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Mandhana vs Harmanpreet, plus Ecclestone, Dottin and Salma - need we say more?

The Women's T20 Challenge opener pits the two teams to have combined to win all the editions so far, and promises big entertainment

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Who are playing
Defending champions Trailblazers, led by Smriti Mandhana, take on Harmanpreet Kaur's Supernovas, two-time champions in what is a three-season tournament. Play begins at 7:30pm local time at the MCA Stadium in Pune.
Head to head
Since locking horns in the inaugural edition, held as a one-off exhibition game in Mumbai in 2018, the two sides have faced each other a further four times, including in two finals. While Supernovas rode Harmanpreet's 37-ball 51 to win the title clash in 2019, Mandhana's 49-ball 68 gave Trailblazers the trophy in Sharjah in 2020.
How the squads stack up
Supernovas: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Taniya Bhatia (vice-capt), Alana King*, Ayushi Soni, Chandu V, Deandra Dottin*, Harleen Deol, Meghna Singh, Monica Patel, Muskan Malik, Pooja Vastrakar, Priya Punia, Rashi Kanojia, Sophie Ecclestone*, Sune Luus*, Mansi Joshi.
Trailblazers: Smriti Mandhana (capt), Poonam Yadav (vice-capt), Arundhati Reddy, Hayley Matthews*, Jemimah Rodrigues, Priyanka Priyadarshini, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Renuka Singh, Richa Ghosh, S Meghana, Saiqa Ishaque, Salma Khatun*, Sharmin Akhter*, Sophia Dunkley*, Sujata Mallik, Shradda Pokharkar.
NOTE: * denotes overseas player
Form guide of key players
Smriti Mandhana: The opening batter struck one half-century in her 236 runs in eight innings at the recent Senior Women's T20 Trophy, where she led Maharashtra to a runners-up finish. Her highest score in the tournament, 84 against Railways in the final in Surat, came in a losing cause.
Earlier this year, she missed the one-off T20I against New Zealand, the only game in the format India have played this year, because of her delayed arrival and quarantine in the country. Before that, in the 2021-22 WBBL that ended in November, Mandhana, playing her first season for Sydney Thunder, smashed a 64-ball 114, the joint-highest score in the competition's history.
Harmanpreet Kaur: The India T20I captain scored 121 runs, two half-centuries included, in three innings for Punjab in the domestic T20 tournament. Against New Zealand, she made a 13-ball 12. She had a prolific WBBL last season, and was named the Player of the Tournament after topping the batting and bowling charts for Melbourne Renegades. She made 406 runs at a strike rate of 130.96, including three fifty-plus scores and 18 sixes, during Renegades' dominant run to the playoffs.
She reinvented herself into a powerplay bowler there, dealing precious blows at the death, taking 15 wickets at 7.45 with her fingerspin.
What to look forward to
Sophie Ecclestone vs the rest of the world: The No. 1 bowler in the women's game comes off a blockbuster FairBreak Invitational and ODI World Cup, finishing atop the wicket charts in both tournaments. Having played for Mandhana's Trailblazers since her Women's T20 Challenge debut in 2019, the England and Supernovas left-arm spinner could well have serious questions to ask of her former captain (as she likely will of anyone given her red-hot form). Also, if Ecclestone's newly cultivated boundary-clearing prowess is anything to go by, on view in ample measure at the nets on Sunday, she could be a threat with the bat, too.
Deandra Dottin vs the lesser mortals: Harmanpreet, just let the World Boss from Barbados bowl the 20th over already! Regardless, spectators at the MCA Stadium, be on your feet when Dottin is batting because you might have to do a lot of catching in the stands. In between, you can just marvel at how acrobatic she is on the field.
Salma Khatun applying the choke: Don't be surprised if the Bangladesh and Trailblazers offspinner picks up wickets in a heap for not too many. Her knack for taking wickets in a pile almost finished Australia off in the ODI World Cup in March-April. The only glimmer of hope for Supernovas is they are unlikely to slot in a left-hander in their top five.

Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha