Mithali Raj: Time to give Indian women's cricket a new direction

"I sincerely feel it is time to market Indian women’s cricket and give it a new direction in the World Cup. Make the media and the fans follow the sport a lot more by at least telecasting live all the domestic T20s and ODIs," says the Indian women’s cricket team skipper.

Mithali Raj... focussing on the T20 World Cup in India.

Smriti Mandhana of India in action during a One-Day International match against Australia in Hobart recently. Smriti had a good run in the ODIs as the Australian pitches suited her style of batting.   -  Getty Images

At 33, she is one of the most respected players in women’s cricket. And more importantly, Mithali Raj, the Indian women’s cricket captain, continues to be the star performer for her team despite her career stretching into the 15th year at the international level. Fresh from a highly impressive tour of Australia, where India, for the first time, recorded a T20I series triumph over the host, but lost the one-day series 2-1 thereafter, she was of the view that women’s cricket in India should be marketed during the forthcoming T20 World Cup.

Speaking on her return from Australia, Mithali, who has played 161 ODIs, scoring 5199 runs with five centuries and 39 fifties, said that beating Australia on its home ground has given the Indian team the impetus ahead of the T20 World Cup.

“I sincerely feel it is time to market Indian women’s cricket and give it a new direction in the World Cup. Make the media and the fans follow the sport a lot more by at least telecasting live all the domestic T20Is and ODIs. This is one of the better ways to take the sport to the interiors of the country,” she explained.

The focus of the Indian team, according to Mithali, now shifts to really doing well in the T20 World Cup in India. “We need to win one major event; so far we have only reached the finals of some majors. It is so important in the context of women’s cricket in India, especially after we played so well in Australia,” she said.

A highly respected cricketer with the ability to rally the players around her, Mithali pointed out that the huge plus for her is that she has been playing with most of the girls for two years now and hence knows their strengths and weaknesses. “Similarly, they also are aware of what I expect of them, like when I shuffle the batting order. The team looks really good overall but needs to step into a different zone now,” she said.

The Indian captain went on: “Frankly speaking, I never thought India would do so well in the T20 series. We were only expected to give the Aussies a tough fight, but the first match set the momentum, giving confidence to the players.

“Definitely, beating a team like Australia in their backyard is something really special. I must compliment the way our batting line-up responded. Everyone chipped in with useful contributions unlike in the past when it was the case of one or two being the key performers. This is a huge positive,” Mithali said.

“Our fielding was on a different level on the tour. The players were throwing themselves all over on the field — which I had not seen earlier — saving at least 20 to 25 runs. This along with the consistency in batting helped reduce the pressure on our bowlers.”

According to Mithali, the interaction she had with the fielding coach of the Indian men’s team, R. Sridhar (also from Hyderabad), also helped her a lot. “Having known Sridhar for long, the interaction with him, when M. S. Dhoni’s team was also training at the same venue, was a huge plus. It was a very useful interaction, and it was Sridhar who suggested that we would be better off chasing targets in the T20s,” Mithali recalled.

“In the ODI series, the spinners were a bit disappointing but perhaps understandable given the nature of the wicket. But, fortunately, they came back well in the third match of the series,” Mithali said.

The Indian captain was of the view that the 19-year-old opener, Smriti Mandhana, who hit a century and a half-century in the one-day series, was very good. “The Australian pitches suited her style of batting — she’s predominantly a back-foot player. She needs to carry on the momentum, as one day she has to take the responsibility of being one of the mainstays of Indian batting. Being with the Indian team for close to two years, she knows what she has to do and is no doubt immensely talented and young,” Mithali remarked.

With regard to giving a fillip to women’s cricket in India, Mithali said the central contract system had come at the right time for the players. “Now, we need more exposure and especially live coverage of at least all the T20 domestic games to make the sport more popular,” she said.

“I must remind you here that all the girls who interacted with M. S. Dhoni and others during the T20 series were all really excited. Honestly, from what I could gather from my girls, the Indian men’s team was highly appreciative of the women’s team. This is a huge morale-booster for us,” she explained.

“Well, even I was playing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first time. So you can all imagine the excitement and aura we experienced when we played that game. We need to play more at such historic venues in future,” Mithali said. The Indian captain said that one of her goals was to win the T20 World Cup. Mithali said she was also looking positively at the 2017 World Cup (ODI). “I am enjoying my game and will continue to serve the country for some more time,” she concluded.