Former India Women captains at the celebration of 500 men’s Tests. (L-R) Shantha Rangaswamy, Nilima Joglekar, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Anjum Chopra, Diana Edulji. © BCCI

Shubhangi Kulkarni (centre) along with other prominent India Women cricketers at the men’s team’s 500th Test celebrations – in Kanpur against New Zealand in September 2016. © BCCI

The 2017 Women’s World Cup in England is the 11th edition of the tournament, and the ninth one in which India will feature. Wisden India asks former players – some legends, some out of the spotlight, all vital names in Indian women’s cricket history – to look back on an edition they were a part of, and look ahead to the team’s chances this year.

Shubhangi Kulkarni has worn many hats — as a player and as an administrator — at crucial junctures of the journey of women’s cricket in India. A legspinner, she was instrumental in India Women recording their first-ever Test win, against West Indies Women in Patna in 1976. She also contributed significantly when India won their first-ever One-Day International, at the 1982 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. Here she takes us through India’s campaign in their second World Cup appearance. Excerpts:

Excited with the opportunity
(India had missed the first World Cup in 1973, and lost all their three games in the second edition at home in 1978. The third edition, where each of the five teams played the other four thrice, gave the girls a chance to play 12 games on the trot)

We were pretty excited and happy going to this World Cup because the one we played in India was a very short one. We would have been happy to play 15 matches, had the opportunity arisen. We had toured Australia and New Zealand in 1976, but had not travelled out after that. Whatever facilities we got there was excellent for us because it was not something we were used to back home. Those were the years when women’s cricket had just started, and we were happy to be there at the beginning. I don’t think anybody ever complained about being tired or being exhausted.

If I remember right, there was a shortfall of funds, which either the state association or the individual had to make up for. I am from Pune and Diana (Edulji) is from Mumbai, so we approached the chief minister of Maharashtra and he released some amount.

The moment of glory
(India had not played in an ODI since the 1978 World Cup, and started their campaign with three losses. But then they beat an International XI by 79 runs, and got the better of England by 47 runs in consecutive games)

The best part of that tournament was that we beat England. At that time Australia, New Zealand and England were much better than us because they had started playing much earlier. We weren’t really that experienced.

India in 1982
Standings: Fourth out of five teams
Results: Lost to Australia by 153 runs, lost to England by four wickets, lost to New Zealand by 43 runs, beat International XI by 79 runs, beat England by 47 runs, lost to New Zealand by eight wickets, lost to Australia by four wickets, beat International XI by 78 runs, lost to England by ten wickets, lost to New Zealand by eight wickets, lost to Australia by 39 runs, beat International XI by 14 runs.
Best batter: Fowzieh Khalili, 227 runs in 10 matches
Best bowler: Shubhangi Kulkarni, 20 wickets in 12 matches
Players: Fowzieh Khalili, Shantha Rangaswamy (capt), Anjali Pendharker, Gargi Banerji, Rajeshwari Dholakia, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Diana Edulji, Nilima Jogalekar, Vrinda Bhagat, Lopamudra Bhattacharji, Sharmila Chakraborty, Sujata Sridhar.

I remember how excited we were (after the two wins). Beating England was special; it is not something that we had imagined. The entire team did well. We had tremendous team spirit. Fowzieh Khalili made 88 (as India posted 178 for 7 in 60 overs). It was a very well structured innings. For her to play that kind of innings when we did not have any experience was brilliant. She just focussed on each ball as it came without being hassled by what was happening at the other end. To be a part of the Indian team that won its first Test and first ODI is always an exciting feeling.

Bad day in office
(Chasing 81, India were dismissed for 37 in their third game of the tournament against New Zealand. It was then the lowest total in the history of Women’s ODIs, and remains India’s second lowest till date)

Honestly, I don’t really remember that day. It was a something that was never imagined. It was just nobody’s day. We got outplayed in every sense. We just decided to put that match behind us. We just kept telling ourselves that the next day is a brand new day. Whatever our role was in the team, we focussed on that – just put that match behind and move on and play your next game to your best of ability. That time, there was not too much analysis. We did speak about the game, but soon the focus shifted to playing to our strengths in the next game.

The spin trio’s magic
(Kulkarni and Sharmila Chakraborty ended as the tournament’s third and fourth highest wicket-taker respectively with 20 and 17 wickets. Edulji finished with 15 wickets, as the trio had combined analysis of 52 for 722 in 295 overs)

We did not have too many inputs from coaches and video analysis of opponents, so the focus was to play to our strength. We had the best spinners among all the countries. It was all about bowling a good line and length. We would discuss field placements with our captain, Shantha (Rangaswamy), and then bowl in the right spots.

My strength was that I could spin the bowl quite a bit. So, my aim was to make the batsman play every ball. If we saw a batsman playing a good shot, we would encourage her to play that shot more and get her to make a mistake. Diana was bit more accurate. She would bowl flatter whereas I would toss up the ball, and if I got my line and length right I was devastating.

Both Diana and Sharmila would usually keep one end tied up, while I tossed it up and made the batsman come out and play. I don’t think I have seen any spinner, barring Neetu David much later, who had the kind of control that Diana and Sharmila had.

One of the reasons we were successful in New Zealand despite the conditions not favouring us was because we used our wrist and fingers a lot more. The spinners from other countries were not used to getting the turn which we got, possibly because they played in conditions where using the wrist was difficult as it would be stiff. They would just roll over their hand over the ball.

Bird’s view
(Dickie Bird was one of the umpires in the tournament, officiating in seven games including one involving India)

I remember him saying that he had never seen women spinners turning the ball as much we did. He said we were the world’s best spinners. He was generally very encouraging, but otherwise his concentration was like it would be in any other match. He was impressed by the standards, dedication and commitment of the women players.

Looking ahead
(Kulkarni was the secretary of Women’s Cricket Association of India before BCCI took over, and had organised many series before the 2005 World Cup where India finished runners-up – their best finish so far)

Yes, the current trend is very similar to that of 2005. Back then, it was two years of many series played. Things have changed though. Back then, there was a huge gap between the top four – Australia, England, New Zealand and India – and the rest. The competition is much stiffer now, with West Indies coming up and South Africa doing well. This is going to be very interesting, and I think the Indian team is on an upswing. We did not perform too well in the 2013 World Cup at home, but after that the team has been doing pretty well. There are some very, very talented players. This team has good confidence level and are capable of beating the best.

Also read: Women’s World Cup 1978 – “Tough making the jump from Tests to ODIs”