Regular knock out defeats at global events gives rise to serious questions
The edgy mind is fighting its own demons and reaching the coveted destination even before the journey is complete. It happened in London, Melbourne, Birmingham and now Cape Town.
The old adage "there's many a slip between cup and the lip" fits the Indian women's team to the 'T'.
After another emotionally exhausting semi-final defeat, what seems to be more disconcerting is that it is no longer a singular slip but multiple slip-ups. It indicates a distinct pattern of not being able to hold one's nerve during key moments.
The final appearance at the 2017 ODI World Cup revolutionised women's cricket in India. The national side was expected to build on that result and challenge the hegemony of Australia but six years later, it continues to wait for an elusive world title.
India found themselves in familiar territory in the T20 World Cup semifinal against Australia on Thursday. They were on course for a famous win but following a bizarre run out of skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, they imploded and the result was another heartbreaking loss.
Since the 2017 final loss against England, India's defeats in knock-outs have come in the 2018 T20 World Cup semifinals (England again), the previous T20 World Cup final at the MCG and Commonwealth Games gold medal match last year (both against Australia).
Factoring in the inconsistent cricket played by India in the league stage, the Harmanpreet Kaur-led side did well to push the Aussies to the limit.
Despite being poor in the field and ordinary with the ball, India managed to be in the game, largely due to the individual brilliance of the skipper and Jemimah Rodrgiues.
The question that begs to be answered is that why does India keep coming short in high pressure games? Is is it the selection, is it the fitness that has led to shoddy fielding, is it the tactics or is it something else?
Curious case of misfielding and poor catching
Fielding coach Shubhadeep Ghosh has a lot answer for India's efforts in the field on Thursday when Australia went on to add at least 25-30 runs due to the missed chances in the field.
Shafali Verma, who has not been able to improve her fielding since making her debut in 2019, dropped a dolly off a well-set Beth Mooney and wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh missed a regular stumping off Meg Lanning, who went on to punish India in the death overs.
"The World Cup winning India U-19 squad looked much fitter and sharper on the field. I bet most of the senior cricketers will not be able to pass the yo yo test (a mandatory requirement in the men's team). With poor fitness, one can't expect the players to field well," former India captain Diana Edulji said.
Both Shafali and Richa bring a lot to the table as power-hitters but they must improve in the field. "They can't afford to make the mistakes they made against Australia," added Edulji.
Strike-rate of batters not good enough for T20s
Shafali, Deepti Sharma, Yastika Bhatia and skipper Harmanpreet had a strike rate of less than 110 in the tournament. In the modern game, anything less than 130 is not considered good enough.
Star batter Smriti Mandhana batted at a healthy strike rate of 138.5 but was not consistent. Shafali is undergoing a prolonged lean patch and bowlers continue to exploit her weakness against the short-ball as she is unable to correct the flaws in her game.
She relies too much on boundary hitting and ends up consuming a high percentage of dot balls. Perhaps time has come to give opener S Meghana an extended run.
Power-hitting is not just a pre-requisite in the men's game, it has become as important in the women's game. Richa has excelled in that department and may be she is better off playing as a specialist batter with the wicket-keeping responsibility assigned to someone like Taniya Bhatia.
The seasoned Deepti Sharma must reinvent her batting to stay relevant in the shortest format.
Spinners disappoint again
Not so long ago, the spinners were considered as the team's biggest strength but they have gone off the boil of late and looked pedestrian in the World Cup.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad went wicketless in the tournament while Deepti and Radha Yadav too failed to rise to the occasion in the games against England and Australia.
Renuka Singh was the lone bright spot in the pace department with Shikha Pandey not doing anything noticeable in her comeback event.
The lack of pace options is also an area of concern with left-arm pacer Anjali Sarvani not considered good enough to start in even one game. Meghna Singh has been kept on the sidelines and was among three reserves in South Africa. She deserves a longer run.
The advent of Women's Premier League is expected to unearth more talent for the Indian team.
Permanent roles for coaching staff
The BCCI could do away with the trend of NCA coaches working with the women's team on a short-term basis.
Troy Cooley was part of the side in South Africa as a bowling coach while Hrishikesh Kanitkar was appointed as the batting coach of the side two months before the World Cup with head coach Ramesh Powar being removed and sent to NCA as a part of "restructuring process".
The board must appoint full time coaches going forward so they have enough time execute their plans for the team.
Though Powar's involvement with the team did not lead to roaring success, he being sacked months before a World Cup was not an ideal scenario. He had fallen out of favour with captain not wanting him in the side.
"The captain cannot be given absolute powers to run the team. Coaches have to be appointed on a long-term basis and senior players must work them rather than calling all the shots by themselves," said a former player.
With nothing to show in their tenure, the buck also stops with the Neetu David-led selection panel.
"With the next T20 World Cup just 18 months away, they must start preparing now," said Edulji.