Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
More than six months since they finished runners-up at the World Cup on July 23, 2017, India will begin their second cycle of the ICC Women's Championship on level pegging with their opponents South Africa, the tournament's semi-finalists. Neither side has played an international fixture since they lost to England in thrilling encounters. While there had been little clarity on the part of the BCCI on why the board wasn't keen on arranging for any bilateral fixture to sustain the interest generated through the India's path-breaking run at the World Cup, Harmanpreet Kaur, the India ODI vice-captain and T20I captain, harped on the importance of the "break" the team got subsequently.
"Before the World Cup, we had had back-to-back series and tournaments [the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifiers in Sri Lanka followed by the Quadrangular series in South Africa]. Personally, I was going through a patch of injuries, too, so I think we needed a break," Harmanpreet said. "I understand, had there been one or two series after the momentum we gathered through our World Cup campaign, that, too, would have been good. But the break that the BCCI gave us, I feel it was important for us."
Set to become only the fifth India women's player to feature in 150 internationals with the ODI on February 7, Harmanpreet, who is currently part of a one-week preparatory camp in Mumbai, said the tour is likely to throw up myriad challenges for the side in both the three-match ODI series and the five T20Is that follow. Having returned to India last week after her second stint at the Women's Big Bash League in Australia, she underlined that the re-grouping of the players after the protracted break from international cricket and a fairly busy domestic season in India will bode well for the side. The series starts from February 5, in Kimberley.
"I think the tour will be very challenging for us. At the [ongoing] camp, we have been trying a few things because after the 50-over matches, we'll be playing the T20Is. We have two-three youngsters in the side; for them this is a good starting point. Otherwise, more or less everybody's had a decent domestic season. We have a couple of practice matches there before the series gets underway. So those two matches are also going to help us get in our preparations."
Even though there had been no international assignment for India following the World Cup, the BCCI had organsied three camps at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore, through October and November, starting with one featuring India probables and a few internationals who haven't been in the reckoning in the recent past. This was followed by a special wicketkeeping camp at the NCA under the supervision of former India wicketkeeper-batsman Kiran More. This was followed in November by one centred on fielding and fitness, involving all the members of the World Cup squad. Speaking on the sidelines of a practice match against the Mumbai Under-16 boys at the Wankhede Stadium, Harmanpreet also emphasised how the three camps held in the run-up to the ongoing one will prove to be beneficial for the side going into a month long tour of South Africa.
"After the World Cup, we had a couple of camps at the NCA, and now this one as well. These camps have been good for us. The team has been getting along really well, hopefully we'll be able to do well in South Africa as well."
In comparison to the blitzkrieg of a debut WBBL season, in which her all-round exploits earned her the Sydney Thunder Player-of-the-Tournament distinction, Harmanpreet had a relatively sedate second season, making 107 runs from nine innings and bagging three wickets. Attributing her performance to the paucity of opportunities - the bulk of the scoring this season has been done by a robust Thunder top-order - Harmanpreet said despite the scant game-time, her training off the field has helped her keep her confidence about her form up.
"Although I didn't get too much opportunity to bat, I had been training on the side, and that has been fairly good. The experience of playing on those wickets [in Australia] will come in handy in South Africa as well."