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India will play fearless cricket, says new women’s coach Amol Muzumdar | Cricket


India will play fearless cricket, says new women’s coach Amol Muzumdar | Cricket

After nearly two-and-a-half months, the Indian women’s cricket team returns to action with a three-match T20 series against England starting at the Wankhede Stadium here on Wednesday.

Indian women's national cricket team head coach Amol Muzumdar with captain Harmanpreet Kaur during a practice session(PTI)
Indian women’s national cricket team head coach Amol Muzumdar with captain Harmanpreet Kaur during a practice session(PTI)

Despite the launch of the Women’s Premier League in March, India have had precious little game time over the past eight months. They beat Bangladesh in a T20I series in July, which was followed by a tied ODI series that saw skipper Harmanpreet Kaur slapped a two-match suspension; they then won the Asian Games gold in September.

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With the next T20 World Cup to be held in Bangladesh in nine months, a new-look Indian set-up will be keen to build some momentum against a strong England. The T20I series will be followed by a lone Test before India host Australia in a Test, and three ODIs and T20s each.

Since Ramesh Powar’s tenure as head coach ended in October last year, India had Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Nooshin Al Khadeer as interim coaches. Amol Muzumdar is now at the helm and the former Mumbai skipper has the task of ensuring stability and steering the side through two tough assignments within a month.

The 49-year-old was one of the most prolific run-scorers in domestic cricket. He achieved great success as Mumbai skipper and as coach took them to the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy final. For the twin series, Munish Bali will be the fielding coach and former Australia first-class cricketer Troy Cooley the bowling coach.

Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, Muzumdar was pleased to begin his stint in his hometown. He hasn’t had much time with the team to prepare for England though.

“It’s been great so far, about 15 days,” he said. “We had a small camp at the National Cricket Academy and even played a four-day game. It’s been fantastic to be with the team and I’m really looking forward to the season. We’re building towards next year’s T20 World Cup and every game has importance. The ones against England and Australia will count a lot.”

India have had many impressive performances over the past few years, but an ICC title has remained elusive. Even at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, they faltered in the final.

Muzumdar believes “we’re on the cusp of hitting it big in women’s cricket” and that the India will remain focussed on finding consistency and peaking at big events.

“Fielding and fitness are of the highest priority, there’ll be no compromise in that regard. There will be a lot of camps conducted after this series. There’ll be a lot of cricket played. More exposure, fitness and fielding will be my top priorities. The new players and the fringe ones will also get lots of opportunities,” he said.

“We’ve already had fitness tests done at the NCA, and we’ll follow them rigorously going forward. There will be three such tests each season. Fearless cricket is something I always advocate, so we will be playing that brand.”

Led by Harmanpreet, the squad features many fresh faces. Off-spinning all-rounder Shreyanka Patil, who impressed in WPL and was the leading wicket-taker in the Women’s Caribbean Premier League, took five wickets in the just-ended three-match series between India A and England A, which the latter won.

Left-arm spinner Saika Ishaque was one of the standout players for Mumbai Indians as they charged to the WPL title, while pacer Titas Sadhu and left-arm spinner Mannat Kashyap played key roles in the ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup triumph this year. Sadhu took sensational figures of 3/6 in the Asian Games final.

“The young generation is coming through,” said Muzumdar. “The India A series was well fought. The performances have been rewarded by the selectors. All the young players are looking forward to getting opportunities and I’m sure they’ll deliver. They have a terrific mindset and the energy and intensity that we’ll need on the ground.”

England captain Heather Knight took the line out of Australia skipper Pat Cummins’s comments before the ODI World Cup final about wanting to silence the Indian fans by beating India. The 32-year-old is eager to see how younger players cope with the pressure.

“The Wankhede is a beautiful stadium, a lovely place to play. I’m also really excited to see the sort of crowds we get. Hopefully, the support that we got during WPL earlier this year continues. And hopefully, we can silence the crowd if there is one,” said Knight.

“India are a brilliant team and have some world class players. They’re going to be tough to face in their home conditions. We’ll have to communicate well within the group and adapt to the conditions quickly. We’ve got players who have the experience of handling these conditions, which will be valuable.”

England will be boosted by the return of left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone, the No.1 bowler in ODIs and T20s. The 24-year-old had dislocated her right shoulder during the Women’s Hundred in August.

“Sophie will be fit and firing,” said Knight. “She’s doing really well. There may be some nervousness while fielding in terms of trusting the body, but I don’t think bowling will be an issue for her. We’ll keep a close eye on her because she’s a very important player for us.”

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