Important to have coach and players on the same page, says Mithali

Ahead of the New Zealand tour, Mithali Raj is of the opinion that new coach W.V. Raman will make a positive impact and that the team is focussed on pocketing vital points and get an entry into the 2021 World Cup.

India captain Mithali Raj and newly appointed coach W.V. Raman address the media ahead of the team's departure to New Zealand.   -  Prashant Nakwe

The last couple of months have been quite tormenting for Indian women’s cricket.

What started as a one-off controversy with Mithali Raj getting dropped from the final eleven in the semifinal of World T20, took an ugly turn when Mithali lashed out at the then coach Ramesh Powar.

And all that led to the ouster of Powar and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) bringing in W.V. Raman as the new head coach for a two-year term.

And now, as Indian team gears up for its tour to New Zealand, the ODI team’s captain, Mithali, said that coach and the players should be on the same page for the benefit of the team.

“When a coach comes in to the national side, we as a team are vocal and expressive as to what is required for the benefit of the team. The coach and the players will have to be on the same page because that’s very important,” Mithali said on Sunday during an interaction, before leaving for New Zealand.

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Last year, the Indian team saw ouster of two coaches - first, Tushar Arothe and then Powar. However, Mithali is confident that Raman, who comes with a vast experience of coaching at various levels, will be do justice to the role.

“I have not directly trained under him (Raman), but I have met him a couple of times. If you see his credentials, his experience and expertise (are vast). He has coached various teams at various levels, so he comes with that. There is no expectation as such, when you have credentials like that, you are only positive that the coach will make a big difference to the team,” Mithali said.

After finding herself in controversy, Mithali is now seeking a fresh start.

“I don’t know controversies help the profile of the sport because the profile of a sport totally depends on how the players and a team perform and it definitely did hamper women’s cricket in a not so good way because when a lot of non-cricketing things are spoken about, it is not so good,” she said.

“Now, we are getting an opportunity where we can again perform and let people talk about the team’s performance and that will only enhance the profile of the sport,” Mithali noted.

When the controversy simmered, there were speculations that Mithali could quit T20s and focus just on the ODIs, like her former teammate Jhulan Goswami.

But she refuted such claims. “I never thought of quitting because whatever has happened is off the field and I believe whenever I take that decision, it probably will be for my own reasoning about my own game,” she said.

During the whole fiasco, India’s T20 captain Harmanpreet Kaur and vice-captain Smriti Mandhana took Powar’s side and insisted that Powar should be retained as the coach till the next World Cup. Though Mithali bumped into Harmanpreet twice after the controversy, did they manage to strike a conversation?

“We did meet up after whatever happened and both of us have moved on from there. I think too much of emphasis is being given to that controversy. It was last year and all of us should look forward,” she said.

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Putting the controversies behind, Mithali now seeks a fresh start. “Coming into the new year, this is the first series and yes, we have moved on from that (the controversy). The focus now is on the New Zealand series,” Mithali said.

“As a captain and as a team, we understand the importance of the point system and how it is important for us to gain those points and get an entry into the 2021 World Cup. We know where we stand right now in the table, so this series is very, very crucial in that perspective,” she said.

While Mithali and Jhulan have played in New Zealand way back in 2006, it will be a first for most of the players. But Mithali feels that reaching there 10 days early will help immensely.

“As far as the conditions are concerned, we do have a lot of players who are touring New Zealand for the first time and it is good that we are going a few days earlier because we will get acclimatised to the conditions and train there. As far as experience is concerned, this team is experienced because a lot of players have been with the team for a few years now, but the conditions will be different. Getting us those early few days will give us that advantage of getting into the series with more preparation,” Mithali said.

She feels that ‘at this level, every player understands what it takes to reach here.’

“Even though we might have difference of opinions, when we come down as players, as a team, it is always for the benefit of the team and what works for the team is decided by everybody. As a One-day captain, it is important for me to get the team together and it is important we perform as an unit. Individual brilliance will win you matches but if you have to win series, you need every member of your team to perform. And that performance is to compliment the team’s goal. That’s what I believe will get the team together again and that’s what we want to work on,” she said.

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But does she plan to continue till the 2021 World Cup?

“I will take one series at a time. I don’t know where I will be in two-three months now, so I can’t predict whether I will be part of the 2020 World Cup. For me, right now at this juncture, the New Zealand tour is as important and very important in fact (to see) how it goes for the team and for me. I am only looking forward to this tour as of now. I can’t predict or comment on how it will go in the future. That’s something I have never planned in my career. I have always gone with the flow,” Mithali said.

While the team will be eyeing the precious points for qualifying to the World Cup, a personal milestone also beckons Mithali in New Zealand.

The India captain is just three matches away from playing her 200th ODI. Mithali, however, doesn’t want to focus much on that fact. “I am happy that I have come so far,” she said.

“I do understand that the home series against Australia hasn’t gone very well for us. We haven’t won a point there. This series, from that perspective, is very, very important and crucial because if we can get those six points - having lost the last game against Sri Lanka, we have also lost two points. So, playing any any teams in home conditions will have its own challenges,” she said.

“Yes, Jhulu (Jhulan) and I have last toured in 2006, but over these years, even New Zealand would have changed. We have only played in Auckland and Christchurch, we haven’t played in the rest of the places that we are touring this time. So, that could also be a first experience for both of us after so many years,” she said.

To ensure that the team does well in New Zealand, captain Mithali has a simple strategy: “We will rely on everyone’s experience as players and also use the 10 days (that we going early). That should benefit all of us and prepare for the series.”

That’s experience talking.