Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 preview: Watch out for Renuka Thakur’s bowling, Tahlia McGrath’s all-round skills, Pakistan’s lower-order hitters

Just weeks after the Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup culminated in the Indian women’s team winning their first ever ICC trophy at any age group, another Indian team will be in the fray to return home from South Africa with a World Cup trophy.

Ahead of the first match of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup — a tournament replete with storylines and potential newsmakers — here are the biggest talking points:

Renuka Thakur to be India’s X Factor?

Buoyed by the recent triumph of India’s Under-19 women’s team at the T20 World Cup and the eye-grabbing figures shelled out for broadcast and franchise rights of the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL), India are better placed to win their first senior ICC title than ever before.

The standout performers for the Women in Blue are likely to be the batters: with the experience and ability of Smriti Mandhana and skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, and the confidence and explosiveness of U-19 champs Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh. But it will be the bowling that will be a test of India’s title credentials.

Off-spinner Deepti Sharma may be the reliable hand, but the bouncy wickets in South Africa will need a fast bowler to lead the attack. Renuka Thakur has proved in the past year that she is up to the task. While her average and economy rate may be on the higher side, wicket-taking with the new ball will be critical, and in that aspect, Renuka’s record speaks for itself. With 23 scalps from 24 T20Is since the start of 2022, she has more wickets than any other fast-bowler in the world. She will need to be in top form if India are to put up a realistic title charge.

Tahlia McGrath could stand out among Australia’s stars

Australia have lost only one T20I since January 2022 — in a Super Over thriller against India in Mumbai. Having won every ICC title since 2017, along with a Commonwealth Games gold, it is hard to see past them as the overwhelming favourites for another trophy.

In a squad replete with stars, including returning captain Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy, as well as in-form Beth Mooney and Ellyse Perry, it could be all-rounder Tahlia McGrath, who could be the most vital cog in their winning machine.

A true three-way threat, McGrath can hit the deck hard with the ball, and hit the ball hard and flat with the bat — both attributes that are likely to be aided by South African conditions, which, bizarrely, Australia will be new to having never played a series there before.

A fast-bowling allrounder will be critical in South Africa, and McGrath’s numbers — she has averaged 57.87 with the bat and 14.15 with the ball in 18 T20Is since January 2022 –- speak volumes on why she could be critical.

Fitness test puts SA’s home campaign under spotlight

South Africa’s home campaign was derailed by controversy after the coach, Hilton Moreeng, decided to leave out their captain Dane van Niekerk from the squad because she failed a fitness test — a 2km time-trial run — by 18 seconds.

The drawback is not just losing the captain, but also upsetting the star player: van Niekerk’s wife, all-rounder Marizanne Kapp.

Kapp took 12 wickets and scored 203 runs to lead South Africa to the semifinal of the ODI World Cup. The Proteas will want her to replicate that form in the World T20, even though she has not played much in the past year. The controversy has put into question the headspace Kapp will arrive in, after missing the last few matches due to ‘compassionate leave’ following her wife’s omission.

At a home World Cup, scrutiny will be even more heightened and could put a dent in their entire campaign.

Pakistan’s lower-order power-hitters

The record of Pakistani women in major tournaments is quite poor. They have never made it out of the group stage of a T20 World Cup. Despite being in the easier group, changing that record looks like a difficult task.

Captain Bismah Maroof is a dependable runscorer at the top of the innings, but if the Pakistan side are to spring a surprise or two, they will rely heavily on power hitters lower down the order.

36-year-old Nida Dar is as explosive as she is experienced, making her a dependable finisher, striking at an average of 45.44 in T20Is in the past year. Ayesha Naseem is exactly half her age, but just as crucial.

The 18-year-old does not have a flourishing career yet, but six-hitting ability sets her apart. Her memorable 83-metre six against Australia last month was one of the longest in women’s cricket history, and her 13th since January 2022. She is one to watch out for.

England embrace youth, aggression

Nat-Sciver Brunt’s return from her mental health break last year, and the timely purple patch of the likes of Danni Watt and Sophia Dunkley have boosted England’s batting lineup significantly. Katherine Sciver-Brunt, in the final World Cup of her career, will provide the bowling some much-needed experience.

But it will the return of 18-year-old Alice Capsey, after needing surgery for a collar bone injury in December, and the turn of form of 22-year-old quick Lauren Bell, that will give them the edge.

Bell was trusted through and through with the new ball in England’s recent series against West Indies, and her nine wickets at an average below 10, proved just how useful she was. With accumulators at the top, England are in need of a middle-order aggressor to stich the innings together, and Capsey’s explosiveness and ability to rotate the strike well fit the bill perfectly.

In a reset under coach Jon Lewis, England have a newfound aggressive approach — not unlike the men’s team — and bowlers like Bell and batters like Capsey are crucial to it.

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