India ended the Women’s World Cup campaign on a disappointing note, leading to questions over the future of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. While the cricket fraternity appears divided on the issue, Sportstar got in touch with two former India internationals — Purnima Rau and Gargi Banerjee — for their thoughts…
Need to look beyond, but clear communication necessary — Purnima Rau
Another World Cup, another disappointment for the Indian women’s team. Having been in the system for many years and having seen many things closely, these things don’t surprise me anymore. As a knee-jerk reaction, there could be some changes, some instant fixes — without addressing the real issues. This has been going on in Indian women’s cricket for long. After every tournament, evidently, the coaches get removed, while several other people continue despite a disappointing show.
I am not sure why this happens again and again.
The fans are concerned about India’s early exit from the World Cup and are blaming it on that no-ball, but let me tell you — the problem lies deep within. It’s not just that one no-ball that cost us the tournament, there were several questionable tactical moves that raised eyebrows.
Having been a cricketer and having worked with the Indian team as a coach for a fairly decent time, some on-field decisions looked baffling to me. Throughout the tournament, Deepti Sharma’s batting order was changed — from batting at the top, to being dragged down the order, there was no clarity. Also, against South Africa, our field placing looked similar for all batters — irrespective of the situation. I am not sure what the back-room plan was, and, if there was a plan, was that executed well? Throughout the campaign, there were issues that we failed to address on the field.
Now that the tournament is over, the question that hits us all is — what’s next? Do we part ways with the seniors like Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj and focus solely on youngsters? The answer is both yes and no.
During my coaching stint, I shared a very good rapport with Mithali and we both had a very good understanding in terms of planning and executing those plans. We enjoyed success together as a team. But, I agree that going forward, we need to look at young guns and the best way to do that is to invest in the U-19 players, who will be featuring in the World Cup next year. If we find some talent there, groom them, and we can enjoy benefits over the next few years. While someone from the existing group can lead the team, the focus should be on having a new core.
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So, if that’s the approach, then, obviously, we need to look beyond the seniors like Jhulan and Mithali. But before we do that, the Board needs to communicate with them and tell them about the roadmap and why they don’t fit in there. We have to keep in mind their contributions and they deserve all the respect.
In 2019, after the World Cup, the national selectors had spoken to Mahendra Singh Dhoni and explained that they are considering Rishabh Pant going forward. I think a similar approach is needed here. Keeping age and other factors in mind, we have to be honest and make bold decisions. It is necessary that we respect both Mithali and Jhulan’s decisions and if needed, give them a farewell which they richly deserve.
But in Indian cricket, one cannot be certain about anything, so I am not sure if this will happen. If you look at how things have gone in women’s cricket over the last six-seven years, you will see everything runs in a cut-copy-paste mode, with decisions that often raise eyebrows.
I hope we don’t see such a situation in the future, because India’s women’s cricket deserves better.
Let’s not rush things, let them be around for a bit — Gargi Banerjee
After a heartbreak in the World Cup, it is definitely time to introspect. But then, is it the right time to completely leave out Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj? I don’t think so.
Having known both of them for many years, I believe that Jhulan and Mithali still have a lot to contribute to Indian cricket and their exit should be phased out to ensure a smooth transition. I know age is catching up on them, but for the sake of women’s cricket, it is important to allow them to be around for a while, so that the team does not suffer in the years to come.
While we should ideally look at handing over the captaincy to Harmanpreet Kaur or Smriti Mandhana — my preference would be Harman — I feel Jhulan and Mithali should continue for at least a few more years so that they can groom the youngsters.
Keeping their age in mind, it won’t be possible for them to play in each and every series, but having them around will help the newcomers, who may initially find themselves under pressure.
Having been the perfect ambassadors of the game, both Jhulan and Mithali can actually help the youngsters gradually fit into the system.
Even though a few might disagree with me, I believe that we have still not been able to find like-for-like replacements for Jhulan and Mithali, especially, Jhulan. Unfortunately, we could not find another effective pacer like her. The Board, the selectors and the team management should be on the same page and ensure that this transition happens in a phased manner, otherwise it could have an adverse effect on the team’s performance.
In a game like cricket, where agility and fitness is the key, Jhulan and Mithali have been icons for years, and it is important that we give them that respect and ensure that they have a smooth exit. That’s why there has to be clarity and a proper communication between the players and the Board.
Imagining women’s cricket without Mithali and Jhulan is tough. But, that’s the nature of the sport — it waits for nobody. Maybe, in another year and a half, both will quit. But unless they do, we should not rush.
Let them hang in there for a while. Trust me, India’s women’s cricket will benefit from that.
(Purnima Rau is a former India captain and a former head coach of the senior national team. Gargi Banerjee is a former India batter and a former chairperson of the national selection committee, and was the manager of the Indian women’s team on its tour of Australia in 2021)
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