Indian aces all in for WBBL Sydney derby

Rob Forsaith and Scott BaileyAAP
Shafali Verma plans to sledge Indian teammate Smriti Mandhana (pic) in Saturday's WBBL derby.
Camera IconShafali Verma plans to sledge Indian teammate Smriti Mandhana (pic) in Saturday's WBBL derby. Credit: AAP

Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma, the key factors why many are tipping India to dominate women's cricket in years to come, have a clear idea of where they stand on the eve of Saturday's WBBL derby.

"We might do some sledging in Hindi, so nobody understands," Mandhana laughs.

Verma is in step with her mentor.

"I want to get her ... and sledging her, it will be good," the 17-year-old quipped.

Mandhana, whose recent 127 set a new record for the highest women's Test score by a foreign player in Australia, and Deepti Sharma are spearheading Sydney Thunder's title defence this summer.

The Sydney Sixers boast Verma, the prodigy who bettered Sachin Tendulkar's mark to become the youngest Indian to score a half-century in international cricket, and Radha Yadav on their books.

Verma's oft-told story, of being rejected by Rohtak youth academies because of her gender then winning 'man of the series' at a tournament after cutting her hair and pretending to be a boy, is remarkable but also indicative.

Women's cricket in India has not been embraced or supported, institutionally or ideologically, anywhere near as much as Australia and its recent march toward professionalism.

Yet the side still held its own throughout the recent multi-format series in Queensland, snapping Australia's 26-match ODI winning streak, and were the only team to defeat Australia at the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup.

As the youngsters gain more exposure to competitions like the WBBL, and fewer players are lost to archaic gender norms, there is a sense India have all the makings of a juggernaut.

The key, as it so often is throughout this sport, is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

If the BCCI, having this year agreed to schedule just the second Australia-India women's Test since 1991, were to push for more matches and tip further resources in then it would likely have a seismic effect throughout the world.

Such discussion generally revolves around establishing a women's edition of the Indian Premier League, the BCCI's monolithic money-spinner that has also done wonders for the depth and confidence of Virat Kohli's team.

The BCCI launched an annual women's T20 exhibition series in 2018, on the sidelines of the IPL, but it was postponed this year because of COVID-19.

"Hopefully we can we can have a women's IPL as soon as possible," Mandhana told AAP.

"It's obviously whenever the BCCI decides.

"But it will help the Indian team to win more matches, for sure."

Verma agreed, with her potent opening partnership with Sixers superstar Alyssa Healy being a classic example of the upside offered by T20 leagues.

"We're just talking with each other about which balls we think are loose and should go to the boundary," Verma said.

"When I am struggling, I work with her. She is good and always backs me.

"To play with senior players and legends of Australian cricket, like Healy and (Ellyse) Perry, is good for me and I can learn so much.

"Last year I watched WBBL and it was my aim to play ... they (leagues) are so good for women's cricket."

Saturday's Launceston clash featuring Mandhana, Sharma, Verma and Yadav will involve half of India's eight-strong contingent involved in this WBBL season.

Mandhana is the eldest at age 25, underlining how the benefits of the coming weeks should extend far beyond India's bid to win next year's ODI World Cup for the first time.

"The conditions are pretty similar to New Zealand but it's also just the number of games; 14 quality games is going to add a lot of experience," Mandhana said.

"Especially for all the girls playing in the WBBL for the first time, it's going to really add up.

"When we go to the World Cup, I'm sure those girls will be more confident.

"It's going to be pretty good for the Indian team going forward."

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