A 14-member squad selected by the Bahrain Cricket Federation (BCF) for the 2022 Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Women’s T20 Championship, which starts later this month, could potentially cause a few upsets against more experienced, stronger sides in the 10-nation tournament, the team’s head coach said.
“We’re the newest international team taking part in the competition,” Prabodha Arthavidu told the GDN after the BCF announced the squad yesterday. “Of course, it will be a challenge, but T20 is a wonderful, unpredictable format. Our girls have come along in leaps and bounds in just a few months, so, there’s no telling what they could produce on their day.”
The week-long tournament will also serve as a qualifying round for the 2022 ACC Women’s Asia Cup scheduled for October in Bangladesh. The two finalists in the championship will qualify for the main draw of the Asia Cup.
Bahrain have been slotted in Group B, along with Nepal, Hong Kong, Kuwait and Bhutan. Hosts Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Qatar and Singapore are in Group A.
The team’s first match is against Kuwait on June 17, the opening day of the tournament, Arthavidu said.
“We beat them convincingly in the GCC Women’s Twenty20 Cup in Oman last March,” he added. “So we will be hoping to repeat that performance in Malaysia. If we get the basics right, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to beat them again.”
The team will be led by former Sri Lanka international, Deepika Rasangika Herath, who already has her name in the record books after she smashed 161 not out, the highest ever individual women’s T20I score, against Saudi Arabia in the GCC Cup just two months ago. Thanks to her heroics, Bahrain finished with 318/1 off their 20 overs to set another world record: the highest team total in women’s T20Is.
Herath’s compatriot, Tharanga Gajanayake, who captained the team in the GCC Cup and contributed a stellar 94 not out in an unbroken 255-run partnership for the second wicket in that match, will be her deputy this time around. Bahrain narrowly missed qualifying for the semi-finals in their first-ever appearance in an International Cricket Council (ICC)-sanctioned tournament.
“Deepika, who played international cricket for her country, and Tharanga, who played domestic cricket in Sri Lanka, will obviously bring their experience to bear in their leadership roles,” Arthavidu explained. “But the rest of the girls we’ve selected are talented, driven and eager to learn. Playing in this tournament, with qualification for the Asia Cup at stake, will be a huge learning experience for them.
It would be extremely beneficial for women’s cricket in the kingdom going forward, he added, considering the country didn’t even have a women’s national team until January 2022.
“The key factor in this T20 championship will be confidence and self-belief,” Arthavidu said. “We identified several areas in Oman that we needed to work on and what we needed to address. We’ve been working on micro-skills and the girls are beginning to understand their roles. They’re improving rapidly in key areas and are perfect role models on and off the field.”
Also, since all the team members were essentially weekend amateurs with South Asian roots, the level of professionalism they had begun to display was encouraging, he added.
“It all bodes well, and promises much, for the future,” Arthavidu continued. “We have some really good, naturally gifted players in this squad. One definitely for the future is 15-year-old Pooruvaja Jagadeesha. She has so much talent. Ishara Maduwanthi, who is a top-order batter and our back-up wicketkeeper, is another one to watch out for.”
The rapid pace at which women’s cricket has developed in a matter of months in the kingdom has already seen Bahrain win a prestigious ICC regional award. In April, the country was given the ICC’s Female Cricket Initiative of the Year Award for the Middle East, for ‘Building a robust community of women cricketers’. The award acknowledges an outstanding female, cricket-focused initiative delivered by an ICC Associate Member to promote the game, either through a physical participation programme or a digitally delivered game development initiative during the year.
“That was highly encouraging,” Arthavidu said. “Just look at the sequence of events that led to the award: the first women’s league was formed in December. More than 200 women registered for the club-based competition and stand-out performers were in the team for the GCC Cup where they created history by becoming the first Bahraini women’s team to play a T20I.”
The rapid changes have also occurred because the BCF was rebranded and reconstituted in late 2021. Led by president Hatim Dadabai, the BCF has embarked on a structured, nuanced plan to develop the game from the grassroots by introducing school competitions, setting up different age-level, and other, tournaments for both men and women and launching a drive to increase the participation of more locals in the sport.
“It is all because of teamwork, at every level,” Arthavidu explained. “And, now, we’re at a point where our women’s team is going to be competing against some very good, very experienced teams in a major regional tournament.
“Also, the commitment of our players is outstanding. Some are mothers to small children and have requested their mothers, or mothers-in-law, to help look after the little ones while they’re away, playing for the national team. I think that tells you all about how dedicated this group of players is!”