'Goals were achieved' - Powar hails 'fantastic' show of India's youth in Australia
Head coach feels India have made significant gains in building the fast-bowling depth for next year's World Cup
After the England tour in July, India's head coach Ramesh Powar had underlined how lack of support for Jhulan Goswami was one of the many problem areas. After the Australia series, India's second tour in the space of three months, it's one area he feels India have made significant gains in with Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh, Shikha Pandey and Pooja Vastrakar all queuing up to give India fast-bowling depth building into the 50-over World Cup 2022 and beyond.
Meghna, primarily a swing bowler capable of taking it away from the right-hand batters, was picked on the back of a tournament-winning campaign with Railways in the 50-over competition this April. On tour, she picked up just one wicket in three ODIs, but remained economical across the 21 overs she bowled. In the Test, she snared two scalps. More than the numbers, her temperament, the ability to hit her lengths consistently and keep wheeling away stood out.
Renuka, two years younger at 25, impressed in her two outings in the T20Is. Although her inexperience towards the death overs showed in the second T20I with India needing to defend 14 off the last two overs, her accuracy and the tying down of Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning inside the powerplay was noteworthy. In the final T20I, she dismissed Alyssa Healy early after India elected to bowl.
Meanwhile, Pandey, India's highest wicket-taker at the T20 World Cup last year, had a point to prove after being left out of the ODIs and the one-off Test. With her one ball alone, to dismiss Healy in the second T20I, she proved none of her old virtues that have made her a regular since 2016 had diminished. Swing being right on top of that list. A ball that swerved in from way outside off, hit the deck and jagged back in alarmingly to have Healy chop on.
"After coming back from the UK tour, we set some goals and the goals were achieved [in Australia]," Powar said after Australia clinched the T20I series 2-0. "We were looking at the seam attack to support Jhulan, which we were struggling with in England. The way Meghna, Pooja Vastrakar and Renuka bowled, especially today [was fantastic]. The objective was to find a pace battery that we can invest in and carry on to the World Cup."
"That was the motto for this tour. You don't take your place for granted; if you are not consistent enough and not playing your primary roles, you will be sidelined"Ramesh Powar
Among the options he named, three are largely considered seam-bowling options. Vastrakar showed another dimension to her accurate seam-ups - the ability to finish off innings in the second T20I gave India a total they made a spirited defense of, while in the final game, her late blows reduced the margin of defeat. It typified the kind of "character" Powar expects from the team: the ability to fight when the chips are down.
"I think it was fantastic," Powar summed up the performance of the young group. "I think Australia is the No. 1 side, England is right up there, so testing our own skills was very helpful. The girls reacted well on this tour. We've shown some character and that is what we want. You can't win games with just quality players; you need to have characters in the team.
"We stand at a juncture where Mithali [Raj] and Jhulan [Goswami] are almost going to fade away at some point, so getting the England tour and the Australia tour mainly for the young cricketers like Meghna, Renuka, fast bowlers... be it Jemimah [Rodrigues], it makes a huge difference because you'll be tested against the best and you can show your skill here and then you can go forward and build your career from here. We wanted to test our players, and this was the best opportunity - the England [tour] and mainly the Australia tour."
Asked if the decision to bench key players like Pandey, Poonam Yadav and Rodrigues at different stages on tour was a conscious decision, Powar calmly explained the rationale behind the thought process. "There's no surety of places, we want to make healthy competition in our squad," he said. "That was the motto for this tour. You don't take your place for granted; if you are not consistent enough and not playing your primary roles, you will be sidelined. We want to keep the healthy competition going in the team, we don't want someone to take their place for granted."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo