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.
One of the well-known names of Indian women’s cricket, Purnima Rau made her One-Day International debut in the 1993 World Cup, and finished her career with 516 runs and 50 wickets in 33 games over seven years. Her match figures of 7 for 98 against England Women in Shenley in 1999 is also the best by an Indian spinner in overseas Tests.
She was the chief coach of India Women for three months in 2014 before being reinstated in July 2015. India enjoyed a successful run in her second stint before Tushar Arothe replaced her in April this year.
Rau featured in three World Cups, with the semifinal against New Zealand Women in 2000 being her last international game. Now 50, and spending her time grooming youngsters, she took us through her last appearance in a World Cup.
The big mess
(India hadn’t played ODIs for 15 months prior to the 2000 Women’s World Cup)
We had about three camps in Chandigarh and Delhi. The preparations were okay as we played nine practice matches before leaving, but the quality of the camps and the lack of coordination between the administrations weren’t that good. When it came to women’s cricket, we were never nurtured though we were starting to make an impact globally. Sudha Shah guided us throughout the camp and suddenly she was asked not to come, and Sreerupa Bose took over just before the World Cup. It was a total mess.
India in 2000
Results: Beat South Africa by eight wickets; beat Netherlands by 154 runs; beat England by eight runs; lost to Australia by 51 runs; lost to New Zealand by 74 runs; beat Ireland by 30 runs; beat Sri Lanka by 141 runs; lost to New Zealand by nine wickets
Best batter: Anjum Chopra – 267 runs in 8 matches at 38.14
Best bowler: Rupanjali Shastri – 10 wickets in 8 matches at 22.20
Players: Anju Jain (capt/wk), Anjum Chopra, Chanderkanta Kaul, Neetu David, Mithali Raj, Deepa Kulkarni, Purnima Rau, Rupanjali Shastri, Hemalatha Kala, Kalyani Dhokarikar, Renu Margrate, Arundhati Kirkire, Sunita Kanojia, Smitha Harikrishna, Kavita Roy.
Sudha finally came with us in New Zealand (as manager), but ended up as Mithali Raj’s nurse as she went down with a viral fever (paratyphoid) after playing three games. That was a huge loss for us (as Raj had scored 152 runs in three matches). So Sudha had to be with her in the hospital most of the time.
The quiet one
(Having never led India before or after, Anju Jain captained the country in the World Cup. She finished with 127 runs in eight games)
Anju Jain was given the captaincy over Anjum Chopra and Chanderkanta Kaul ahead of the event. She has always been the quieter one in the team. She just believed in doing her work and if at any stage we needed stability, she was the one who we would look to.
Spinning away in New Zealand
(Rupanjali Shastri and Rau picked up 17 wickets between them to lead India’s bowling charts. Shastri ended as the tournament’s eighth-highest wicket-taker with ten scalps at 22.20)
We went with four spinners to New Zealand in 1995 and all of us did pretty well. The wickets were pretty much the same in the 2000 World Cup, so there was no reason why we shouldn’t have gone there with a spin-heavy attack. We didn’t have many quality medium-pacers, and as a result the spinners had to be brought in before the tenth over would have finished.
A grand start
(India’s last assignment before the World Cup was a bilateral series in England in July 1999, where they had won 2-1. They carried the momentum to beat England again, by eight runs, when the two teams faced off in the World Cup)
It was very satisfying beating England at the early stage of the tournament. South Africa were the new entrants, so defeating them was not something I would call great. We had done well against England in the past, so it was always going to boil down to defeating New Zealand and Australia in their home conditions. We were always considered amongst the top four but couldn’t get past these two teams.
The stumbling block
(India beat every other opponent in that event except for New Zealand and Australia.)
We had defeated Australia in 1995 but this time around the team couldn’t really get going against them. We had a brilliant and pretty well balanced team filled with some great batters and a very strong spin attack, but we just didn’t fire against Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand (who won the semifinal in 26.5 overs with nine wickets in hand) completely overpowered us in that particular match. We tried everything but it all fell apart. To be honest, I think we lacked preparation and proper planning, and that reflected in our performance. There was not much support from the administration as well.
Calling it quits
(One of only nine Indian bowlers to take 50 or more ODI wickets, Rau opened the batting just twice in her career, both times at the World Cup. Her last innings – against New Zealand – fetched her a career-best 67 not out off 133 balls. India were dismissed in 45.2 overs, as she became only one of four batters in Women’s ODIs to have carried their bats through)
In the morning of the semifinal, our coach came to me, asking would I like to open? Throughout the tournament, I had batted lower down the order, but when you get such an opportunity for your country, you have to grab it. In the domestic season, I was playing as an opener, and batting is something that I really loved doing. In the domestic matches, I was sent to open because I could collect runs quickly but never thought I would get that same chance in the international circuit.
The pitch was a bit slow when we were batting but later I think it eased out a bit and that helped New Zealand to go past our total without much trouble. We lost our sixth wicket with close to 23 (23.1) overs to go and I was confused whether I should play my normal game or just hang in. At the end of our innings, I carried my bat through but by the time the game ended, I had decided that I didn’t want to play any more and that was my last match. The reason was I didn’t see myself playing for long under the circumstances that were occurring outside the field. But these were the moments I cherish now.
The big dream
(Rau was a big part of the current team till recently, having taken over as coach during the home series against New Zealand in 2014)
Looking at the wickets the boys are being provided with in the Champions Trophy, there is not much of swing and movement. I think the wickets are nice and hard, quite good for batting. It should suit our batters. I think our spinners will do really well on these kinds of tracks. I think Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Deepti Sharma, along with our quality batters, will help India to have a very good outing in England.
If they go on to win this World Cup, it will be a huge thing for all the generations that have played before them. If that moment comes, it will be cherished by all of us who have ever played this game.