A talent show for the Australia tour
The second women's Challenger Series gets underway in Ahmedabad on Thursday and the timing couldn't be better since India will be heading to Australia later in the month for five ODIs and one Twenty20.
The 39 players, divided into India Senior, India A and India B squads, will get a chance to impress the new selection committee, headed by former Indian batsman Sandhya Agarwal, before the tour. And with two World Cups - one in Australia - in the next nine months, the selectors will be keen to have a look at the available talent collected under one roof.
The players for whom the Challenger Series is crucial can be categorised into two groups: seniors trying to make comebacks, like Anjum Chopra, Preeti Dimri, Karuna Jain and Nooshin Al Khadeer; and younger players hoping to fix their place in the side, like Niranjana Nagarajan, Gouher Sultana and Snehal Pradhan.
After India's 4-0 defeat in the ODI series in England, Mithali Raj had said the lack of experience may have been one of the reasons for the team's dismal show. If the new selectors feel the same way, then Chopra and Co. must string together a series of performances in the Challengers that are hard to ignore. However India's fielding has been a cause for concern for a while now and the selectors may pick younger players as a solution.
Five players to watch out for:
Niranjana Nagarajan: She made her debut in England last month as a replacement for the injured Rumeli Dhar. Nagarajan took only one wicket in two matches but the hard Australian pitches will favour faster bowling so a half-decent Challenger Series could get her picked for her second overseas tour in three months.
Gouher Sultana: Anju Jain, the former head of the selection committee, backed the 20-year old left-arm spinner saying she could soon be an integral part of the Indian squad. Sultana had a successful Asia Cup - taking six wickets from five matches - but struggled in unfavourable English conditions. The Challenger Series, played on a spin-friendly surface, will help restore her confidence and, if she is among the wickets, the selectors could pick her as the starting spinner for Australia.
Nooshin Al Khadeer: Another left-arm spinner, who will be competing with Sultana for a place in the squad. Nooshin was overlooked for the Asia Cup and the England tour and is eager to prove herself ahead of the Australia series. She needs four wickets to become the third Indian woman to cross 100 wickets in ODIs.
Anjum Chopra: Like Nooshin, Chopra's last international series was the Quadrangulars in February-March 2007. But India's miserable performance in England may urge the selectors to recall her for the tour to Australia, where she averages 33.33 from three games, based on how she does in the Challengers.
Asha Rawat: Judging by her three half-centuries in the Asia Cup, Rawat should score heavily on the slow Ahmedabad pitch and get her first tour of Australia.
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo