Indians at the WBBL: Shafali Verma blows hot and cold, and Poonam Yadav rediscovers her mojo
Harmanpreet Kaur made an eventful debut for the Renegades, while Richa Ghosh has impressed for the Hurricanes
The buzz around India's largest-ever contingent at the WBBL soared as the seventh edition of the domestic T20 competition kicked off in Hobart. Here's a look at how the eight Indians, representing five teams, fared in the nine-match opening week of the eight-team tournament.
A dropped catch of Ruth Johnston that briefly turned into an injury scare while fielding, a wicket of India team-mate Richa Ghosh in her first over, and then the run-out of Naomi Stalenberg with a wrong-handed underarm throw from backward point… a busy first day at Harmanpreet's second WBBL team ended with her sealing the Melbourne Renegades' chase of 122 against the Hobart Hurricanes with a four in the final over.
Having received a reprieve on 10, when an lbw appeal should have gone medium-pacer Nicola Carey's way at the start of the 19th over, Harmanpreet carted 14 off her next six balls, including a mighty six off Carey. If her 19-ball 24 in the Renegades' opening win offered glimpses of Harmanpreet the finisher, whom India have missed in the recent past, her 37-ball 41 in Renegades' next outing against the Adelaide Strikers anchored a rebuild after they had lost their top three inside the first 10 overs.
Opening alongside Sophie Molineux, Rodrigues top-scored on WBBL debut, against the Hurricanes, marrying timing with placement in her 34-ball 33 while also stitching a vital second-wicket stand of 68 with Courtney Webb. Her commanding use of feet and improved power game, which had been on view through her breakout Hundred campaign and the T20I leg of the multi-format India tour of Australia, were on show in the six-wicket win over the Hurricanes.
In the Renegades' second game, however, she couldn't get going, hitting just one four in a 17-ball 12 before slog-sweeping legspinner Amanda-Jade Wellington straight to mid-on. Ever the livewire in the field, though, Rodrigues put up an impressive exhibition of boundary-riding, diving around to save runs in what would ultimately be an unsuccessful defence of 126 against the Strikers.
For all the fear the very name of the gum-chewing, big-hitting Shafali evokes even among the most formidable attacks, the teenager has time and again needed hiding in the field. No wonder, then, that social media went into a tizzy when her rocket throw from short midwicket, with just one stump to aim at, caught the Melbourne Stars' Annabel Sutherland short of her ground at the non-striker's end in the Sydney Sixers' curtain-raiser.
Wow! That came out of nowhere— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) October 14, 2021
Shafali Verma - with one stump to aim at - with a direct hit to run out Sutherland #WBBL07 pic.twitter.com/5QdyshDi3l
With the bat, Shafali has gone either big or bust so far in her first WBBL season. A Player-of-the-Match-winning 50-ball 57 against the Hurricanes was bookended by two appearances against Stars in which she fell for 8 and 0. Intangible gains, however, may outweigh scoresheet testimonials if getting advice from her opening partner Alyssa Healy, and throwdowns from her captain Ellyse Perry, are considered. "[To] learn from the cricketers like Healy and Perry, it's so good for me," Verma said after scoring her maiden WBBL fifty.
The Sixers' other Indian recruit, the left-arm spinner Radha Yadav, got her WBBL career underway with an 11-run over in the powerplay in the rain-reduced 11-overs-a-side season-opener against the Stars. She only conceded four off her next over, but went wicketless.
A more eye-catching performance followed in the win against the Hurricanes: she snaffled a sharp one-handed catch at point to dismiss Mignon du Preez before she decisively dented the opposition' innings with a double-wicket 18th over. In the space of three balls, she took out set batters Sasha Moloney and Ghosh, having them caught for 22 and 46 respectively.
Her most economical returns came in the return fixture against the Stars, in which she finished with 0 for 17 in four overs. An opportunity to showcase her lower-order hitting skills arose later, at No. 8, but a 6-ball 2 was all she could muster before being bowled.
Coming off an impressive ODI debut and a decent showing in the T20Is against Australia, Ghosh's stocks as a street-smart batter continued to rise in the WBBL after the Hurricanes signed her as a last-minute replacement pick. The combination of ingenuity, power and hand-eye coordination that has been the hallmark of her career so far shone through in her 14-ball 21 against the Renegades and her run-a-ball 46 against the Sixers, though both came in losing causes.
Used purely as a batter, specifically at No. 4, her four sixes are second only to Rachel Priest's seven in the competition so far. With Priest retaining the gloves, Ghosh, who kept wickets in India's recent limited-overs assignments, was put to test in the circle and the outfield and was up to the task for the most part, even firing in a direct-hit to run out the Renegades captain Molineux after shelling a tough chance off Rodrigues off the same ball.
The talisman of India's spin attack until not long ago, Poonam's wristspin has waned in efficacy of late, forcing her to warm the bench for five out of India's seven matches in Australia. Come the WBBL, however, and Poonam's loopy legbreak, unassuming straighter one, and potent-when-not-overutilised wrong'un were back.
Two wickets apiece in her first two outings in the competition, after she came in as a late replacement for New Zealand's Amelia Kerr, shot Poonam to the top of Brisbane Heat's wicket charts. The prize wicket in her haul so far was of the dangerous Beth Mooney, bowled for 40, in the first face-off between Heat and the Perth Scorchers. With the 2022 ODI World Cup around the corner, both Heat and India stand to benefit if Poonam could build on her strong start to the WBBL campaign.
In defending champions Sydney Thunder's solitary appearance in the week gone by, little went their way, or the way of their two Indian imports. The allrounder Deepti Sharma, making her first appearance in the WBBL, struck in her first over, accounting for South Africa and Adelaide Strikers batter Laura Wolvaardt, but was otherwise costly, finishing with 4-0-32-1. Later, when Thunder needed a middle-order rearguard to resuscitate their botched pursuit of 140, Deepti, slotting in at No. 6, only managed 4 off 6.
Like Deepti, India and Thunder opener Smriti Mandhana got her first season for her new club underway with only four runs to her name. Like her many dismissals since landing in Australia two months ago, Mandhana's undoing this time around also came about in the point region. In the absence of Rachael Haynes, Thunder will rely on the experienced Mandhana to hit the ground running early in week two.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha