Velocity v Supernovas - more than just a match of cricketing acumen

Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj will face each other BCCI

Six months after the bitter, long-running dressing-room feud between Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur became public, they will lead their respective sides - Velocity and Supernovas - in the final of the Women's T20 Challenge. ESPNcricinfo takes a look at why the match is more than just a battle of cricketing acumen.

First, the cricket
Velocity are led by Mithali Raj, arguably India's best ever cricketer and captain of the ODI side; Supernovas are led by Harmanpreet Kaur, the most exciting batsman of her generation, Raj's deputy in the ODI side and captain of the T20 team.

These sides met here, at Jaipur's Sawai Mansingh Stadium, two days ago. In that match, Raj's Velocity lost pace, intent and eventually the match. But they still qualified for the final by pipping Trailblazers, whom they'd already beaten, on NRR.

What's the feud?
The long-suspected acrimony between the two players became public during the World T20 in the West Indies in November. Raj was dropped for the semi-final, which India lost, and after the match Harmanpreet said she had wanted to retain a winning side from the previous match. Raj's manager, however, then launched an unprecedented Twitter attack on Harmanpreet's captaincy. She called Harmanpreet a "manipulative, lying, immature, undeserving captain" and also said the women's team believed in "politics not sport".

What was the fallout?
The first casualty was the interim head coach Ramesh Powar - his contract expired days after that semi-final defeat and was not extended. Powar, who received the backing of Harmanpreet and her T20 deputy Smriti Mandhana, was critical of Raj in his report on India's performance at the World T20. He said she had threatened to pull out of the tournament if not allowed to open the batting.

Did it end there?
There were a lot of emails sent by Raj and Harmanpreet to the Committee of Administrators, all leaked to the media. Raj said the episode had left her, "for the first time in a 20-year long career… deflated, depressed and let down. I am forced to think if my services to my country are of any value to a few people in power who are out to destroy me and break my confidence." She did not directly blame Harmanpreet, saying "I am of the opinion that Harman and I are senior players and our issues, if any, should be sorted out by the two of us by sitting across the table."

What happened next?
Well, they sat down across the table - along with senior BCCI officials - within a week of Raj's email. Raj is understood to have told Harmanpreet that Annisha Gupta, whose tweets had set off the storm, was not her manager. On her part, Harmanpreet told Raj that the decision to exclude her from the World T20 semis was not a personal choice but a collective call.

About a month later, on the eve of the team's tour of New Zealand, both Raj and Harmanpreet claimed to have "moved on" from the acrimony that, by Raj's admission, did "hamper" the profile of the Indian women's team.

So that was that?
Or so we thought. Earlier this week, though, Raj told Cricbuzz, "I do keep to myself [in the dressing room] and people can't judge me for that right now…I believe what has happened has definitely made me more wiser to people around me in the dressing room… I wouldn't say I felt lonely but I definitely feel that I was betrayed."

So has Raj settled in the side?
Since the start of the 2017 World Cup, Raj, now 36, has been largely inconsistent on whether she herself envisions herself playing the 2020 T20 World Cup or the 2021 ODI World Cup. While still a formidable force in the 50-over format, on the subject of whether retirement from the shortest format figures in her plans, Raj's go-to refrain when fielding questions at press conferences of late has been, "You'll see when that happens."

In March, WV Raman, the new coach of the women's side, in a post-match review alongside stand-in captain Mandhana and Raj said that "we [him, Raj and Mandhana, the stand-in captain for the series against England women] had a chat about what she [Raj] is comfortable doing and what suits the side as well."

With that, a semblance of clarity around her batting slot in the middle order, and not as an opener, appeared to have been offered. That topic had become a full-blown controversy after India's 2018 World T20 exit.

Yet in that same Cricbuzz interview, when asked whether the new team management had informed her of her role in the team, Raj's answer was succinct: "Honestly, not yet."

Back to Jaipur
What Raman, Mandhana and the management make of the denial may not be brought up for discussion until the national camp in Bengaluru gets underway next month. For now, the focus remains on the action in Jaipur and the battle for supremacy between Raman-Harmanpreet's Supernovas and Raj's Velocity.

Can 15-year-old uncapped Indian batsman Shafali Verma get Velocity off to a brisk start, like she did in her first game of the tournament? Or will Supernovas batsman Jemimah Rodrigues trump Shafali in the battle of the teenagers? Also, the in-form Danielle Wyatt could alone demolish the Supernovas attack, unless the Yadavs - Radha and Poonam - orchestrate yet another middle-overs choke with their spin.

With less than ten months out from the T20 World Cup in Australia, uncapped Indians would do well to treat the Women's T20 Challenge final as an audition for a likely call-up, and for internationals on the fringe, such as Veda Krishnamurthy and Sushma Verma, a chance for a recall into the national side.