India suffered a blow ahead of their three-match ODI series against South Africa with Smriti Mandhana ruled out through a fractured toe picked up during a training session. She has been replaced in the squad by 20-year-old seam-bowling all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar.
Head coach Woorkeri Raman confirmed the severity of the injury was not yet known, potentially placing Mandhana’s involvement in India’s tour of the West Indies at risk. “The call will be taken after assessment by the physios in the NCA and we’ll take it as it comes along. It’s difficult to fix a timeline right away. She still needs to get an MRI done, for that the swelling has to reduce. So once that is done, an assessment will be done by the head physio at NCA,” he said. India’s tour of the West Indies, which sees them play three ODIs and five T20Is, begins on November 1 in Antigua.
Mandhana’s replacement may raise some eyebrows, with it not being a like-for-like swap, but Raman explained the decision as being an investigation of the depth of talent available to the team as well as making use of the depth already present in the squad.
“We do have a reserve opener in Priya Punia, if Smriti was fit I don’t think she would have been playing. So that base is covered. And we also tried to see the kind of all-round talent that we have. That’s the reason why she [Vastrakar] is being drafted in,” he said. Priya Punia is set to open in the absence of Mandhana
Captain Mithali Raj echoed Raman’s comments, suggesting Mandhana’s injury could be a chance for other players to stake a claim for a spot in the team. “It is an opportunity for someone like Priya Punia to utilise it. It’s also an opportunity for the team to give a new player a chance,” Mithali added.