Mithali Raj has led and batted the Indian women’s team to some memorable wins. Very few would be as special as the one she and her girls just achieved.
Playing their first Test match after eight years, Indian eves defeated the Ashes winning England team in their own backyard by six wickets at Wormsley. The victory is special for several other reasons. One is that out of the 11 members, eight were playing their first ever Test match.
With that performance, it is hard to believe you were playing a Test match after eight years.
It is a very special win. We were playing after eight years and also the fact that it was a very inexperienced team. Only three of our girls had played the Test here in 2006. It was very challenging but I had a hunch that if the girls respond well to my tactics and to what I tell them to, we would have a chance.
How difficult was it for you captaining the team with eight Test debutants?
When I first saw the team for this Test, I was a little worried about that factor. One-dayers and T20s are a different matter but Test cricket requires and demands so much mentally and physically from the players. As a captain, you want an experienced side when you’re playing against the Ashes winning team in their own backyard. So, yes, I had my apprehensions but I decided that we will not give up. Even if we go down, we’ll go down fighting.
Also, as the captain I was very fortunate to have Jhulan (Goswami) and Karuna (Jain) by my side. We three had played the Test here in 2006 and they supported the girls well on the field. The mood of a Test match can change quickly from boring to exciting to nervous. All these girls were experiencing that for the first time and Jhulan and Karuna played a very important role as senior players.
How confident was the team overnight needing 62 to win?
I have gone through such situations many times in my career but seeing these girls at breakfast today, they did look nervous. They had their doubts because the way the game was poised in the morning, it could have gone any way. One early wicket would have put us on the backfoot. But the partnership between Shikha (Pandey) and me made it easy for us. This nervousness was also a new experience for them.
How much of a challenge were the conditions?
It was crucial for us to win the toss first because the wicket was very green. It was nothing like the wickets we usually get in women’s cricket. I am so used to seeing flat wickets all my life and here I walk out and suddenly see this green wicket. I really hoped I win the toss, which thankfully I did despite my very poor record with tosses.
Which was that one area where you beat England in their own game?
I think it were the bowlers that set the game up for us. They made the best of the helpful conditions on the first day to get England out for 92. It was a fantastic experience for them to bowl on such wicket and it gave them a lot of confidence. Niranjana bowled very well and was nicely supported by Jhulan and others. That first day gave the team the confidence of winning the match.
A word on Niranjana? What do you expect from her in the future?
She can shape up to be a very good all-rounder which India absolutely need. We have Harmanpreet Kaur and Poonam Raut already and we need a squad where we have at least three good all-rounders. Niranjana can do that for us. After picking up those four wickets, she also contributed with a handy 27 with the bat.
Where would you rate this 50 among your best Test knocks?
This comes very close to the 22 not-out I scored when we were last here in 2006. Then too we were chasing in the last innings, were five down for 92 on the board and I was again batting with the tail. It was important for me to hang in there and take the team through. Both the innings came in crisis situations and it is always special to score these crucial runs.
How important a win is this with respect to the Indian women’s cricket team?
It is a very crucial one and we needed something like this after the failure at the World Cup. There were questions raised whether the team is good enough and what is lacking in the side. We needed a performance where we could show that the team is not as bad our performance in World Cup showed. I am not saying this win has made up for the World Cup debacle but it surely has instilled a fresh belief in the team.