Fielding will be key: Mithali Raj
The Mithali Raj-led Indian Women’s team is set to take on the West Indies in the opening game of the 2013 ICC Women’s World Cup at the Brabourne Stadium on January 31, 2013. Ahead of their practice session, skipper Raj spoke about the team and their preparation while addressing the media at the stadium.
“When we are preparing for a tournament, we work on our areas of concern areas and strengthen our strengths further. Our preparations have been good. During the camp in Bangalore we have played matches against boys and then we had a camp in Mumbai as well. So we are also used to slightly slower wickets too,” Raj said.
“The way we have played the two practice games, it seems that the team is very compact.” The home team beat New Zealand and lost to Australia in these matches.
“The wickets that we have seen during the practice games, have been flat tracks helpful to the batsmen, and scores have been generally high. [...] We had a camp in Mumbai, so our players are used to the conditions, which are humid,” she mentioned.
While speaking about the improvement and changes in the women’s team that she has seen over the years, the India captain who will be appearing in her fourth successive World Cup, observed, “One thing I have always felt is that India never had a very good opening pair, and that was a concern. This time we have Murugesan Thirush Kamini, who has made a comeback. In both the [practice] games, the openers have done really well and given us a good start. That is positive. And the kind of batting line-up we have and the bowling have been very good over a period of time.”
While discussing the young exciting players in the side, she said, “We have some amazing, talented cricketers like Harmanpreet Kaur [vice-captain] who has been very consistent with the bat in the [past] year. Then we have Poonam Raut, Thirush Kamini […] and we have Karuna Jain who is a wicketkeeper-bat and who is making a comeback after the 2009 World Cup. We have N Niranjana, who is a medium-pacer and who has done very well. And then we have Rasanara [Parwin], a very young girl who is an off-spinner.”
“Raut played 2009 World Cup and after that after that she did have a lean period, but she has made a good comeback in the domestic season, scoring a lot of runs for Indian Railways. That has given her a lot of confidence. She has been preparing very hard and puts in extra efforts to brush up her game. Her fielding is also a plus for the team as she is very quick on her feet,” Raj added.
While talking about their first game of the tournament, she said, “I feel when it is a flat track, it could be anybody’s game; there will be a lot of runs. The bowling needs to be tightened and should be disciplined. The crucial thing would be fielding, because the wicket will not change over both the innings.”
The Indian women had won the five-match ODI series against the West Indies 3-2 in January 2011, but lost to the Caribbean women 1-2 when they toured the West Indies last year. Reflecting on their previous games, Raj said, “We have played West Indies last year. We toured West Indies and lost the one-dayers. They are a side, which is developing every year. They have very talented players and some hard-hitters too. [...] They are still to get acclimatized to the [Indian] conditions. That might help us and also the kind of form we are in, I am sure the girls will put up a good show.”
Speaking about some of the opposition players, Raj added, “Anisa [Mohammed] has been a consistent wicket-taker against India. I don’t think it is going to be a challenge. It is down to how you have prepared yourself for the World Cup considering the kind of bowlers you are going to face, and it is not necessary that the bowler has to be in a good rhythm on that particular day to get you wickets. So, we do know the main bowlers or the main batsmen of the opponents. We have planned very well for them and I am hoping that we implement them.”
Asked whether there is added pressure especially since they are playing at home, she explained, “There is always pressure on me to deliver each and every time I go in to bat, irrespective of whether I am leading the side or not. At international level, no matter what, there is a different kind of pressure. A lot of people have said now that the men’s team has done it, the Under-19s have done it, this is the time for women’s cricket. I will definitely take that as a positive thing, but it has to come down to the practical aspects that we will have to perform on that day, win games and qualify for the final.”
“I am in that frame of mind that I am all prepared and geared up.”
Raj who is also the mainstay of the Indian batting line-up and will be entering the premier tournament as the No.1 ranked batter in ODIs. Speaking about being on the top of that list, she said, “It feels nice that you have been scoring runs and are in that category of 4000 grade I think and that you are among those top players in the world. It definitely is a motivating factor for me to be consistent and keep scoring runs.”
Asked about the popularity and recognition that she gets as a woman cricketer, Raj remarked, “I think more often people relate to me by my name. But when I get introduced then they recognise and say, ‘Yeah, you’re a woman cricketer.’ But because I’m not very often on television, people don’t recognize me by my face, but definitely by my name.”
Explaining the unique aspects of women’s cricket, she said, “When you see a new sport it is more out of curiosity and that is what pulls people to watch a game and women’s cricket. And when they watch they always acknowledge the elegance of strokeplay and the kind of effort put in by women cricketers. That in itself is a unique thing, because when I started playing cricket, even I didn’t know women’s cricket existed, back then in 1990s. But as I graduated from a beginner to a professional, that’s when I started noticing a lot of changes. In those days not too many matches were televised. Now people watch women’s cricket and there people who are aware about some of the women cricketers and follow their stats. So these are the things that have helped women’s cricket in the recent past.”
She added, “With BCCI, our domestic season is well organised. We have good tournaments. We get to play some domestic tournaments in international venues. That itself is a big motivating factor for youngsters and for state players. And our access to the NCA [has helped]. Being in a sport, there are bound to be injuries. If you are taken care of by professional physios and trainers, you get lot of knowledge being under them. That has helped these youngsters get awareness about their own bodies and how to cope with international cricket.”
“We have everything. When we started, we did not have a video analyst. Now we have one for every tour. We get our feedbacks, we study our own game and that itself is a big thing for these players.”