India Women's T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur has been ruled out of the T20I series opener against South Africa on Saturday in Lucknow owing to an injury. In her absence, Smriti Mandhana will lead the side in what will be their first appearance in the format since the T20 World Cup final on March 8 last year.
Kaur had suffered a hip-flexor injury in the fifth and final ODI against South Africa on Wednesday, having settled in to put together a half-century stand with Mithali Raj before retiring out in the 31st over just as India looked to launch. She didn't take the field for the rest of the game.
"She [Kaur] has been ruled out of tomorrow's match and rest of the updates on her injury will be given by the medical team and the team management," Mandhana said on the eve of the first T20I. "It will be better for them to speak about it rather than me."
Mandhana, 24, has led India in four T20Is, her maiden bow as captain having come in March 2019, where she filled in for an injured Kaur in the three-match T20I series against a visiting England side in Guwahati. India suffered a whitewash in that assignment, but in her next stint as captain, in November that year, she led the T20I side to a 61-run win against hosts West Indies.
Mandhana also confirmed that India would be going in with the same opening combination they had in the T20 World Cup, with 17-year-old Shafali Verma, who couldn't find a place in the ODI squad though she had topped the run-chart for India in the world tournament, partnering Mandhana.
"India have done well in the last couple of years all thanks to the spinners. I wouldn't say they were bad; I felt they were a bit inconsistent in their bowling [in the ODI series]."
"As of now we both, together, have had good partnerships since last two years, so we are looking at the same combination," Mandhana said.
India's 4-1 loss in the ODI series, which head coach WV Raman coach attributed in most part to a lack of "game time", threw into sharp relief South Africa's meticulous planning to flatten the hosts' vaunted spin attack. The Indian spinners averaged 53.15 in the five matches combined, their worst in a women's ODI series/tournament where they bowled 100 or more overs. Their bowling strike rate of 70.7 was also their worst in a series/tournament in the 50-over format.
"[The] spinners have been our biggest strength for the longest time," Mandhana said. "India have done well in the last couple of years all thanks to the spinners. I wouldn't say they were bad; I felt they were a bit inconsistent in their bowling. They were very good in patches and there's was the one odd ball which didn't go our way, or didn't go their way, so that's the talk of being more consistent in pitching the ball in good areas because if you keep pitching the six balls in the same areas, it gets tough as a batter. In T20Is, with just four overs - 24 balls - I think it will be easier for the spinners to focus on the 24 balls rather than the 60 balls. I look at it that way."
Mandhana also said that the BCCI is in talks with its English counterpart about the participation of the Indian players in the Hundred, which begins on July 21, but stressed that a final decision would be contingent upon the schedule of the national team. ESPNcricinfo reported last month that four India players are on the radar of the Hundred teams and their involvement in the tournament could come about after India's tour of England, likely starting June, which is set to include a one-off Test.
"The ECB is in talks with the BCCI but we don't have an update yet about it," Mandhana said. "Let's see, it will be highly depending on the schedule what the Indian team will be having because our first priority will definitely be the India matches, so I am sure the BCCI and ECB are working towards it and let's hope to hear something around [the] 100-ball [tournament] from them soon."
India Women T20I squad: Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (wicketkeeper), Nuzhat Parveen (wicketkeeper), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Bahadur
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha