India pick Shikha Pandey in squad for 2023 Women's T20 World Cup
Pooja Vastrakar has been included in Harmanpreet Kaur's team subject to fitness
Allrounder Shikha Pandey has made a comeback to India's T20I squad for the tri-series as well as the World Cup in South Africa early next year, while Pooja Vastrakar has been included "subject to fitness".
Pandey last played for India on the tour of Australia in October 2021, but has forced her way back through strong performances in domestic cricket. She will lead a seam attack that includes Renuka Singh, Vastrakar and rookie left-armer Anjali Sarvani, who made her debut in the recent five-match T20I series against Australia at home.
Seamer Meghna Singh, who featured in the Australia T20Is, isn't part of the squad but will be in the reserves alongside batter S Meghana and allrounder Sneh Rana. Meghna went wicketless in the two matches she played against Australia, and also conceded runs at 13.66 an over.
All three reserve players, however, are part of India's squad for the tri-series in South Africa in the lead-up to the World Cup.
Pandey, who captains Goa, had taken 11 wickets in seven matches in the senior women's domestic T20 competition at a miserly economy of 4.28. She was equally impressive for South Zone in the inter-zonal T20s, picking up five wickets in three games at an economy of 4.05.
Vastrakar, meanwhile, is currently recovering from an unspecified injury that has kept her out of action since October this year.
India have stuck to their strengths by picking a spin-heavy attack for the T20 World Cup, led by allrounder Deepti Sharma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad, with Devika Vaidya capable of bowling useful legspin in addition to her middle-order batting abilities.
Richa Ghosh, who is set to play in the inaugural Under-19 World Cup next month, will be the first-choice wicketkeeper in the Harmanpreet Kaur's squad. Yastika Bhatia, the left-hand middle-order batter, has been named as back-up.
There were no major surprises in the batting line-up, with Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues and Harleen Deol all in the mix. Like Ghosh, the India Under-19 captain Shafali will head into the competition on the back of the junior World Cup campaign.
With both Shafali and Ghosh missing from the tri-series involving West Indies and South Africa, the selectors have rewarded Punjab batter Amanjot Kaur with a maiden India call-up for her domestic form. Amanjot was Punjab's top run-getter in the domestic T20s, hitting 192 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 105.49.
There was also a comeback for wicketkeeper Sushma Verma, who was picked in the tri-series squad. Sushma was the third highest run-scorer in the Senior Women's T20 Trophy, making 237 runs in seven innings at a strike rate of 105.80. She had played the last of her 19 T20Is in 2016 and is one of two wicketkeepers in the squad alongside Yastika.
India, runners-up to Australia at the previous T20 World Cup in 2020, are still searching for their maiden world title. They're placed alongside England, West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland in Group B. India will open their campaign against Pakistan on February 12 in Cape Town.
Their first match in the tri-series that precedes the World Cup is slated for January 19 against hosts South Africa.
Squad for Women's T20 World Cup 2023: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Richa Ghosh (wk) Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Deepti Sharma, Devika Vaidya, Radha Yadav, Renuka Thakur, Anjali Sarvani, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Shikha Pandey
Reserves: S Meghana, Sneh Rana, Meghna Singh.
Squad for tri-series in South Africa: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Smriti Mandhana, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Deepti Sharma, Devika Vaidya, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav, Renuka Thakur, Meghna Singh, Anjali Sarvani, Sushma Verma (wk), Amanjot Kaur, Pooja Vastrakar, S Meghana, Sneh Rana, Shikha Pandey.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo