As the Women’s Challenger Trophy ended in Mulapadu, Andhra Pradesh on January 6, one realized the tournament presented a lot of promising cricketers.
The competitively-fought series played a key role for both the upcoming talent as well as national players.
While most of the national players were rested, the younger, fresh talents got an opportunity to showcase their mettle.
Moreover, the matches were televised as well as live streamed which was indeed a great initiative by the BCCI. This helped them perform their heart out, learn how to handle pressure and get a sense of what it is to compete at the highest international stage.
The goosebumps, the thrills, and above all- the opportunity to flourish- these are the moments that have it all. Courtesy the Women’s Challenger Trophy, both spectators and the rising names find themselves engaged in a closely contested fight, the spectator having the pleasure to soak up every emotion and relating to both sides.
That said, who were the players that made it count?
One of the best finds of the tournament was undoubtedly Manali Dakshini, who rescued India Blue, who at one stage were 24 for 8 to 130/9.
And wait, this was just the beginning. She would guide them to a thrilling one-wicket win over India Red in the First match of the tournament.
She found support in Tanuja Kanwer and Reemalaxmi Ekka.
Having chosen to bat first, Shikha Pandey, a familiar figure of inspiration for the Indian team found her decision to be working almost immediately. This was when N Anusha and Harleen Deol added 39 runs for the second-wicket stand.
Soon after, the narrative would change.
Thanks to the oddity of four run outs, including those of the experienced captain, Pandey herself and Veda Krishnamurthy, that too within six balls, would see the plan going down the drain.
India Red lost their last four wickets inside 28 runs and ended up putting 129 on board.
While chasing 130, Blue were in a miserable state after Komal Zanzad and Radha Yadav picked up three wickets each and they reduced to 24 for 8. Dakshini came into bat when the team was 24/8. At first, she made a 58-stable partnership with Kanwer for the ninth wicket and then the valuable 48-run partnership with Ekka for the last wicket while holding her nerves. Ekka hit the only six of the match, hit the winning runs as well and took Blue home with 25 balls to spare.
In the second match between India Blue and India Green, again Manali Dakshini played a crucial role, this time with the ball. Having chosen to bat first, Green got the big blow in the fourth over when Mansi Joshi- hopefully a player one would see regularly starting 2019- picked up Tejal Hasabnis.
Soon Dakshini handed a second breakthrough to her team.
Hemalatha Dayalan and Mona Meshram steadied the partnership but Dakshini would strike again and their economical spells would restrict India Green to 149 on board.
India Blue once again faced a top-order collapse after Priya Punia’s walked back but not before compiling a well-fought 41.
The pressure fell upon Bharti Fulmali and Tanushree Sarkar, who would both remain unbeaten on 45 and 27, respectively and shared a 72-run stand to register a six-wicket win with 10.5 overs to spare, securing their side’s spot in the final.
Moving on, there was no dearth in action.
While India Green showed a poor fielding in the second match, they improved really well in the third match. India Red’s Harleen Deol became the first batter to score a half-century in the Challenger Trophy but failed to capitalize that into a big one. Deol and N Anusha’s 102-run partnership ended in Deol’s dismissal for 57 which brought Veda Krishnamurthy on the crease. Her 46-ball 35 helped to set India Green a target of 200.
Chasing 200, India Green were bowled out for 189 in 49.3 overs. They lost their opener, Shefali Verma, very cheaply. Later Tejal Hasabnis and D Hemalatha came to their side’s rescue and made an 83-run stand. The duo scored half-centuries as well but they couldn’t anchor the innings till the end as the other batters failed to capitalize. India Red won the match by 11 runs and secured their place in the final.
In the final, India Red captain Shikha Pandey’s 5 for 33 made all the difference and India Red won by 15 runs. Put into bat, India Red started off really well but suffered a collapse in the middle-order. Deol’s 42, Krishnamurthy’s 62-ball 46 and Pandey’s 56-ball 31 ensured that they put up a decent competitive total. They ended up scoring 183 in 49.2 overs.
Chasing 184, India Blue captain Punam Raut was first to fall. Then Pandey took Minnu Mani, and Priya Punia soon joined her after hitting Pandey’s delivery straight to Tarannum Pathan at mid-off. Bharti Fulmali tried her best to steady the ship but apart from Dakshini, others failed to contribute much. Fulmali and Dakshini added 39-run before Pandey struck again. She picked up Fulmali (69) and this time after scoring 31 off 41, Dakshini too failed to anchor the innings till the end as she was the last wicket for India Blue who got dismissed.
If it was Manali Dakshini for Blue, Tanuja Kanwer, Reemalaxmi Ekka, Hemalatha Dayalan, Harleen Deol, Bharati Fulmali, Tanusree Sarkar, Komal Zanzad, are the players who didn’t miss an opportunity to impress the selectors. While Harleen Deol became the highest run-getter with 119 runs, Bharti Fulmali just 5 runs short and second in the list. Though her knock of 69 in the final was for losing cause, that impressed everyone. It was the highest individual score of the tournament this year as well. Hemalatha Dayalan too was pretty impressive as well with her all-round performances.
Bengal’s Tanusree Sarkar is another fresh talent who has the ability to turn the tables with both bat and ball.
She can bat in any position and can provide breakthroughs as well. Her 27 off 50 in the 2nd match and 3 for 22 in the final was the example of her ability. Komal Zanzad is another talented player who picked three leg before in her first over during the 1st match against India Blue with her left-arm swing bowling. Having made her senior debut in 2006-07, she came into limelight after her 9 for 8 against Haryana in the last season’s One-Day Plate Quarterfinal. Her ability to strike when needed, supported Shikha Pandey well in the final, which was needed.
Along with them, Shikha Pandey’s precise leadership and forthrightness in the final was eye-catching.
She would scalp 5 wickets for 33 runs which is the second-best figure in the Women’s Challenger Trophy so far.
Veda Krishnamurthy too tried to give her best after she was dropped from the national team for the upcoming New Zealand tour.
She was consistent, which is well, what was precisely needed at a time where one of the most promising names in the Indian team found herself dropped from the unit. She’d contribute 108 from 3 games.
Her 46 off 62 in the final showed how dangerous a bat can Veda possibly be.
This tournament ended on a high note with the focus shifting on to the Senior Women’s T20 League, that begins on February 20.
Moreover, there are no full-stops from there as India are set to travel to New Zealand for their three-match ODI series and as many T20s that commence from January 24.