Harmanpreet backs Shafali to turn her form around during Asia Cup

India captain says the fringe players too will be given opportunities so that they can gain confidence going into the T20 World Cup

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Shafali Verma was bowled by Kate Cross twice in successive games  •  Getty Images

Shafali Verma was bowled by Kate Cross twice in successive games  •  Getty Images

India opener Shafali Verma has received firm backing from her captain Harmanpreet Kaur ahead of the T20 Asia Cup, as she looks to turn around her patchy form.
Shafali ended the recent England tour without a half-century across formats; in fact, in six innings, she was dismissed in the single digits four times. Particularly under scrutiny was her lack of footwork, which England seamer Kate Cross exposed by castling her in two back-to-back games with nipbackers.
Shafali hasn't scored a T20I half-century for 18 T20I innings now but has on and off sparkled with her big-hitting, like at the opening game of the Commonwealth Games against Australia, where she smashed 48 off 33 balls. Harmanpreet expects the 18-year-old to get enough games under her belt at the Asia Cup; India could potentially play eight games in two weeks should they make the final.
"From the practice sessions we've had, I can say she is doing really well," Harmanpreet said after landing in Sylhet. "It's part of life - sometimes you play well, sometimes you can't continue your good form. But she's looking good and it's just a matter of spending some time in the middle for her to get out of her [rough] patch. She is working hard every day. This is a platform where you can express yourself and play free cricket. We will try to give her enough match time so that she can get her confidence back."
Giving players sufficient opportunities won't be restricted to just Shafali. The fringe players too will have a chance to stake their claim for the T20 World Cup, which is now less than six months away. The squad features a number of them, such as S Meghana, Dayalan Hemalatha and Kiran Navgire - all heavy run-scorers in domestic cricket and on the fringes of the national team.
"Our first target will be to give enough chances to other players who haven't got [opportunities] so far," Harmanpreet said. "Definitely there are a lot of areas where we want to work on as a team, especially how we are going to use the first six overs [while batting].
"We will try to shuffle our middle order so that others can also get some time. In the last overs also, we have some hard hitters, so if we can give them enough chances... In our bowling, we will try different combinations. This tournament is important for us, it's a great platform where players who haven't got chances can come and perform. If they perform here, they can get a lot of confidence going into the World Cup."
Harmanpreet is riding a massive wave of confidence, both as a player and captain. It was only earlier this year when doubts were raised over her prolonged bad patch with the bat. But she has since put them to bed with a series of consistent knocks. The latest was her whirlwind 143 not out in the second ODI in England that elicited comparisons with her epic 171 not out against Australia at the 2017 World Cup semi-final.
"I think I have felt that responsibility right from when I started," she said. "It's something I've enjoyed. Since the time I've been full-time captain, I am enjoying it a lot. My team-mates, support staff, selectors, the BCCI - everyone has been appreciative. You just need support, and the only thing left after that is performance and we are all focused on performances. We all talk only about having each other's back and needing to go out and express ourselves."
In the last few months, she has led India to a silver medal finish at CWG 2022 and followed that up with India's first series win in England, excluding one-off games, in 23 years. Harmanpreet believes that this upturn is because of "enjoying responsibility and faith" of the selectors, board and her own team-mates.
"I think when we went to England, we were looking to play just good cricket," she said. "We didn't put pressure on ourselves that we have to win, we have to do well. We were calculative in our practice sessions; we knew what we were doing and everything was planned. We were working on something; we didn't think that we have come here to create history. We were just going through what we had to do. When you have plans and you're working towards something, the results will come. We are not surprised by what we've done."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo