Six players to watch out for in the Women's T20 Challenge

The Women's T20 Challenge returns to India, and on the cricket calendar, after (inexplicably) dropping a season since the third and last edition, in the UAE in November 2020. From the 12 overseas imports and 13 uncapped Indians named in the three-team event, ESPNcricinfo picks six players to watch out for as the 2022 installment kicks off in Pune on May 23.

Kiran Navgire

The buzz around the 27-year-old batting allrounder from Maharashtra is that the upcoming Women's T20 Challenge could be what the 2019 edition was for Shafali Verma and women's cricket in India: as much an advertisement of individual big-hitting abilities as of the collective world-class talent pool waiting to be discovered in the country.

Not one bit of the burgeoning weight of expectations around Navgire, as with Shafali three summers ago, is misplaced. Last month, Navgire's 76-ball 162 in Nagaland's opening game of the Senior Women's T20 Trophy etched her name in records books as the first Indian to score more than 150 in a T20.

Granted, the opposition were Arunachal Pradesh, a fledgling domestic side like Nagaland who debuted only in the 2018-19 season, but Navgire's 35 sixes and 54 fours in seven innings in her chart-topping 525 runs in the tournament provided a measure of the power-hitting potential the former athletics medallist carries.

If Navgire can replicate some of her batting pyrotechnics for Velocity - she has already been showcasing plenty of it at training, confirmed captain Deepti Sharma on Saturday - the MS Dhoni fan is sure to make heads turn.

Alana King

The Australia wristspinner's breakout year just keeps getting better. Impactful international debuts across formats in an Ashes-winning campaign in January-February. A maiden World Cup appearance that culminated in Australia reclaiming the 50-overs champions' throne. Elevation to the country's top 15 roster that saw her break into the central contracts pool last month. And, now, a return to the country of her Anglo-Indian parents' birth as the sole representative from Australia across the three squads.

The 26-year-old could be a handful on the MCA Stadium's black-soil surface, which has traditionally assisted spinners. That, provided she gets the nod ahead of Sune Luus, the second overseas frontline legspinner in Supernovas led by Harmanpreet Kaur, who ranks with more established batting credentials.

The joint fifth-highest wicket-taker in WBBL 2021-22 and Australia's standout bowler with 3 for 64 in their rout of England in the ODI World Cup final last month, King majorly relies on variations in trajectories and imparting the ball a good rip. Her tandem with England left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone could be a winning combination for two-time champions Supernovas.

Sujata Mallik
The medium pacer from Bhubaneswar is one of the two Odisha players, alongside offspinner Priyanka Priyadarshini, in Smriti Mandhana's Trailblazers. A four-season East Zone campaigner and a veteran of over 12 years for her state's senior side, Mallik was the second-leading wicket-taker in the Senior Women's T20 Trophy, where Odisha lost to eventual champions Railways in the semi-final.

The presence of India internationals Arundhati Reddy and Renuka Singh might consign the uncapped Mallik, who opens the bowling for Odisha, to the bench in the Women's T20 Challenge. That's down to the make-up of the competition, which allows for a maximum of two matches for each side in the round-robin stage. But the 28-year-old's red-hot form, her knack for swinging the ball away from right-hand batters, keeps her in contention for a match or two.

At the highest level of cricket she has been selected for, an unlikely place in the defending champions' starting XI could, as Mallik tells ESPNcricinfo, be the "doorway to a brighter and more stable future after years of toil and struggle as the breadwinner" of her family.

Sophia Dunkley

The batting allrounder has established herself as a key cog in England's wheel in the past year. Having made her international debut in 2018, Dunkley has gone from strength to strength since a breakout performance in the longer-formats leg of the multi-format home series against India last summer.

She was the highest run-getter for Southern Brave in the inaugural Hundred that followed soon after and showcased her ability to switch gears during her vital 60 in a century stand with Danni Wyatt in the ODI World Cup semi-final against South Africa. In the recently concluded FairBreak Invitational T20 tournament in Dubai, she struck a blistering 73-ball unbeaten 123 in the third-place playoff, stealing the thunder from Deandra Dottin's 53-ball 111.

Her part-time legspin fetched her six wickets in seven innings in that tournament, and it won't be a surprise if her Trailblazers captain and Brave team-mate, Mandhana, deploys Dunkley's all-round skills in what is the 23-year-old's maiden bow in the Women's T20 Challenge.

V Chandu
The right-arm offspinner topped Karnataka's wicket chart at the Senior Women's T20 Trophy, with eight strikes, a five-for included, in five innings at an average of 14.97 and economy rate of 6.69. She has been a regular on the state team since the 2014-15 season and often shoulders new-ball duties.

Daughter to a ward boy and a housemaid, 27-year-old Chandu, like India internationals Veda Krishnamurthy, Vanitha VR, and Karuna Jain, is a product of the Karnataka Institute of Cricket. Her selection in the Supernovas squad comes on the back of a consistent run across limited-overs cricket in the domestic circuit.

In the Senior 50-over Challenger Trophy last December, the India B bowler finished as the leading wicket-taker. A month earlier, she was joint second on the wicket-takers' list in the Senior One Day Trophy, guiding Karnataka to a runners-up finish with 14 strikes in six innings, narrowly missing out on a hat-trick in her five-for against Saurashtra in that tournament.

Natthakan Chantham

Thailand's first-ever half-centurion in a World Cup was relegated to the No. 9 position in the batting line-up in her former side Trailblazers' title-clinching win against Supernovas in 2020. Yet, Chantham left an indelible mark on that edition with an astonishing, four-saving cartwheel-like fielding exhibit at the boundary.

In her second Women's T20 Challenge season, Chantham gears up to turn out for Velocity, with her former Trailblazers team-mate Deepti leading the side. She carries impressive nick into the tournament thanks to her 163 runs, a fifty included, at an average of nearly 33 in six innings for semi-finalists Spirit at the FairBreak Invitational.

A memorable outing for Velocity should make more fulfilling what's set to be an extended stay in India for the 26-year-old top-order batter, for she will link up with her Thailand team-mates and Indian national coach, Harshal Pathak, for offseason preparatory camps in Pune and Puducherry after the Women's T20 Challenge.