India women remain in limbo as BCCI looks set to postpone Australia tour

The premier Indian women cricketers will likely next play international cricket in February BCCI

India women's proposed tour of Australia in January 2021 looks set to be rescheduled to later in the year, extending the uncertainty that's plagued the team's international schedule since the cancellation of the tour of England in July. The development will mean that India, runners-up in the last ODI and T20 World Cups, are going to be out of action for over ten months, their last international match being the final of the T20 World Cup on March 8, 2020.

In May, Cricket Australia had announced that it would host India for three ODIs - on January 22, 25, and 28 - as part of the build-up to the 2021 50-over World Cup in New Zealand, originally scheduled for February 2021. But concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic led to the tournament being deferred to March 2022.

A cricket.com.au article last week stated: "Australia's next international engagement remains up in the air, with no confirmation that a planned three-game ODI series against India - scheduled as preparation for the now-delayed World Cup - will go ahead in January." ESPNcricinfo understands that, as a result of the deferment, the BCCI didn't want to stick to the schedule - India are one of five teams to have qualified directly for the tournament.

As things stand, India will at best take the field next in February, if a limited-overs assignment against Sri Lanka, presently being discussed between the two boards, does take place - either at home or away. A series against South Africa, most likely at home, in April or May is also being considered, and an update could come from the BCCI's annual general meeting on December 24.

Though the BCCI has hosted the IPL, in the UAE, with a four-match Women's T20 Challenge alongside the playoffs, and the men's team is currently on tour in Australia, there has been no official word on the women's team since the country first went into lockdown, in March. In February-March next year, the England men's team will come to India for the first international cricket in the country since March, while the domestic Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament will start on January 10.

Shanta Rangaswamy, the former India women's captain and current member of the BCCI's apex council, stressed on the increased financial investment that hosting teams during the pandemic entail.

"If a bio-bubble can be created for the England men's team, they can do it for a women's team also," Rangaswamy told ESPNcricinfo. "But it will be an expensive affair - creation of bio-bubbles. So, they will look at the economics of it before taking a call. But I'm positive that the BCCI office-bearers will not hesitate to spend on the development of the game."

What about the women's domestic matches?

Rangaswamy was optimistic that after the completion of the Mushtaq Ali tournament, the senior women's domestic season, too, might resume, tentatively in February.

"In our last apex council meeting, we had suggested that both the senior women's and the age-group tournaments be staged around that time [early February]," Rangaswamy said. "Hopefully the pandemic wouldn't set us back any further on the execution of those plans because the caseload in India is so high you can't risk players' safety."

But, as ESPNcricinfo has found out, the BCCI is some way from committing to resuming any domestic cricket beyond the senior men's competition/s.

Such an eventuality could also have a bearing on the preparations of players hoping to find spots in the squad for the inaugural women's Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, which the ICC is considering slotting into the second half of 2021.