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Women’s T20 World Cup: Harmanpreet fit to play against Pakistan; injured Smriti doubtful, says coach Kanitkar (Ld)

On the eve of India’s opening match in the Women’s T20 World Cup against Pakistan, batting coach Hrishikesh Kanitkar on Saturday said that captain Harmanpreet Kaur is fit to play in Sunday’s highly-anticipated game.

At the same time, Kanitkar also mentioned that vice-captain and left-handed opener Smriti Mandhana is ‘most likely’ going to miss out on India’s tournament opener due to a finger injury which is not related to fracture.

“So Harman is fit to play tomorrow. Smriti has got a finger injury. So, she is still recovering and most likely, she won’t play tomorrow. Harman has batted for the last two days — today and yesterday. So, she is fine. We believe Smriti will play the next game (against West Indies on February 15), it’s a finger injury, she will be fine for the next match,” the coach said in the pre-match press conference.

Harmanpreet had missed both the warm-up matches of India against Australia and Bangladesh after having some concerns with her left shoulder during the tri-series final against South Africa in East London. Smriti, on the other hand, is believed to have picked a finger injury in the warm-up matches.

Kanitkar, who had hit the winning runs for India in the famous 1998 Independence Cup final against Pakistan, feels that the team, who have been in South Africa since mid-January, is very well prepared to square off against the Bismah Maroof-led side.

India have previously lost to Pakistan in 2012 and 2016 T20 World Cup matches. Moreover, India had been on the losing side when Pakistan pulled off an upset 13-run victory in the Women’s Asia Cup last year in Bangladesh.

“You want to be playing the strong teams, the arch-rivals if you can call them that. Few of them have done it in the past, few haven’t. We are totally prepared for what happens, the atmosphere is good,” Kanitkar said.

“Most of them have played Pakistan in the past, they know what can happen and what the atmosphere is like. One of the privileges of playing international cricket is you play matches like these. Everyone is looking forward to it,” he added.

With Sri Lanka registering a surprise three-run win over hosts South Africa in the tournament opener at Newlands on Friday with their spinners taking nine wickets between themselves, India will be banking on their spinners in Deepti Sharma, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Radha Yadav, and Devika Vaidya to do a similar job for them.

“The spinners will have a role. More than the heat, it will be the condition of the pitch. There have been a lot of matches that have taken place here and a lot of T20 cricket has been played here. So, the pitches will help them a lot and yes, that’s a fact.

Pitches in East London were pretty similar to what we get in India, but Cape Town (where India will play first two matches), I am not sure. I watched the match yesterday (Sri Lanka’s win over South Africa) and the pitch looked good. There was some assistance for spin, but it will make for good cricket,” the coach said.

With a historic victory in the ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup coming in South Africa last month, Harmanpreet & Co would be motivated to go one step further from their runners-up finish in the 2020 T20 World Cup and get their hands on the trophy in 2023.

Kanitkar also signalled out wicketkeeper-batter Richa Ghosh, who was a member of the U19 Women’s T20 World Cup winning team in South Africa last month, as an exciting prospect. Though she didn’t have the best of the times in that competition, Richa gave a reminder of her big-hitting abilities through a fabulous 91 not out from 56 balls in the second warm-up match against Bangladesh.

“She’s an exciting prospect. She has a good future in front of her. If she continues to work hard and if all those things go well, and she maintains the right attitude which she has, then sky is the limit,” he said.

Kanitkar signed off by hinting veteran pacer Shikha Pandey will play a huge role in India’s campaign though he didn’t divulge on whether she will be in the playing eleven for Sunday’s match. On a comeback trail, Shikha couldn’t pick a wicket in the tri-series.

“She will play a vital role at some point or the other. Experience does count. Have seen it too many times in the past as well. She is going to make a difference to us. Also, she bats well which many people don’t know. So it works well for us,” the coach said.

After facing Pakistan, India will square off against 2009 champions England, 2016 winners West Indies, and Ireland in the group stage of the competition.

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