The 2017 Women’s World Cup in England and Wales 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.
Official records say Sudha Shah played in one Women’s World Cup match, with four runs to show for it. They don’t mention that she’s been a part of four World Cups – right from the country’s first one in 1978, and through their best in 2005, either playing or coaching. “I’ve been here for eons!” laughs Shah, who has been top-order batter, part-time offspinner, skipper in ‘unofficial’ games, long-time India Women coach, most recently in their Test win in England in 2014, and Tamil Nadu player.
India, where international women’s cricket took off in earnest only in 1975, missed the inaugural World Cup in 1973, but stepped up to host the 1978 edition, when financial concerns caused some teams to drop out. India’s first World Cup match, against England, was their first official One-Day International ever.
“We were quite young – I really don’t remember how we were feeling!” says Shah, India’s most capped Test player. But their first taste of ODIs, and a chance to play against the likes of England and eventual winners Australia, offered an important lesson, she adds. Edited excerpts of her conversation with Wisden India.
A tough initiation
(India lost all their matches in the 1978 edition – to England, New Zealand and Australia by large margins – but for a team just about finding its feet in women’s cricket, the tournament was an important milestone.)
It was a big thing for us because it was the World Cup. Those days, we used to play more Test matches, so in 50-over games, we really had to work to get into the groove of limited overs. We didn’t do too well, unfortunately. But after that, we learnt and we did improve in our performances in World Cups.
India in 1978
Standings: Last out of four teams
Results: Lost to England by nine wickets, lost to New Zealand by nine wickets, lost to Australia by 71 runs
Best batter: Shobha Pandit, 42 runs in three innings
Best bowler: Lopamudra Bhattacharji, two wickets in three matches
Players: Diana Edulji (capt), Susan Itticheria, Runa Basu, Lopamudra Bhattacharji, Anjali Sharma, Sharmila Chakraborty, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Shobha Pandit, Gargi Banerji, Nilima Jogalekar, Rajeshwari Dholakia, Fowzieh Khalili, Sandhya Mazumdar, Ujwala Nikam, Kalpan Paropkari, Sudha Shah.
At that time, there were no ‘seniors’ or ‘juniors’ in the team. We all started cricket at the same time, so there was no seniority. We got along well. The friendships from then are lasting. Australia’s Margret Jennings (the winning captain), and later on England’s Jill and Jane Powell were good friends. The best thing is we’re still in touch.
Debut that wasn’t
(Shah’s ODI debut came in India’s second match of the campaign, in the nine-wicket loss to New Zealand.)
According to me, I made my debut against Australia, but according to records, it’s New Zealand. We had played against Australia (the visiting Under-25 side), when they came to India in February 1975. That, according to the records, was an unofficial game. I even captained in the second ‘Test’. So, since we’d already played against Australia, I didn’t feel like I was making my debut. During our time, there were hardly any records kept. All of us go through our paper cuttings to see who has what numbers!
Backing comes from all quarters
We did get a bit of press coverage. Those days, we got a lot more support. Why, in 2005, when I was coach, only when we reached the final did we get calls from India, from the press. That was a bit of a disappointment. Back when we played, like in the Tests against West Indies, after we won in Patna, right from the stadium till the hotel we had people lined up. We went up to the balcony – big shots we were! All of us were so young – teenagers, early 20s – we still talk about that. There weren’t as many people at the World Cup, but there was a decent crowd, and school kids that came.
The challenges of England
Fitness is important to get right. It’s going to be a long tournament. The sooner they acclimatise, the better.
When you play abroad, it’s not as much pressure as playing in front of your crowd. The pressure was one of the factors that hurt India in 2013. But nowadays the team is playing a lot of international matches, so hopefully it will do better under pressure.
On India’s last tour to England, in 2014, when I was coach and we won the Wormsley Test, eight of the girls were making their debut. If you ask me, England were overconfident – and we had decided we would stick to the basics and play good cricket. Our medium pacers got us good breakthroughs. We have been doing well in England, so I don’t see why the girls should not win there this time.