In the spotlight, Mithali and Co. promise better results

India captain Mithali Raj thanked the BCCI for keeping faith by ensuring the team had enough matches under the belt heading into the Women's World Cup.

The girls and the support staff received their promised cheques and, for once, the administration and the government, wisely kept its distance as the stars soaked in the spotlight.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Swag is the most-abused word in English. It is often misunderstood as bold, brash overconfidence when it actually means an assured self-confidence that reflects in actions and words. By that yardstick, Mithali Raj owns the term.

Her book-reading while padded up and then coming in to nonchalantly swat the English bowlers in the opening game of the Women's World Cup is old news. On Thursday, the Indian women's cricket team captain proved she was as good with words as with the bat even as the girls were herded from one felicitation to another throughout the day.

It began at 9 am with Sports Minister Vijay Goel and moved on through BCCI, the Railways ministry and the Prime Minister. Through it all, the 15 girls kept their smiles and sanity with quiet dignity.

“I am proud of the girls, who played a fantastic brand of cricket in what is a very important phase. Because when we play good cricket, there are so many followers who watch women's cricket, " Mithali said, looking every player in the eye and conveying more in those looks than the words themselves.

"Each time I have urged them to do better, make a comeback after those two defeats, they have always stood up to the challenge and responded well. I am proud of each one of them, even those who could not make it to the XI, but kept the atmosphere very positive in the dressing room," she added.

It was a small speech, which she apologised for being long, but it was heartfelt and gave a glimpse of how close-knit this team has been through the past few months. She acknowledged the support staff for keeping the girls up and running, both mentally and physically, during the Women's World Cup (WWC) as the underdogs finished runner-up against the host in London.

She thanked the BCCI for keeping faith by ensuring the team had enough matches under the belt heading into the WWC.

She did not forget Railways – that employs 10 members of the team – for providing the financial safety net of a job that allowed the girls to “go out and represent their best, and work on improving their standards”.

The 34-year-old acknowledged the former women cricketers who, she said, had toiled to keep the game alive so that girls like her could play. And she had a small request to the media -- “I hope you continue to cover women's cricket as you have done now. And on behalf of the team I promise we will continue to put our best foot forward and continue to perform”.

Mithali did not forget the dark days either. “I am one of the players who have seen days before the BCCI took over and after. I am very fortunate that I continued to play because today I am seeing this phase. There were times, like after the 2005 WWC (the only other time India reached the final) when we never had this kind of reception or the media coming and hounding the girls for interviews. They are all stars in their own right now! It's a nice feeling to go through, to feel wanted, appreciated and acknowledged, so thank you to this bunch,” she said.

There was a brief Q&A session before the girls were whisked away for a television shoot. The girls and the support staff received their promised cheques and, for once, the administration – with the acting functionaries of the BCCI and CoA member Diana Edulji sharing space even as there was a notice from one to the other - and the government wisely kept its distance as the stars soaked in the spotlight.

At a time when the Indian women's cricket team is being the toast of the nation, the architects of their achievement were conspicuous by their absence in the series of felicitations throughout the day here.

Sunita Sharma, one of the few women cricket coaches in the country and a Dronacharya awardee, was the manager of the team when it won the World Cup qualifier event in Sri Lanka in February this year to book its ticket to England.

Former India captain Purnima Rau was the team's coach at the event. While Rau is based in Hyderabad, Sharma coaches at the National Stadium in the capital.

In fact, two of the earliest supporters of women's cricket in India – Tarak Sinha and Vinod Sharma – at both international and domestic levels have also been consigned to the shadows as sundry administrators seek a slice of the spotlight in the wake of the team's success.

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