You have to stay one step ahead: Raj
Mumbai Desk, July 16: Reinstated as the captain of the Indian team for the tour to England, Mithali Raj also regained the top spot in the ICC Women’s ODI batting rankings at the end of the series. The 29-year-old scored 251 runs at an average of 83.66 in the series that India lost 3-2.
In a telephonic chat with bcci.tv, the top-order bat spoke about the journey to the No. 1 position while analysing her team’s performance on the tough tour.
Excerpts from the interview:
On regaining the top batting spot
When I lost the No. 1 spot, I knew a lot of people would be asking me [why] but the rankings only show the consistency of a player, according to me. And I have been very consistent over the past few years. I may have had one bad series and I came down to No. 2; I knew that if I had some good series, I would get back to the top spot. I didn’t think I would regain it in one series itself.
On the journey from her international debut to being the No. 1 batsman – a position she had held for a long duration earlier
I started as an opening bat for India and it didn’t really click in the first series. Then I was pushed to the No. 3 spot in the World Cup in 2000. When I started getting a lot of runs at that level, I guess people started considering me as being a top-middle-order batsman rather than an opener. Over a period of time the standard of women’s cricket has also improved. The kind of wickets that we get to play on, the kind of stadiums or the international venues that we get to play on, has only improved the standard [of cricket] and you have to keep matching up to current trends. If you have to maintain your position at the international level, you always have to be a few steps ahead. The one big plus for me has always been playing with the boys. Having the boys bowl at me has always helped my batting because I feel all said and done, [the game] is still ruled by men’s cricket. They set the standards really high and though we are not far behind, it requires a lot of hard work [for us to match that]. Also, because [the game] is evolving each and every year, each team is improving. We have so much software, video analysts analysing our batting and bowling, so everything is on record. It gets easy for the opponents to have a plan for you and that makes it even harder for us to train. I think over a period of time, my understanding of the game has helped me a lot.
On whether she feels that the team’s batting depends heavily on her and one or two other players like Harmanpreet Kaur
Yes, because the No. 3 batter is a very important player. S/he becomes the main batsman for the team as s/he comes at a time when the innings needs to be rescued if the start has been bad. And if you get a good start, to maintain the momentum is important. [...] Once I cemented my place in the team at the No. 3 spot and started scoring runs, it was but natural for the team to depend more on me. As a batsman, it is my duty to contribute towards the team’s performance. So yes, I think over a period of time people have depended heavily on my batting and the team has also depended on it. I guess when I am playing in the middle and am there for a while, then the team’s morale and the way the team behaves in the dressing room is full of confidence. That brings a lot of pressure but it also gives you a bit of a high. When your team’s players show confidence in you, it is actually an achievement for you.
On Padmashri-winner Jhulan Goswami’s disappointing performances (apart from one four-for) during the series against England
Jhulan, Amita [Sharma] – they are the senior-most players in the side now. They have been playing along with me for a long time. There have been matches where they have performed and got the team through. It is very important that someone stands up in every game because it’s not like one player is going to perform all the time. Sometimes the law of averages [catches up with you] and you may not score, or you might just be unlucky to get out early; you need someone else to take up that position [of responsibility] in that particular match. It is very important. The senior players also play a very crucial role in the team’s performance and in the team atmosphere. If you have good seniors around and the senior’s gel well amongst themselves, it gets much easier for the juniors to walk up to them and share their experiences or ask questions. The team atmosphere becomes very healthy [...]. Fortunately, all of us have played together at the international as well as domestic level so the chemistry is very good.
On where the team fell short in the last three games of the ODI series after taking a 2-0 lead
In the first game we chased a very huge total, around 230, and then in the second game we defended a very low total, around 127. So the third and fourth games were very crucial for both teams. [...] Also, the wickets that we got from the second match [onwards] were very soft wickets because of the heavy rains there. And when you get soft and slow wickets the toss becomes very crucial. I lost all five tosses on the trot and apart from the first game, in the remaining four games we batted first. They were all low-scoring totals. When we lose the toss [on such wickets], the batters take a while to put up a good score. Then, in the second innings, the wicket eases and it is more of a challenge to bowl. Still I would say that we made a match out of it. At the end, when it was very crucial to get a few wickets, we could not and we lost the third and fourth game. The series was evenly placed and we gave a breather to the England team. England, being the world’s best side, and playing in home conditions with the series being even, knew that they stood a chance to win it.
On the positives from the tour to England
I think the huge positive in the one-dayers is that the fielding has been very good. This considering the [poor] way we fielded in the T20; we came back in the one-dayers to win those two games. The fielding has definitely improved a lot and the understanding of the fielders [too]. There were a lot of young players [in the team] [...] I would not say they are inexperienced but young players at the international level who are a year or two old were able to adjust to English conditions quickly and that was commendable. The bowling overall was good but the spinners have let us down because of slower tracks, I think. Our spin attack, which is very good, should have penetrated [their line-up] but that is something I am a little concerned about. Where the batting is concerned, the middle-order has performed in all the games other than the second game where we scored just 120- [odd runs] [...] So that’s a positive but there are still a few concerns about the team.
On the areas that team would be looking to work on before the T20 World Cup
The T20 World Cup is in Sri Lanka. It is important that we perform very well. The biggest concern for the Indian team is the opening batters. In none of the games have they given us a good start. It was always the middle-order which has rescued the team and scored those runs so it is important that we get a good opening pair. We should also try and give the spinners back their confidence because it is a T20 tournament in Sri Lankan conditions where the slow wickets are going to help the spinners.
On whether sub-continental conditions during the World Cup would be conducive to the team
It will definitely help because we are not going to play on good [bowling] tracks. What little I know of Sri Lankan wickets is that they help the batters but they are a little on the slower side, so the spinners can change the scenario of the game. Because it is a shorter version of the game, you never know – the ICC could be [picking] more batting-friendly tracks. Secondly, because we are in the same pool of [teams] as Australia and England, it is going to be even tougher.
On the preparations ahead of the World Cup
Our camps and preparation will focus on the T20 format. We might have camps in August and more match practice. We have just finished a series so we don’t need to get into the nets mould or any such thing. It should be more match practice.
On youngsters in the squad who have caught her eye
It’s too early to actually say anything about the youngsters because once you get into the international scene, maybe the first few games will be difficult. How you pick yourself from there and whether you perform consistently is important. It’s too early for me to comment on that but I see a lot of positives in N Niranajana and Mona Meshram.
Niranjana made a comeback after 2008 and she has performed really well and consistently from the first game on. She has always given us [breakthroughs] and was the highest wicket-taker from our side [in the England series]. That’s a big positive for us because in her we have found a good medium pacer and someone who can bat out the end overs.
Mona has just made her debut so I can’t really complain about her not performing; the English conditions are always challenging for any batsman. I see her as a very compact player. But again I would say that this was her first series so [it’s difficult] for me to comment [on her]. She looks promising; it’s up to a player to take [her potential] further.