Mithali Raj: ‘There are no favourites for 2021 World Cup’

With restricted access to gyms and play on hold indefinitely, Mithali Raj believes the 2021 World Cup will have no favourites and the race would be wide open.

Mithali Raj said that the cricketers were in regular touch with coach W.V. Raman and other staff members to devise training routines suitable for their circumstances.   -  PTI

India Women’s ODI captain Mithali Raj believes that the pause in sporting activity due to the coronavirus pandemic has evened out the competition and there will be no favourites for the 2021 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

With lockdowns in place almost everywhere in the world, sport finds itself in limbo, with games suspended and strict social distancing norms in place. “Access to gyms is restricted and play has been put on hold. So the 2021 World Cup is pretty much open and there are no favourites,” the Indian skipper told Sportstar in an Instagram live session.

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Raj explains that the Women’s cricket team is in regular touch with coach W.V. Raman and other staff members to devise training routines suitable for their circumstances.

“Some of us have running space while others like me have to manage within the restricted spaces indoors, so our trainers are adapting routines for us. WV Raman (sir) is trying to be creative with our skill training regimen. It is difficult because irrespective of how much we train indoors, we need to get out onto the ground to be fully prepared,” she said.

Relying on experience

The 37-year-old announced her retirement from T20 cricket to prolong her One-day career last year. On her priorities in the run-up to 2021, she said, “Fitness, at my age, is something I need to consciously and constantly keep up. I know I can’t forget my skill – I still have some batting in me. I might need a few sessions to get my rhythm going,” she added.

“Some of us have running space while others like me have to manage within the restricted spaces indoors, so our trainers are adapting routines for us. WV Raman sir is trying to be creative with our skill training regimen. It is difficult because irrespective of how much we train indoors, we need to get out onto the ground to be fully prepared.”

Raj has enlisted the assistance of her watchman and his son in her daily cricket practice. “I get them to bowl to me with a tennis ball, or I use a hanging ball. It’s nowhere close to a regular routine at the nets, but it keeps me going with my basics and helps me clock some batting time,” the Hyderabad-based cricketer added.

Raj, who is the highest run-scorer in women’s One-day cricket (6,888 runs), is grateful to be spending the lockdown with her parents by her side but admits she has managed to drive her mother up the wall with her innovative home workout attempts.

“My mother (Leela) gets so frustrated when I move the furniture around to try out a particular exercise, but I am making do,” she said with a chuckle, emphasising on the need to be match fit even in times like this.

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“I am an optimist, and I believe that whenever things get better at some point, we will get to hit the ground again. At that point, we shouldn’t have to be starting from scratch. I am following a religious exercise regime for that very reason,” she added.

Evolution of bowling arsenal heartening

The right-hander is particularly pleased with the evolution of India’s bowling arsenal. “In the last few years, our bowlers have done so well. They took us into the final of the World T20 in March. From speaking of the impact of a batter’s innings, I am so glad and proud to be speaking of the bowlers, especially our spinners doing well on Australian wickets in a format we have struggled in for so long,” she said.

While speaking of an even playing field, Raj also insists that the Indian team now is stronger than the team which lost to England in the 2017 ODI World Cup. “Teams don’t take us lightly anymore and come prepared for us. Consistently beating the best sides in the world – be it Australia in the ODIs or England in the T20s – has given us the confidence that we too are a side to beat,” she said.

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