India have named three uncapped players in their 16-member squad for the upcoming three-match ODI series in South Africa as part of the ICC Women's Championship (2017-2020), starting February 5, in Kimberley. Mumbai batting allrounder Jemimah Rodrigues, Madhya Pradesh seam-bowling allrounder Pooja Vastrakar and Punjab wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia - who were all part of the recently concluded India A T20 series against Bangladesh and the domestic Challenger Trophy - have earned their maiden national call-ups.
Vastrakar and Bhatia have replaced the injured medium-pacer Mansi Joshi and back-up wicketkeeper Nuzhat Parween from the World Cup squad that finished runners-up in July 2017. Rodrigues, meanwhile, has thrust her way into the squad on the back of a prolific domestic season in which she scored 1013 runs at an average of 112.56 in the inter-state Under-19 tournament, including an unbeaten 202, and snared 19 wickets with her offspin. She followed it up with 90 runs and a wicket in the three one-dayers against Bangladesh A and a half-century in her solitary T20 innings against the same opponents, before notching up scores of 84, 52 and 43 in the Challenger Trophy.
"I was almost in tears when Punam [Raut] di called me up to share the news earlier this morning," the 17-year-old Rodrigues told ESPNcricinfo. "Last year, I had had low scores in the Challenger, but this season, I wanted to keep the momentum going after a good Under-19 and the Senior tournaments given how close the South Africa tour is to our domestic calendar.
"This call-up is as much an effort of mine as it is of my parents, my Mumbai Cricket Association family and all my coaches, including Tushar [Arothe, the India head coach] and Biju [George, the India fielding coach] sir."
Much as 18-year-old Vastrakar's selection has been founded on bolstering India's quick-bowling department with a third seamer - apart from Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey - her formidable fielding skills are likely to have strengthened her case. Vastrakar effected three run-outs and took two catches in the three T20s against Bangladesh A before dislocating her thumb - one among a string of injuries she has suffered - in the Challenger opener last week, having bowled only 7.4 overs. She missed the second game in the tournament but returned to play the final, in which she bowled two overs for 11 runs and caught a set Punam Raut - on 88 - short of her ground to tip the scales in India Blue's favour during their unlikely title victory.
"I have been plagued with injury through my career over the years," Vastrakar said. "But despite the injury in the Challenger opener, I held on to my hopes of making it to the squad [for the South Africa tour] given the swing I was generating both ways in that game and also in the final. My fielding, I take pride in that, and with Smriti [Mandhana, who captained her in the India Blue team] and other team-mates commending my efforts on the field, I knew I could be in with a chance. Glad the thumb injury didn't come in the way this time around."
Bhatia was among the six wicketkeepers, including the capped Sushma Verma, who were part of a special training camp - under former India wicketkeeper-batsman Kiran More's supervision - at the National Cricket Academy in November. Even though her performances with the bat have not been of note in the run-up to the selection, Bhatia's agility behind the stumps may have given her the edge over Parween.
"Both Tushar and Biju sir had been very encouraging all through about my wicketkeeping," Bhatia said. "I've played with Harmanpreet [Kaur] for roughly three years when she used to represent Punjab, and with and against other members of the Indian side. However, sharing the dressing room with them abroad and getting a feel of the international environment will help me grow."
The trio, along with the other players - barring Veda Krishnamurthy and Kaur who are currently playing in the Women's Big Bash League - will be featuring in the domestic T20 tournament, starting January 13, in Mumbai (Elite Group B), Goa (Elite Group A), and Chennai (Plate Group C), before assembling in Mumbai on January 17 for a preparatory camp prior to leaving for South Africa a week later. The squad for the five-match T20I series will be announced later, a press release from the BCCI stated.