"We walked in as underdogs, but every time we sat for a meeting we would say one thing: “Final khelna hai." - Nooshin Al Khadeer. © Getty Images

“We walked in as underdogs, but every time we sat for a meeting we would say one thing: ‘Final khelna hai’.” – Nooshin Al Khadeer. © 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.

Also read: 1978 | 1982 | 1993 | 1997 | 2000

Born in Tehran in Iran in 1981, Nooshin Al Khadeer was a child when her parents returned to India because his family felt “unsafe” in the middle of the Gulf war. She studied in Bangalore before shifting to Hyderabad – where her father is from – in 2003 to work in the engineering department of the South-Central Railways. Nooshin was inspired by her closest friend, Mithali Raj, to play for India Women.

“Looking at Mithali’s work ethic and discipline as a kid, I realised if I can push myself to put even 50% of the effort she was putting in, then I would play for India,” Nooshin tells Wisden India. “Encouraged by her and my parents, I implemented the lessons from Mithali and made my India debut (in 2002).”

One of only three Indian with hundred One-Day International wickets against her name and the first from the country to record a five-wicket haul, the offspinner was an integral part of the team that played the 2005 Women’s World Cup final in South Africa. Her 11 wickets complemented the efforts of Neetu David, Amita Sharma and Jhulan Goswami – the tournament’s top three wicket-takers. Nooshin, who currently coaches youngsters in Hyderabad because she is “still passionate” about the game, gives an insight how India’s most successful World Cup campaign was built. Excerpts:

The build up
(India won 18 of their 29 ODIs against England, New Zealand, Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka from January 2003 to December 2004.)

Knowingly or unknowingly, we started preparing for the World Cup from 2003. That time we were under the Women’s Cricket Association of India and Shubhangi Kulkarni was the secretary. Earlier, India would reach the semifinal of the World Cup, but then lose to a tougher side. To counter that, she made sure we had a pool of 30 girls with a blend of youngsters and seniors, and we did not play against mediocre sides. We competed at a much higher level against the likes of Australia and New Zealand. They were closely fought games; we bowled out Australia for 77 in Chennai in December 2004.

India in 2005
Standing: Runners-up
Results: Abandoned against Sri Lanka, beat Ireland by nine wickets, beat South Africa by four wickets, beat England by seven wickets, lost to New Zealand by 16 runs, beat West Indies by eight wickets, abandoned against Australia, beat New Zealand by 40 runs, lost to Australia by 98 runs.
Best batter: Mithali Raj – 199 runs in 8 matches at 49.75
Best bowler: Neetu David – 20 wickets in 8 matches at 8.35
Players: Mithali Raj (capt), Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain, Neetu David, Amita Sharma, Jhulan Goswami, Nooshin Al Khadeer, Rumeli Dhar, Hemalata Kala, Jaya Sharma, Deepa Marathe.

We had only one or two changes to the 15-member squad through that period, and the playing XI was pretty much set. We walked in as underdogs, but every time we sat for a meeting we would say one thing: “Final khelna hai (we have to play the final).”

The batting clicks
(Mithali’s 199 at 49.75 helped her end as the tournament’s fifth-highest run-getter. Anjum Chopra, Anju Jain and Rumeli Dhar, who had a combined tally of 436 runs, were perfect support.)

Mithali was struggling through the World Cup because of a knee injury she had got during the senior nationals, and we were wondering if she would be available. But the way she pushed herself and scored that unbeaten 91 (against New Zealand in the semifinal), it was one of her best innings I have seen. New Zealand had a strong bowling unit, but that they were unable to find the right length to bowl to her. Credit also goes to Anjum. The two had a brilliant partnership (of 66 runs). It had rained the night before, and we asked to bat first in difficult conditions. The moment we made 191 (204 for 6), we knew we were going to win.

Seniors like Anju and Hemalata Kala chipped in at every stage, and youngsters like Rumeli made use of the opportunities given to them.

Bonhomie in the camp
(India played with the same XI for all their eight games.)

It was Mithali’s first assignment as captain. She had fresh ideas and there was a blend of togetherness, partly because the organisers did not take us seriously. Since we were playing as a unit, you understood responsibility and the captain’s expectation. My part was to come as a one-change bowler and bowl with the new ball. It was a fixed role, and it was not assigned overnight. For those two years building up to the tournament whenever I played, no matter what the conditions were, I would come as one-change bowler or maybe sometimes open the bowling. So, I had done my homework. Similar was the case for other players, and luckily we clicked at the right time. We had the same XI from the first match till the final.

© Getty Images

Nooshin Al Khadeer, seen here playing cards with Australians, played a big part in India’s journey to the final. © Getty Images

Luck and prayers
(India had never qualified for the finals in the previous five World Cups they had participated in.)

It was a blessing in disguise that our league game against Australia was washed out. Had we lost to them in that game, then we would have faced them in the semifinal. The day before that game was very hot and we were discussing how crucial the encounter is when one of the girls said, ‘What if it rains tomorrow?’ You won’t believe when we got up next morning, it was pouring!

It was raining the night before the semifinal too. Those days we did not have mobile phones. Mithali and I walked to a telephone booth after dinner at around 9pm to call our parents. We asked them to pray for us, and they said, ‘Don’t worry, you will win.’

The missed chance at Centurion
(Karen Rolton’s unbeaten 107 from No.3 took Australia to 215 for 4, before India were dismissed for 117 in 46 overs to lose by 98 runs.)

Australia were the best side because of Karen Rolton. We dropped her (on 60 at mid-on by Amita off Neetu David). We were in the game till the 30th over, but then they scored at around six runs per over in the last 20, which was a big thing back then. We were prepared for the occasion, but didn’t expect her to explode like that. The catch might have made a difference, but she played the innings that is supposed to be played in the final.

Ricky Ponting had taken away the 2003 Men’s World Cup final from India, and Karen did a similar thing to us. Once we dropped the catch, we thought we have dropped the World Cup because she never gives chances.

Crystal-ball gazing
This Indian team has been doing well for one and half years now, and the core is the same. Harmanpreet (Kaur), Mithali and Jhulan will have big roles to play. The key would be for the openers to lay a base for the middle order because conditions in England are tough. If we get a good start both from the batters and opening bowlers, then there is no reason why we cannot win the World Cup.