Kaur, Mandhana, Verma part of full strength India squad for T20 World Cup

Key young players could shape the team's destiny at next month's tournament in Australia

The buzz around 15-year old Shafali Verma keeps growing, West Indies v India, 1st Women's T20I, Gros Islet, November 9, 2019

The buzz around 15-year old Shafali Verma keeps growing  •  IndianCricketTeam/Instagram

Harmanpreet Kaur will have a full-strength squad at her disposal when India play the Women's T20 World Cup in February. Plenty of them are young players too. Shafali Verma is 15 and she is the team's first-choice opener alongside the 23-year old vice-captain Smriti Mandhana. Jemimah Rodrigues, another key player in the top order, is only 19 and the selectors have also placed faith in the uncapped Richa Ghosh, with India looking to better their semi-final finish in the 2018 edition.
The bowling wears a familiar look with as many as four spinners, led by Poonam Yadav. The 28-year old has picked up 51 wickets over the past two years and was named by the BCCI as India's best female cricketer in 2018-19. Interestingly, for a tournament taking place in Australia, the selectors have picked only three seam bowling options: Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar and Arundhati Reddy.
"If you talk about our team, our strength is spin," Kaur told reporters on Sunday. "That's the way we are looking to go. The only thing is how we are going to use them. I think they have always been good and have given us breakthroughs whenever we needed. Our strength is spin, so we have to stick to that. We are very positive that whenever we need them, they will definitely perform for us."
Veda Krishnamurthy, who was in and out of the side last year, has forced her way back on the weight of her recent performances. She was by far the best batter for India A in a disappointing 3-0 whitewash against Australia A. In the one-dayers prior to that, she made a match-winning century. Most recently, she made a crucial 29-ball 47 in a tense chase to take her team into the women's challenger series final.
The surprise omissions in an otherwise settled squad were allrounder Anuja Patil and Mansi Joshi, the right-arm seamer. Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the left-arm spinner, was back into the mix after being left out of the tour of the Caribbean in November. Gayakwad's eight wickets at an economy of 5.15 were considered much superior to Patil's three wickets at an economy of 4.75 as they went head to head in the recently-concluded Challenger Series, which for the first time had two round-robin stages and a final to give players enough game time.
Meanwhile, the inclusion of Ghosh is another sign of the selectors building a young core. Playing for India B, the finalists in the Challenger series, she strung a number of noteworthy performances under Mandhana including a match-winning 25 in a low-scoring game against India C. The 16-year old followed that up with a sparkling 25-ball 36 in a tough chase of 149 against the same opponents. While she could be considered a back-up middle order option currently, a number of good performances for India A in the Quadrangular series - also involving India B and women's teams of Bangladesh and Thailand - in Patna could bring her into the first XI.
India have won eight out of their 15 matches since the end of the last T20 World Cup in November 2018. This includes series wins over South Africa and West Indies away from home. However, their form is still a long way off tournament favourites Australia and England, who have won eight out of nine and 11 out of 13 matches respectively.
All three teams will be playing each other in Australia in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup. "It's always good to go a bit early," Kaur said. "Before the World Cup we are playing the tri-series and that's the platform where we have to execute ourselves and if we are able to give our 100%, that would be very good for us."
In addition, Kaur, Mandhana and Krishnamurthy could also draw from the experience of playing in the Women's Big Bash League. "That experience will definitely help," Kaur said. "We know how the wickets are there, how the conditions are there and that will definitely give us extra boost."