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This win will instill fresh self belief: Mithali

India women’s captain says Test win in England is one of the highlights of her career

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.

Still savouring “one of the best victories” of her life, captain Mithali Raj spoke to BCCI.TV about how she led a bunch of inexperienced girls to an epic triumph.

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.

Shirin Sadikot

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Ajinkya Rahane - conquering the middle-order

Indian batsman describes his transition from top-three to No. 5 and 6

He is part of India’s latest batch of batting riches. With consistent performances overseas, he has cemented his place in India’s Test middle order. And he is one of the more consistent performers in the IPL.

At 26, Ajinkya Rahane has many reasons to believe he is a superstar. But he doesn’t.

Shy, short, skinny and soft-spoken. Ajinkya will not catch your eye in a crowd. He will walk past you, quietly, without giving out any aura or charisma.

But watch him bat on a cricket pitch, trying to get his team out of a hole in trying conditions, facing a bunch of daunting, giant fast bowlers and he will make you take notice. The steel in his eyes, the assurance in his every move and the air of confidence in his demeanour are unmistakable.

Ajinkya doesn’t believe that the world rotates around him. He just ensures he plays his part in ensuring that the rotation is smooth.

If the match-winning century at Lord’s was a stamp of reassertion of his batting skills, the 52 not-out in a losing cause at the Ageas Bowl was a testimony to his temperament.

Used to bat in the top-order for Mumbai all his life, Ajinkya has taken to the No. 5 and 6 positions in the Test team like fish to water.

In a chat with BCCI.TV, the Rahane spoke about his transition from top to middle order and the men who have been his inspiration.

You have predominantly been a top-order batsman all your life. How did the decision of making yourself available as a middle order batsman come about?

When I started playing first-class cricket, I opened the batting for two years and did quite well. Then the Mumbai team management thought that my batting at No. 3 will be beneficial for the team. I gave a positive response to their call and batted at that position for the next few years. When I got picked for the Indian team, I was there as a middle-order batsman. I had never batted at No. 5 before and it was a very new thing for me. But I took it as a fresh challenge and tried my best to adapt to the role.

What was the most difficult part of making the transition to the middle-order?

The most challenging aspect for me was to train my mind. Your technique doesn’t change with your batting position but the mindset does. I didn’t play any matches for the first two years I was with the Indian team. So I got a lot of time to just sit back and observe the senior players. I watched and tried to learn from how the top seven batsmen prepared before a match depending on their batting position and with what mindset they went out to bat. I knew that if I wanted to play for India, I always have to keep my mind open and be prepared to bat at any position. I was so lucky to have people like Sachin paaji, Rahul bhai and Laxman paaji around to observe and learn from. So, those two years were very educative and helpful for me.

Batting in the top-order is very proactive while coming in at 5 or 6 is more reactive as you have to bat according to the situation. How has it worked for you?

That’s the most challenging aspect of batting at No. 5 – you go in to bat with different situations all the time and you have to alter your game according to the scoreboard situation. In this series so far I have had to come in and bat with the responsibility of steadying the team innings. My approach has been to give the initial few overs to the bowlers, respect them and get in. Once I score 25-30 runs, I start playing my normal game. I always look for runs because if you are at the wicket for a long time without scoring many runs, you let the game drift away and give the opposition an upper hand. So, scoring runs is as important as staying at the wicket. That is how I approached my Lord’s innings as well.

One similarity between opening and batting at 5 is that you are mostly facing the new ball. Did that make the transition relatively smoother?

It is an advantage. Having opened, when I face the second new ball batting at 5 or 6, I know exactly how to negotiate and also take advantage of the new ball. The top-order experience has helped me in that regards.

Although you have grown up idolizing Rahul Dravid, your role in the Test team is what VVS Laxman used to play. Have you taken a leaf out of his book?

When batting in top three, you have to get ready very quickly if you’re batting first or after you return from fielding. When batting at No. 5 you have more time in your hands. I noticed how Laxman paaji made the optimal use of the time. He used to come to the dressing room, relax, take a shower and take a brief nap. I learnt from him how important it is that during this time when you are waiting for your turn to bat, you don’t over-think things and stress your mind out. It is important to switch off and go out to bat with a fresh mind when your turn comes. I did take that from him – sometimes, when there is a bit extra time, I try to sleep for 10-15 minutes. It helps me de-stress and rejuvenate my mind.

Tell us something we don’t know about how you prepare for a game.

I keep watching the videos of all the great innings played Rahul bhai, Sachin paaji and Laxman paaji. I watch how they approached a pressure situation and got the team out of the jail. I draw motivation from watching their innings. For instance, now that we are in England, I watch some of the innings they played here. I watch how they countered the conditions and what kind of shots they played. I learn a lot from that and also get motivated to emulate their performances.

Another important aspect of batting at 5 and 6 is batting with the lower order batsmen. Is that something you’ve had to work on?

We always knew that guys like Bhuvi and Ishant can bat. In this series, the bowling coach has encouraged them a lot to improve their batting and we have seen the result. I have realized that the most important thing about batting with the bowlers is to show them that you trust them. If they feel like you believe in them, their self belief will rise too. In cricket the importance of the ninth and tenth wicket partnerships is very high. It frustrates the opposition and gives your team a mental edge. That moral edge can change the game.

Do bowlers carry the confidence of their bowling performance into their batting? Do you understand that as a batsman? How does your approach change?

It does happen that when a bowler does well with the ball, he is that much more confident when he comes in to bat. But that depends a lot on what kind of individual he is. Some guys just switch off after the bowling innings and start afresh with the bat while others carry the mindset of their bowling performance into their batting. Generally, when a bowler walks in to bat, you can make out from his body language what kind of mindset he is in and what his confidence level is. Your instincts tell you how to deal with him – whether you need to say a few words or just let him be.

How crucial is patience when batting with the bowlers?

You absolutely need patience when you’re batting with the bowlers and the earlier you learn how to read them and the situation, the better it will be. For instance, when I got out for 96 in South Africa (second Test, Durban, 2013), a century was on my mind. I was thinking about getting those four runs as quickly as possible because I was batting with the tail. I played that slog shot and got out on 96. That’s when I realized that I need to understand how to bat with the tailenders. That’s when I started watching the videos of Dhoni bhai and Mike Hussey to learn how they carry the tailend batsmen with them. I realized how special this game of cricket is. In this game you have to respect everyone, whether it is your opposition or your batting partner who walks in to bat at No. 11. If you try to be over smart and don’t respect someone, the game brings you back to the ground.

How frustrating is it when you’re gritting your teeth out, digging in and wickets keep tumbling at the other end?

I don’t get frustrated because I know that every man is trying his best for the team. Also, in this game, a batsman needs to make only one mistake to get out but the bowler has five more balls in the over if he bowls a bad one. When I bat, I take the responsibility of the entire team on me. I owe it to every member of the team including the support staff for the hard work they put into preparing me for the match. It is also my responsibility to bat for those team mates of mine who are not doing well. So, when the others get out, there is no frustration, only stronger determination to do well on their behalf.

Which was the innings that made you feel like you belong to this level?
For me it was my 51 and 96 in Durban and also the 47 I got in the first innings in Johannesburg. That’s when I felt that I can handle any bowling attack in the world.

How special was Lord’s 2014?

At Lord’s I got to know what it feels like to win a Test match overseas. It was such an emotional feeling for all of us and it was so special. You play for moments like that. That is the feeling that makes every struggle and difficulty worthwhile.

Do you get nervous every time before going in to bat?

No matter how many Test matches you have played, you’re always a little nervous before a game and before going in to bat. And I believe it is important to have that nervousness because that means that you care about this game and you respect it.

Shirin Sadikot

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