Year-ender 2018: India women’s team review: Controversial end to breakout year

The dominance of Australia and England over the women’s game had somewhat been mitigated in the year 2017 when India made it to the final of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, and the rise of the women’s game through the Women’s Big Bash League in particular has given the game a great fillip.

On the back of individual players breaking new ground, Indian women’s cricket appears to have turned a corner in the year 2018, even though in some crucial moments they let the opportunity for silverware slip. And yet, that wasn’t the highlight of the year that was for Indian women’s cricket, as their semi-final exit from the ICC Women’s World T20 brought to surface tensions bubbling within the system.

After beginning the year with a 2-1 ODI series victory in South Africa, the women’s team was whitewashed at home by Australia, won against England, surrendered their stranglehold on the Asia Cup, and then exited the World T20 in the West Indies that was followed by a public spat between coach Ramesh Powar and senior player Mithali Raj.

Despite the controversial end to 2018, Indian women’s cricket grew by leaps and bounds thanks to the BCCI introducing central contracts, handing out Grade A contracts to their senior-most players, while more teams introduced in the domestic cricket set-up only signals more opportunities for budding cricketers from across the country. The addition of live coverage of women’s cricket matches has given India’s women’s cricket stalwarts the opportunity to reach millions of homes in India, as they continue to make their mark even in domestic leagues across the world.

2018 record

ODIs: P 12 W 6 L 6

Ranking: 3

T20Is: P 25 W 16 L 7 NR 2

Ranking: 5

High:

The year may have started on a strong note collectively, but the biggest personal milestone for an Indian woman cricketer has to trump their series victory in South Africa. Smriti Mandhana, all of 22, ended the year as ICC’s Women’s Player of the Year. A year after Harmanpreet Kaur had taken India to the final of the Women’s World Cup with an innings for the ages, Mandhana came along to score 699 runs during the year, becoming only the second Indian after Jhulan Goswami to be awarded the honour.

Smriti Mandhana was named ICC Women's Cricketer of the Year.
Smriti Mandhana was named ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year. (Image: ICC)

In addition to her exploits in ODIs, Mandhana also had a terrific run in T20 internationals, in which she scored another 622 runs, and was named captain of the ICC T20I Team of the Year.

Low:

They may have been upstaged by Bangladesh in the final of the Women’s Asia Cup earlier in 2018, but that wasn’t the biggest loss for the Indian women’s team that year, as a major public fallout between the team management and players followed their semi-final exit from the 2018 ICC Women’s World T20 competition in the Caribbean.

Former Indian captain and their senior-most batter, Mithali Raj, was dropped from the semi-final that they eventually lost to England following an inexplicable batting collapse, that led to coach Powar resigning from his position. A public war of words between former captain Raj and coach Powar made matters worse, as details of a coup sparked by Harmanpreet and Mandhana emerged.

Former Indian men’s team opener WV Raman was appointed coach of the women’s team towards the end of 2018, hoping that he would be able to bring India’s start players on the same page as they build towards the ICC Women’s Championship in New Zealand in early 2019.

Top performer:

Even as her role in the controversy during the Women’s World Cup emerged, Mandhana easily outshone any other member of the Indian women’s team by walking away with the ICC Women’s Player of the Year. Mandhana received the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Award on the back of a breakout year in international cricket, that saw her score 669 ODI runs at an average of 66.90 and 622 T20 runs at a strike-rate of over 130. Her stunning form also fetched her the ICC Women’s ODI Player of the Year Award.

Mandhana’s form in domestic cricket wasn’t too shabby either, as she stroked her way to 421 runs in England’s Kia Super League, another record, but her century against South Africa at the beginning of the year was series-clinching.

On the wane: Mithali Raj's future is uncertain.
On the wane: Mithali Raj’s future is uncertain.

Fading star:

A disappointing run at the ICC Women’s World T20 saw her being dropped from the semi-final against England, which India lost eventually, but Mithali Raj’s stocks fell through the ranks thanks to the public spat she had with then coach Ramesh Powar. India’s senior-most batter appears to have fallen out of favour with some of her team-mates as well.

Lined up in 2019:

January: 3 ODIs vs New Zealand Women (away)