Neetu David, seen here batting, is a legendary spinner of women's cricket. She continues to feature among the top ten wicket-takers of World Cup. © Getty Images

Neetu David, seen here batting, is a legendary spinner of women’s cricket. She continues to feature among the top ten wicket-takers of World Cup. © Getty Images

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.

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Neetu David is a legend of women’s cricket, whose journey started from the streets of Kanpur. David, a left-arm spinner, made her One-Day International debut in February 1995, and with 141 scalps in 97 games remains one of only three Indians with 100 or more wickets. Her 8 for 53 against England Women in Jamshedpur in 1995 is the best innings returns in Women’s Tests.

Now working as an office superintendent with the Indian Railways, David played in three World Cups and still features among the tournament’s top ten wicket-takers. She relives the memories of the home World Cup in 1997, where India were semifinalists. Edited excerpts:

Dream glory
(India had beaten England Women in a bilateral series at home in December 1995, but had not played any games for two years after that.)

Before the tournament, we were asked to participate in a camp that was organised at the Nehru stadium, which didn’t have anything in terms of cricket facilities, as it was an athletics ground. The seniors in the team doubled up as coaches to help the young girls. Though we didn’t have funds, we managed.

We knew we had a good chance at home, and the confidence in the dressing room was amazing. We were aware that spinners will have a huge role to play, and that was our strength. Our team was balanced, and the seniors treated us like family. They ensured that no one went into depression because of poor form. That helped us bond well and kept the mood in the dressing room good.

Strong bowling unit backed by a smart skipper
(Purnima Rau was the tournament’s fifth-highest wicket-taker, and she got good support from Deepa Marathe, Purnima Choudhary, Pramila Bhatt and David.)

Purnima Rau and Pramila Bhatt were already established names. Bhatt was also a very good tactical captain. She made youngsters comfortable, and understood the requirements from a bowling perspective. Her favourite line was: ‘Do whatever you guys want to, no matter what I will support you. I will give you the field you want, but make sure you bowl according to that.’ I grew as a player under her. Purnima Choudhary handled the pace department, and that made our bowling line-up strong. Alongside me, Sangita Dabir and Deepa Marathe were the other two left-arm spinners, but we were completely different with our varieties. The only reason we got through to the semifinals was because of our bowling.

Batting doesn’t come to the party
(Only Anju Jain and Chanderkanta Kaul crossed the 100-run mark. Jain, with 158, was among the tournament’s top 10 run-getters.)

The team relied heavily on the bowlers to some extent, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have good batters. Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain, Chanderkanta Kaul, Purnima Rau – Yeh log zabardast thee, bas usme chale nahi (they were good batters who did not click then). Records show that there were contributions from the top order, but almost in every match the middle order collapsed. That, however, doesn’t make them bad at what they do.

A memorable tie
(Chasing 177 against New Zealand Women in Indore, India were dismissed for 176 in 49.1 overs. It is so far the third and last tie in World Cup history.)

It’s one of the most entertaining games I have been a part of. We got off to a good start but ended up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. Middle-order collapse ne phasa diya (Middle-order collapse got us in trouble). Off the last ball of the 48th over, I completed a single and took off for the second run to seal the deal, but Deepa didn’t even move and that played on my mind. I got knocked over in the first delivery of the last over. I was really sad, but I didn’t know that I was such a bad batter. Had we won that game, we would have probably faced England in the semifinal, which would have given us a better chance.

India in 1997
Standing: Semifinalist
Results: Match abandoned against Sri Lanka, beat West Indies by 62 runs, beat Netherlands by 93 runs, tied against New Zealand, beat South Africa by five wickets, lost to Australia by 19 runs
Best batter: Anju Jain – 158 runs in 5 matches at 31.60
Best bowler: Purnima Rau – 10 wickets in 5 matches at 9.70
Players: Anju Jain, Chanderkanta Kaul, Purnima Rau, Smitha Harikrishna, Renu Margrate, Shyama Shaw, Pramila Bhatt (capt), Purnima Choudhary, Sangita Dabir, Kalyani Dhokarikar, Anjum Chopra, Deepa Marathe, Neetu David.

A costly batting collapse
Once we restricted Australia Women to 120 (123) in the semifinal, we had a great chance but as usual our batting let us down. All opponents knew our bowling was good, so they aimed at putting a decent score.

I remember in the semifinal, there was no one to move the sight screen and we had to run from mid-on/off to move it for the Australian batters. To make it worse, they deducted two overs from our chase, which was frustrating. The [organisers] said we will have to manage with it, and we had no other option.

High impact tournament
Belinda Clark’s 229 (making her the first batter to make a double-century in ODIs) and Charlotte Edwards’s 173 had a great impact on women’s cricket. People were going crazy after hearing about their efforts. We also had a discussion in our group meeting:‘If girls from other countries can pile up big runs in 50 overs, why can’t we?’ Such innings motivate opponents as well because even you want to reach those heights for your country.

Crystal-ball gazing
Tushar Arothe’s appointment as coach will help the girls. He will have a positive impact on the players when it comes to mentality and approach towards the game. If they continue to play the way they have in recent times, there is no reason why can’t they make it to the final. After that it’s just about having one good day and you might end up with the cup in your hand.

We once again have a great spin attack, and obviously there is Jhulan Goswami. There is no one like her at the moment. I hope she doesn’t end up with a lot to do. Yes, Mansi Joshi has started well but is still raw. They should have brought her into a squad a bit early to give her ample international matches practice. But you won’t find a better mentor than Jhulan.

My bet will be on Ekta Bisht as she understands her game very well. Her 10 overs are really going to be crucial for India and I would like the others to work around her.

Smitha Harikrishna, the former opener, weighs in:

Memories of 1997 World Cup
We played most of our matches in the north where it was either raining or extremely cold. Being the host, we should have been given the home advantage of playing in the south where the conditions were more suitable for us. If you look at the records, all of Australia and England’s high-scoring games were played down there. But we had to be okay with all of these, we were the hosts, so you’ve got to act like one!

Guests at the final in Kolkata
We were stopped by the security men who refused to let us through to the ground for the presentation ceremony in the final. To be fair to them, those days we didn’t have any recognition, so it was really tough for them to believe that we were international cricketers. The association invited us for the final, but didn’t get us the gate passes.