Mithali Raj: 'Asia Cup win a huge morale booster'

The veteran cricketer said the team's performance at the Asian championship will give the players a lot of confidence, which they badly needed ahead of the qualifiers for the next year’s World Cup in England.

"The qualifiers are not going to be easy, but again this gives us a chance to play against teams which we might end up playing at the World Cup. So, it will be a different kind of experience," Mithali said.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

India’s best-ever women’s cricketer and former captain, Mithali Raj, said that the Asia Cup win in Bangkok last Sunday is significant in erasing the debacle of the last World Cup and the team can now look for a brighter future.

In an exclusive interview to Sportstar on her return after being named ‘player of the tournament’ and ‘player of the final’ in the recent Asia Cup, the 34-year-old Mithali acknowledged it is the kind of performance which gives a lot of confidence to all the players, which is badly needed ahead of the qualifiers for the next year’s World Cup in England.

“Definitely, the players are starting to perform better, though they can be more consistent. I think the biggest positive of this Asia Cup win was our bowling attack and the middle-order. The spinners did well on tracks which were not conducive to spin. They bowled really tight and got the big breakthroughs,” Mithali said.

Capable players in the team

Questioned about the changes she envisages for India to be a force to reckon with in the qualifiers and if they make it to the World Cup, the articulate star batswoman said there is plenty of talent and quite a few players are capable of winning games on their own. “The preparations have to be really good and with the BCCI taking care of them, we should be in the right frame — mentally and physically,” she added.

Mithali pointed out that in a World Cup, she needs a few more to back her up because of the kind of pressure the team can be in there. “It must be remembered that thanks to video analysts, every team is well prepared to take on the opponents. Look at the way Sri Lanka and Pakistan have caught up in terms of standard. So, there has to be a team effort in such majors,” she said. “The qualifiers are not going to be easy, but again this gives us a chance to play against teams which we might end up playing at the World Cup. So, it will be a different kind of experience.”

Comfort zone

On her new role as an opener, having batted at No. 3 or 4 for most of her career, a smiling Mithali added that she is enjoying it. “Since 2014, I am coming up the order and definitely enjoying it. It took time for me to settle down, but clearly relishing the challenge of the opportunity of batting right through the innings. A strong middle order has helped my cause,” she said

Mithali also talked about her passion for the sport. “For whichever team I play — be it for Railways or for India — I cannot be faulted for not giving off my best,” she remarked.

Enjoying her freedom

Interestingly, Mithali is also enjoying her freedom after she was replaced as the captain. “Definitely, it is a different kind of challenge for me. I field near the boundary line unlike earlier when it was always inside the circle. But, no regrets as I enjoy wherever I am on the field,” she quipped.

Talking about the changes in women’s cricket over the years, she said: “I am glad that the Asia Cup final was telecast live on TV and this is what women’s cricket needs badly. More and more such things will only help the players in many ways. Even branding of women’s cricket gets the impetus with live telecast

“Being a witness to the evolution of women’s cricket from pre-BCCI days when there was nothing to rave about to now when the players are paid handsomely thanks to the central contract system, things are much better for us.”