Mithali Raj: ‘Long break enabled us to get fit’

India will begin its campaign in the ICC Women’s Championship (2017-20) when it plays South Africa in a three-match ODI series in Kimberley (February 5 and 7) and Potchefstroom (February 10).

India women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj interacts with the media, ahead of the South Africa tour, in Mumbai on Tuesday.   -  Vivek Bendre

India will begin its campaign in the ICC Women’s Championship (2017-20) when it plays South Africa in a three-match ODI series in Kimberley (February 5 and 7) and Potchefstroom (February 10). Six countries — West Indies, New Zealand, Australia, England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — have already played three matches each last October. The Windies is leading the table with six points.

Tour importance

The host country of the next ICC Women’s World Cup in 2021, New Zealand, will get a direct entry into the tournament along with three other top teams in the Championship. In the preceding league, India did not play Pakistan in three matches, forfeited six points, and played the qualifiers in Colombo to feature in the World Cup. Mithali Raj’s team lost to England in the final last July.

Read: Mithali to lead India for tour of South Africa

The BCCI has advised the ICC to treat the Championship as a six team affair, because India will not play Pakistan. The ICC Women’s Committee has been informed about the BCCI’s position, but the ICC has not responded to the BCCI’s suggestion.

Two new balls

The Indian team, comprising familiar names and the 17-year-old batting sensation from Mumbai, Jemima Rodrigues, will play a warm-up game before taking on the home team in the first two matches at Kimberley in the Northern Cape. For the first time, the Indians will play an ODI match/series with new balls from either ends, a rule that has been made mandatory from October 2017.

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Mithali’s team coached by former Baroda player Tushar Arothe, gained reputation following its fine run in the last World Cup, but it could be rusty not having played single international for well over six months. But a seasoned campaigner in Mithali, who played her first ODI on 26 June, 1999 against Ireland in Milton Keynes and scored a memorable unbeaten 114, said she did not mind the long break. “We don't have injuries now. Harmanpreet was injured during one of the World Cup matches, and a lot of players had niggles that needed time to recover. So the gap has given us time to work on ourselves, get more stronger for the coming series.’’

Nursing injuries

Taking her rationale a little further she said: “Ideally, we would have preferred to continue the momentum. But when you have injuries, you need to have to recovery time. All players are fit. We have been playing the domestic matches and we had enough time to prepare for the series. A couple of them played in the Big Bash League. We need to start afresh. We have two more series lined up after the South Africa tour.’’

Mithali felt that getting used to the local conditions before the start of the series will always help. “We will get used to the bounce, because normally you don’t to get to see that bounce on sub-continent wickets and also the sideways movement. This is our first international tournament where we will be playing with two new balls. So it is important we get there early. We will get used to the local conditions.’’

India has played eight ODIs against South Africa on tour, won four and lost three. In May 2017, India beat South Africa in a quadrangular series twice, including the final, but lost to it in the World Cup match by 115 runs at Leicester.

Squad: Mithali Raj (Captain), Harmanpreet Kaur (vice-captain), Sushma Verma (wicket-keeper), Ekta Bisht, Smriti Mandhana, Poonam Yadav, Punam Raut, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jemimah Rodrigues, Jhulan Goswami, Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Mona Meshram, Pooja Vastrakar, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper). Coach: Tushar Arothe

Harmanpreet named captain for Twenty20 team

Squad: Harmanpreet Kaur (Captain), Smriti Mandhana (vice-captain), Mithali Raj, Veda Krishnamurthy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Anuja Patil, Taniya Bhatia (wicket-keeper), Nuzhat Parveen (wicket-keeper), Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Radha Yadav.

The schedule: Feb. 13: Potchefstroom; Feb.16: East London; Feb.18: Johannesburg; Feb.21: Centurion; Feb. 24: Cape Town