She, however, is likely to be available for India’s second game, against West Indies, on February 15
Smriti Mandhana, the India vice-captain, has been ruled out of the team’s T20 World Cup opener against Pakistan in Cape Town on Sunday due to a finger injury.
However, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the stand-in coach, has confirmed there’s no fracture, which means Mandhana is likely to be available from India’s second game onwards, against West Indies on February 15.
He was more bullish on Harmanpreet Kaur, the captain, who has been declared fit to play. Harmanpreet had picked up a shoulder niggle during the recently-concluded tri-series against West Indies and South Africa.
“Harman is fit to play. She has batted for the last two days in the nets, she is fine,” Kanitkar said at the pre-match press conference. “Smriti has a finger injury and is still recovery, so she won’t play most-likely. It’s not a fracture and we’re hopeful she will be available from the second game onwards.”
‘Looking forward to Pakistan game’
Kanitkar, no stranger to India-Pakistan clashes, having hit the winning runs in the famous Independence Cup final in 1998 in Dhaka, expressed satisfaction at his team’s level of preparedness ahead of the tournament. India are looking to build on their runners-up finish at the previous edition in Australia in 2020.
As far as head-to-head goes, India haven’t enjoyed the best of records against Pakistan in the tournament, having lost to them in 2012 and 2016. But Kanitkar emphasised on the group’s camaraderie and spirit, which he thought is at its best ahead of the 2023 edition.
“You want to be playing the strong teams, the arch-rivals if you can cal them that,” Kanitkar said. “Few of them have done it in the past, few haven’t. We are totally prepared for what happens, the atmosphere is good.
“Most of them have played Pakistan in the past, they know what can happen and what the atmosphere is like. One of the privileges of playing international cricket is you play matches like these. Everyone is looking forward to it.”
Having trained and played matches in South Africa for over three weeks, Kanitkar assessed conditions to be spin-friendly. India have their squad well covered on that front, with the squad having as many as four frontline spin options in Deepti Sharma, Radha Yadav, Devika Vaidya and Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
“Spinners will have a role to play,” he said. “A lot of matches have taken place here, lots of T20 cricket has been played. “Pitches in East London were pretty similar to what we get in India, but Cape Town [venue for India’s first two group games] am not sure. I watched the match yesterday [South Africa v Sri Lanka] and the pitch looked good. There was some assistance for spin, but it will make for good cricket.”
‘Sky is the limit for Richa Ghosh’
Kanitkar didn’t give away too much in terms of team combination. He was non-committal when asked how big a role Shikha Pandey could play. Pandey forced her way back into the national team after close to 18 months following strong domestic performances.
In the tri-series that just finished, where India were runners-up, Pandey bowled all of seven wicketless overs in three matches. India’s other pace options include Renuka Singh, Pooja Vastrakar and rookie Anjali Sarvani.
“She will play a vital role at some point or the other,” Kanitkar said. “Experience does count. Have seen it too many times in the past as well. She is going to make a difference to us. Also, she bats well which many people don’t know. So it works well for us.”
What about Richa Ghosh, who is being talked of as one of the biggest finds in recent times? In the home series against Australia, Ghosh impressed with her ability to hit the long ball from get go. Recently, she was part of India’s victorious Under-19 World Cup winning squad, even though her returns weren’t particularly impressive.
“She’s an exciting prospect,” Kanitkar said. “She has a good future in front of her. If she continues to work hard and if all those things goes well, and she maintains the right attitude which she has, then sky is the limit.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo