The Indian women’s cricket team don’t play often at home. In T20Is, they played Australia in December last year. The last ODI home series was back in March 2021. That is despite the fact that they have a T20 World Cup in Bangladesh next year and a home World Cup in the 50-over format on the horizon in 2025. And above all this, it’s been a year since the team’s last official head coach was moved on from the job.
It is against this backdrop that Harmanpreet Kaur and Co get ready for a rare bumper month of international cricket at home, with finally a new head coach in place. Mumbai domestic legend Amol Muzumdar will begin his stint at a place where he piled on mountains of runs as India play England and Australia over the next five weeks in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai.
While there is reason to debate why the Indian women’s team is seemingly restricted to playing in and around Mumbai in the recent past, for Muzumdar it is a chance to kick things off in a backdrop that he knows like the back of his hand.
“I am starting in a new role at my home ground,” Muzumdar said in his first press conference on Tuesday at the Wankhede Stadium. “I have played most of my cricket since my childhood here, it’s great to start here. It’s been a long journey. Yeah, familiar with the conditions but at the same time we cannot be complacent.”
💬 💬 “We would play fearless brand of cricket.”#TeamIndia Head Coach Amol Muzumdar highlights the team’s approach heading into the #INDvENG T20I series, starting tomorrow 👌👌@IDFCFIRSTBank pic.twitter.com/PzbdZ9xDjU
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) December 5, 2023
Muzumdar scored over 11,000 first-class runs in 171 matches including 30 centuries during his domestic career that lasted more than two decades.
One of Muzumdar’s predecessors in the role – former India coach WV Raman – says it’s time to make the most of the talent that India have in their ranks. “No need to delve too much in the past (on no coach for one year). Time to look forward now,” Raman told The Indian Express. “Amol takes over at a good time, the team is in a good place after some decent exposure — with a professionalised league like the WPL coming in, the Asian Games medal recently.”
“I think the challenge ahead for him is to accurately assess the talent at the team’s disposal. He’s got two crucial series at home before the T20 World Cup next year. Before that, he needs to get together with the selectors to find the right combination. Lots of strong players to choose from. It’s about finding the right combination,” Raman added.
A solid squad
On that front, it must be said that the selection committee – that has often been under the scanner for their calls – have delivered a good mix of fresh faces and experienced hands for the T20Is. Shreyanka Patil and Saika Ishaque have been rewarded for performances in the WPL, domestic circuit as well as the India A set-up. Mannat Kashyap joins Titas Sadhu in being blooded in from the U19 World Cup-winning squad. And in Renuka Singh Thakur, they have an experienced pacer making her comeback after a period away from international cricket.
Jemimah Rodrigues is excited for the blockbuster home season, are you? 😃
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) December 5, 2023
“Young generation is coming through as we saw during the India A series,” Muzumdar said. “Their performances in that series, and even prior have been rewarded by the selectors. I am sure the young faces that have come in can deliver when they get a chance. They have got a terrific mindset, and the energy and intensity that we need on the ground.”
Captain Harmanpreet, one of the best athletes in the game, had once said that one of her dreams would be to see India as the best fielding team in the world. She’d have been happy to hear that Muzumdar has made that one of his priorities along with fitness.
“Fielding and fitness will be my top priority,” the 49-year-old said. “There is no compromise on that. The fitness parameters have already been set, and we have had some tests at NCA pre-series. These will be followed rigorously. There will be a lot of camps post this series, and a lot of cricket will be played either at NCA or some other place. All the fringe and new players that are coming through will also get an opportunity.”
Sandwiched between the crucial white-ball tests, are two Test matches, one each against England and Australia. Indian women will be playing a home Test for the first time since 2014. During a recent camp, Muzumdar said they had an intra-squad four-day match in November to get the team in the mindset to play Tests. Players picked for the longer format but not for T20Is – the likes of Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Sneh Rana – are in Mumbai already to train for the Tests. Every little bit of preparation would matter, given India’s female cricketers don’t play days-cricket with the red ball at the domestic level.
World Cup in focus
Muzumdar will be assisted by NCA’s Troy Cooley and Munish Bali as the bowling and fielding coaches respectively for the series against England and Australia. With the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in September next year, and no scheduled assignments on the official Futures Tours Program until then, this month will play a big part in telling Harmanpreet and Muzumdar where things stand.
“Definitely every step from here on is moving towards the World Cup. The series against England and Australia will count a lot. We had a chat about it with the team and they are all raring to go. (Playing more series) is for the board to decide. More we play, better. After these two series, we’d have WPL. We will have preparations in place for the World Cup,” Muzumdar said.
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) October 27, 2023
Speaking a year ago during his stint in the Mumbai set-up, Muzumdar recalled the one big lesson he took from his mentor Ramakant Achrekar was that the game is always bigger than any individual. “I still have that ingrained in my mind, I keep that as a benchmark even when operating as a coach,” he had said. And, with the talent at his disposal, Muzumdar would be hoping to get Harmanpreet and Co firing as a collective as they begin their quest for that elusive ICC trophy. The Mumbaikar set the tone on Tuesday that he could sense that Indian women’s cricket is on the ‘cusp of something big’. The journey starts close to home.
PREPARATION FOR DRS
“We have already had a discussion on this. We do have a four-member DRS committee in place. It is an important aspect of the game. I feel it could be a game-changer or a series-changer ever. Every little aspect will be taken care of. We already have a committee in place to deal with that”
India’s squad for 3 T20Is against England: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Richa Ghosh (wk), Amanjot Kaur, Shreyanka Patil, Mannat Kashyap, Saika Ishaque, Renuka Singh Thakur, Titas Sadhu, Pooja Vastrakar, Kanika Ahuja, Minnu Mani.
India’s squad for Tests against England (And also against Australia to follow immediately): Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Jemimah Rodrigues, Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Richa Ghosh (wk), Sneh Rana, Shubha Satheesh, Harleen Deol, Saika Ishaque, Renuka Singh Thakur, Titas Sadhu, Meghna Singh, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Pooja Vastrakar.
England’s squad for T20Is: Heather Knight (c), Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Alice Capsey, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Mahika Gaur, Danielle Gibson, Sarah Glenn, Bess Heath, Amy Jones, Freya Kemp, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Danielle Wyatt
England’s Test match: Heather Knight (c),Tammy Beaumont, Lauren Bell, Alice Capsey, Kate Cross, Charlie Dean, Sophia Dunkley, Sophie Ecclestone, Lauren Filer, Bess Heath, Amy Jones, Emma Lamb, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Danielle Wyatt
Schedule for India vs England:
1st T20I: Wed 06-Dec-23, 7:00 PM, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
2nd T20I: Sat 09-Dec-23, 7:00 PM, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
3rd T20I: Sun 10-Dec-23, 7:00 PM, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
One-off four-day Test: 14-Dec-23 Sun to 17-Dec-23, 9:30 AM, TDY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai