The 2016 Women’s World Twenty20 at home was supposed to be a turning point for women’s cricket in India. India Women were in red hot form, and were tagged as one of the favourites. Pressure, however, got the better of the team, as they lost three close games and failed to qualify for the knockouts.
Now, it’s over to the 11th edition of the Women’s World Cup, which starts from June 24, and Mithali Raj, the captain, felt that winning the title could lead to a ‘revolution kind of thing’.
“We definitely want to win the World Cup. It would be a revolution kind of thing for Indian women’s cricket. It gives a big impetus for young girls to take up the sport,” said Raj at the pre-departure press interaction in Mumbai on Saturday (June 10). “It is a great platform to showcase the brand of cricket the girls have been playing in the past couple of years. It’s a long tour. I definitely want the girls to take one match at a time. Our first target definitely would be to get into the semis.”
India finished fifth in the Women’s Championship after forfeiting all their points from the fixtures against Pakistan Women, and then beat South Africa Women in the finals of the qualifiers in Colombo earlier this year to earn a World Cup berth. They have been the most consistent team since the start of 2016, winning 17 of their 20 One-Day Internationals. It included an unbeaten streak of 16 games – the joint-second most in the history of women’s ODIs. Then, last month, they beat South Africa in the final of the quadrangular series in Potchefstroom, and Raj said that it was a great confidence boost. More importantly, India were able to work on their combination under Tushar Arothe, their new coach who replaced Purnima Rau after the World Cup qualifiers.
“It made a lot of difference to the girls, especially for young players like Deepti (Sharma) and comeback players like Poonam (Raut) to be among runs. It sorted a lot of issues for us because India has always struggled with the opening pair,” pointed out Raj. “In the last two series (including the qualifier), we have seen the openers giving us the right kind of start – whether posting a total or even chasing huge total like 270. Beating South Africa at home was exceptional. I am confident that (the team) will continue that in the World Cup.”
India have had one bad day in office so far as far as ODIs are concerned since starting their winning streak. Chasing 270 against South Africa in a league game in the quadrangular series, they lost by eight runs and fell one win short of equalling the record for most consecutive wins held by Australia Women.
Raj said that even if the game was lost, the way India approached the chase was heartening. “As a captain, I would have loved to have pulled off that chase against South Africa because it plays a lot on your confidence when you chase a huge total. There is always a possibility of a mix up when you are chasing a huge total, but it gave a lot of boost for the players because for this team the last big chase we had was the 230 in the qualifier finals,” she offered. “Irrespective of the result, it gave a lot of confidence to the girls to make it to the finals and make it a one-sider.”
India were cruising along in that game, but after Mona Meshram became the sixth wicket to fall in the 42nd over, things went out of control. Jhulan Goswami, Ekta Bisht, Sushma Verma and Rajeshwari Gayakwad contributed only 12 off 30 balls, as Shikha Pandey’s unbeaten 34-ball 36 went in vain.
Raj acknowledged Pandey’s significance in the team, and said that one of the priorities during the training camp in Mumbai had been to give more batting practice to the tail-enders.
“Shikha is an allrounder. She can be a good support for the batters – if someone like Harman(preet Kaur) and Veda (Krishnamurthy) are around. If Shikha is around, we can still think of a win when we have 70 or 80 to get,” she said. “Every team has a couple of players who cannot really bat that much in the end. They are pure bowlers. The coaches worked really hard on them in the preparatory came. We made sure they were given batting everyday so that when the opportunity comes they are able to pull the team through.”
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) June 10, 2017
India are the only team to go with three seamers – Goswami, Pandey and Mansi Joshi – and are more dependent on the spin quartet of Bisht, Gayakwad, Deepti and Poonam Yadav. The other seven participating teams have four to five seamers in their squad, but India’s decision to have more spinners is purely based on their strength – eight of their top ten wicket-takers since 2014 – the year when most of the current squad members started to play together – have been spinners.
“Honestly, everybody prefers to have extra fast bowler in the side. But India has always banked on its spinners irrespective of the wickets we have played on. Whether it be Australia or South Africa, our spinners have done exceptionally well,” said Raj. “The three fast bowlers have been doing well in the last two series. We cannot really predict that anyone can get injured during the World Cup, but it is important that all three are fresh, they are at their fittest. I am sure we will not have any kind of injury during the World Cup for the pacers or for that matter any player in the side.”
“Shikha is an allrounder. She can be a good support for the batters – if someone like Harman and Veda are around. If Shikha is around, we can still think of a win when we have 70 or 80 to get. Every team has a couple of players who cannot really bat that much in the end. They are pure bowlers. The coaches worked really hard on them in the preparatory came. We made sure they were given batting everyday so that when the opportunity comes they are able to pull the team through.”
Raj, Goswami, Kaur, Raut and Bisht are the only players in the current squad to have played in a World Cup in the past. Raj said that it was up to the seniors to absorb the pressure, and allow the youngsters to play with freedom. “There are a few seniors who are aware of the pressure and expectation one faces during the World Cup,” she added. “For all the first-timers playing the World Cup, it is a huge pressure and expectation for them. As senior players, we can always be around them, giving them that cushioning.”
With the ongoing Champions Trophy 2017 in England and Wales having been affected by rain, Raj hoped sunny days would be around for the World Cup.
“Because it is early summer, there are chances for rain. Toss will be important, and we need to see how we can shuffle the batting order,” she said. “Overcast conditions will affect the wicket, but there are days when 300 can be chased. So, we hope we have sunny days for our games.”
India will play a warm-up game against England on June 13, and then play two practice games against New Zealand Women and Sri Lanka Women before opening their campaign against England in Derby on June 24.