Steely India make a mockery of T20 rust

India Women had a lot to prove in Australia, having slid down the rankings in recent years. Lack of match practice only made their task more difficult, but the team's resolve came through in the end

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Harmanpreet Kaur smashed a 31-ball 46 to set up India's chase, Australia v India, 1st Women's T20, Adelaide, January 26, 2016

Harmanpreet Kaur smashed a 31-ball 46 to set up India's chase in the first T20  •  Getty Images

By winning the Twenty20 series in Australia, India Women appear to have turned a corner, especially after seeing West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka overtake them in the rankings over the last three years. This was India's first T20 series win against Australia, the defending World T20 champions who are eyeing their fourth successive world title in March.
India went to Australia without much of a chance - in public perception at least - against the hosts. Instead, Mithali Raj's team pulled off a record chase and followed it up with an emphatic statement of intent in a 10-wicket win to send out a strong message that this team - a mix of experience and blossoming talent - will be serious contenders at the World T20. For far too long now, Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who have been around for a decade and a half, were the flag bearers of the Indian women's team. In Australia, they managed to find a crisis woman for every situation in the two T20s so far.
Here is why India's series win in Australia ranks high on their list of achievements:
Fast acclimatization
Only three members of the India Women squad (Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur) had played in Australia before. It was their first tour to the country since they finished a creditable third by beating the hosts at the 2009 Women's World Cup. Upon landing in Australia, India's only warm-up 50-over fixture against a Governor General's XI in Sydney was abandoned, and the team took the field in the first T20 in Adelaide on the back of just two practice sessions.
No match practice, no problem
"We attend more camps than matches," Raj said following India's historic Test win in England. There is truth in this: this is only the team's second international tour in three years. Unlike in the men's format, where the domestic calendar is packed from October to March, women's tournaments are scaled down and often hastily arranged. Two years ago, the T20 format was not even penciled in on the calendar, only for the BCCI to overturn their decision after calls for the tournament to be slotted in gained steam from the women's cricket fraternity. In some cases, players had to find out about their inclusion at national camps a day prior to the commencement, which does not paint a pretty picture.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad
Coming from Bijapur, a small town in north Karnataka, Gayakwad rose to prominence on the athletics field. She was a talented javelin and discus thrower, and was later selected for the junior volleyball district's team, till cricket caught her fancy five years ago. Gayakwad, a classical left-arm spinner who idolises Daniel Vettori, picked up five wickets on Test debut, proved her worth in the second T20I by deceiving Australia's batters in the air, using the long MCG boundaries as an ally. Her two scalps proved to be the difference between Australia finishing with 125, and not 140, which could have been the difference on the night.
Harmanpreet Kaur
"Bat fearlessly; bat as if you have no worries in the world. Even if you are under pressure, act as if you aren't, because bowlers will always try to unsettle you anyway," Virender Sehwag had told Harmanpreet Kaur when the two met at the National Cricket Academy many years ago, much before Kaur made her international debut. It was a lesson she took quite seriously on Australia Day, shepherding the lower order to make an unbeaten 31-ball 46 as India recorded their highest successful run chase to win the series opener.
Smriti Mandhana
Mandhana burst onto the scene as a child prodigy. She announced herself in October 2013, when she made an unbeaten 224 as a 17-year old for Maharashtra Under-19 with a bat that Rahul Dravid had gifted her brother Shravan, an aspiring cricketer who later shunned the game to take up a bank job with a multi-national company. During the course of her knock, she took fresh guard after reaching the three-figure mark in the 30th over because her coach asked her to "go for a record double-century." A year later, she made a fighting half-century in a historic run chase as India beat England in their first Test in over eight years. Interestingly, India had as many as nine debutants in the match with Mandhana being one of them. On Friday, she added yet another feather to her cap by seeing India's stiff chase through in a shortened game as India recorded a historic series win.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo