When India Women turn out for their first One-Day International against South Africa Women on February 5 in Kimberley, Mithali Raj’s team, the 2017 World Cup runners-up, will play their first international game in six months.
This considerable break is, however, not all a bad thing, according to Raj. Given their busy schedule in the run-up to the World Cup, and commitments against England and Australia to come at home from March, the team benefited from the time off, she argued.
“It’s been a long season for us. After the World Cup it was important for the girls to recover. We had a few injuries,” she told presspersons in Mumbai ahead of the team’s departure on Tuesday (January 23). “Ideally, we would have preferred to have continuation and (carry the winning) momentum. But it is also important that after a long season you have time to recover and regain your fitness levels.
“A lot of players had niggles that needed time to recover. That gap has given us time to work on ourselves.”
Despite the lack of internationals, the team isn’t lacking match practice. A well-contested domestic season, with a revamped Challengers Trophy, has meant the players have been in “match mode”.
There have also been two camps, one for fitness in Bangalore, and a tour preparatory camp in Mumbai over the past week for the senior players. The three uncapped members of the ODI squad — Jemimah Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia and Pooja Vastrakar — were also a part of an India A camp and featured in matches against Bangladesh A.
“The girls have worked hard on fitness,” said Raj. “Everyone is looking agile.”
With Afzal Khan, a former Ranji player with Services and trainer with Mumbai Indians, and Ashutosh Dandige, the video analyst who has worked with India A, joining the support staff after the World Cup, the camp was a high-intensity affair, with the training regime having been especially streamlined.
“During the Challengers, you must have seen, fielding levels have gone up. And during this camp, we made some wickets bouncier,” added Tushar Arothe, the coach.
Keeping in mind the bounce expected in South Africa, the home team’s tendency to play four pacers, and the fact that this will be India’s first series under new playing conditions where there will be two new balls, the team faced Mumbai’s Under-16 boys in the nets.
Also providing a morale boost was Sachin Tendulkar, who on Monday shared with the team his tips on preparation, batting and facing pressure.
Learning from Tendulkar and Raj, who were both thrust into the limelight in India colours by the age of 16, was Rodrigues, still only 17. The Mumbai youngster was rewarded with a call-up for her consistent numbers in age-group and senior domestic cricket over the past two seasons. In the practice match at Wankhede Stadium where the women and Under-16 boys were divided into two teams, Rodrigues made a hundred before she was retired out.
“The current team interacts with each other really well. There is nothing like a 17-year-old, or a senior-most. We feel all of us are very good [to be at the international level],” said Raj, explaining how she and Jhulan Goswami, who are 34 and 35 respectively, connect with the young batter.
“To make her comfortable is our responsibility. When you make a debut as young as her, there are so many things that run through a young player’s head, so as senior players, we try and keep things simple for her. Because we see her as the future of women’s cricket.”
ODI Squad: Mithali Raj (capt), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-capt), Sushma Verma (wk), Ekta Bisht, Smriti Mandhana, Poonam Yadav, Punam Raut, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jemimah Rodrigues, Jhulan Goswami, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Mona Meshram, Pooja Vastrakar, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wk).
T20I Squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (capt), Smriti Mandhana (vice-capt), Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Anuja Patil, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Nuzhat Parveen (wk), Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Radha Yadav.