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Feature

Rodrigues, Bahadur, Navgire - Takeaways from the Women's T20 Challenge

ESPNcricinfo picks out eight players who pushed their case for integration within the India mix

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
30-May-2022
A trophy wasn't the only thing the Women's T20 Challenge has given Harmanpreet Kaur  •  BCCI

A trophy wasn't the only thing the Women's T20 Challenge has given Harmanpreet Kaur  •  BCCI

The 2022 edition of the Women's T20 Challenge might have been its most pertinent one yet as far as helping chart a roadmap for India's immediate future.
A league-stage elimination in the ODI World Cup a month ago rounded off a forgettable year-long run for the national team in the 50-over format where they lost all bilateral ODI engagements before failing to make the knockouts of a world tournament for the first time in four tries. A packed T20I-heavy season now beckons.
A bilateral series against Sri Lanka, ahead of the Commonwealth Games in July-August, might materialise. A series against hosts England and the fifth edition of the Asia Cup T20, likely in October, then follows before ODI world champions Australia touch down for a series in December. The focus then shifts to the inaugural Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup and the senior world event in the same format to be played in January and February.
With veterans Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami inching closer to the end of their storied careers and India needing options to fix their inconsistencies in all three departments, ESPNcricinfo picks eight players who made a mark during the Women's T20 Challenge and have pushed their case for (re-)integration within the India mix.
The disappointment over her curious World Cup omission behind her, Rodrigues made the right noises after her match-winning 44-ball 66 for Trailblazers in the Women's T20 Challenge.
"[…] the Commonwealth and the [T20] World Cup [are around the corner], so I definitely wanted to be in the best touch and the best form and it's nice to score those runs. It gives you more confidence scoring runs and going back into the Indian team," she said, having scored a 21-ball 24 in the previous game. That she adds immense value as a fielder is also relevant given that's what T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur is looking for.
For a player who doesn't get picked to play for India anymore - and certainly not anywhere in the top-order, the opportunity to bat alongside the national captain and rescue her team in the Women's T20 Challenge was something of a game-changer. And Bhatia responded with a 32-ball 36 against Velocity.
Stump Mic Podcast: The best of the Women's T20 Challenge
Bhatia, who finished as Punjab's leading run-getter in the 2021-22 domestic T20 season, has fallen down the pecking order in international cricket thanks in part to the mercurial (and accidental) rise of Richa Ghosh. But she remains a force to be reckoned with. Her diving take of Shafali Verma's edge off Deandra Dottin in the final proved a telling blow given victory in the end came with a very small margin.
"Given we have mostly T20Is line-up, I have tried to prepare accordingly since returning from the ODI World Cup," Bhatia said after Supernovas' title triumph. "With the bat, I was focused on playing what the situation demanded instead of worrying about what's happened in the past or happening now on the outside."
India's search for a pace-bowling allrounder had been a wild-goose chase until Pooja Vastrakar found a second wind on the tours of England and Australia last year. And Bahadur took her down during her 10-ball 20 in the death overs of a wildly see-sawing final game. A player capable of that kind of power against that kind of bowling in that kind of pressure deserves keeping an eye on.
Bahadur, the Delhi allrounder who has one ODI and four T20I caps, was impressive with her lower-order hitting even in India A's title-winning Senior Women's One-Day Trophy campaign last December. In the Women's T20 Challenge, she finished with four wickets in two matches, though her tally would have been almost double that had she and her Velocity team-mates not shelled their chances.
In her only innings of the tournament, the Trailblazers opener showed what she might bring to the table as a regular in the T20I side. Her 47-ball 73 was a prime example of not only her range of shots but her footwork as well. Whether she was dancing down the track or using the depth of the crease, it was all perfectly timed.
A prolific run-getter in domestic tournaments over the past two seasons, Meghana had made 4, 49, and 61 in her maiden ODI series, on the New Zealand tour, earlier this year. In the only T20I India have played in 2022 - which also marked her return to the shortest format for the first time in five years - she top-scored with a 30-ball 37. This fifty in the Women's T20 Challenge should, one hopes, lead to more game time with India.
India haven't always been great with their approach to find new personnel. And even when they do find them, those players often go through a period where they have very little idea of what their role in the team actually is. Deol, for example. has been shunted up and down the T20 batting order all year; collateral as India ran through a slew of talent without ever really giving them the chance to settle.
A consistent performer across the past three seasons of the Women's T20 Challenge, Deol made a 19-ball 35 in Supernovas' opening win in 2022. A gun fielder like Rodrigues, she took two catches in the opening fixture and was reliable with her ground fielding all through. As India transition into a new phase, having Deol in the batting line-up, or at least on the bench, might be worth a shot.
The Delhi batter's T20I debut in February 2019 raised eyebrows because, at the time, her game seemed more suited to ODIs. She scored 4, 4, and 1 in that series, against New Zealand, and never played the shortest format for India again.
Now, in the Women's T20 Challenge, Punia showed an improved boundary-hitting ability and intent to rotate strike. Her 20-ball 22 and 29-ball 28 were just the foil Dottin needed to do her thing, especially in the final. Punia's two brilliant catches of Smriti Mandhana and Sophia Dunkley were also a sign of the work she may have put in on her overall game to improve her chances of an India recall.
A 34-ball 69 or a 13-ball duck - what will you remember from the 27-year-old uncapped batter's outings in the Women's T20 Challenge?
No matter the answer, two truths about Navgire, the highest run-getter in Indian domestic T20s this season, are beyond doubt. One, the raw power she showcased in a blistering fifty on debut in the Women's T20 Challenge warrants exposure at the highest level. Two, she could be doubly dangerous once she works out her issues with the short ball.
After what appears to be a gradual but decisive sidelining of Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav are the only left-arm spinners of note still in selection contention. And with Radha going through a lean patch, there couldn't have been a more opportune time for the Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner Kanojia to take 4-0-22-0 on her Women's T20 Challenge debut, for eventual champions Supernovas in the final.
Whether that performance, clubbed with her impressive showings in domestic tournaments over the past year, translates into an India call-up, remains to be seen.

Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha