Batting for women’s cricket

“The future of Indian women’s cricket looks great, but again, it all depends on how we come up with a plan of action that not only helps sustain the passion of the current crop of young players, but also attracts more and more girls to the sport,” says Mithali Raj in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Mithali Raj lives in Hyderabad, a city that does not even have a women’s cricket league. All that the woman players do here is have net sessions, keep themselves fit and stay focussed. Yet the fact that she continues to be the mainstay of Indian women’s cricket is a tribute to her resolve to be among the best in the field.

True to her simplicity, Mithali does not boast anything big about herself. And she reminds that the secret of Indian women’s cricket’s success (the victory in the one-off Test against England after a gap of eight years) was team spirit, despite the fact that the squad had eight debutants.

For the record, it was India’s third victory in women’s Test cricket.

“This was the most remarkable feature of our victory. I feel really happy for all these new girls, for they could not have asked for a better start to their Test career,” said the 31-year-old Indian captain, who, incidentally, was also a member of the Indian Test team that won in England eight years ago.

“And what is immensely satisfying is the fact that we were playing a Test after eight long years and still managed to win it. Full credit to the entire team,” said Mithali, who is regarded as the best ever women’s cricketer from India.

So, what exactly was the message for the team before the start of the one-off Test in Wycombe?

“Frankly, I was not thinking of a victory. I just told the girls not to expect too much from their first game. I also told them, ‘at the same time, don’t give away things easily’. I am glad they followed what I told them diligently,” said Mithali, who has the rare distinction of being the World No. 1 cricketer for close to five years now.

When asked how tough it was to captain such a young and raw side, Mithali remarked: “Definitely, it was the most tiring match of my career. I was completely drained out — both mentally and physically. I had to do a lot of thinking, both as a batswoman and a captain. Never before did I field so much next to the bowler, as I had done during this Test, for I had to constantly tell the bowlers, who were quite new and raw, about what they should do. Barring Jhulan Goswami (who was also a member of the Indian Test team that won against England in 2006), the others needed that kind of care and attention.”

Shedding light on India’s victory, Mithali said: “Bowling England out for 92 in the first innings was a huge thing for us. That gave us a lot of confidence, and getting them all out for 180 in the second was a bonus. Finally, the decisive point was when the openers gave us a sound start when we began the chase.”

How was it staying until the end to guide the team to victory?

“Let me be honest: I felt the pressure. We were close to victory, but the fear of making a mess of it was always lurking around. So I decided to give off my best. I am glad that I was at the crease when the winning run was scored,” Mithali said. “This team is not as bad as it was made out to be after the World Cup debacle in Bangladesh. The future looks great, but again, it all depends on how we come up with a plan of action that not only helps sustain the passion of the current crop of young players, but also attracts more and more girls to the sport,” she said.

So, what exactly is she looking for from the powers-that-be in this regard?

“What we need is not just camps before a major series or a tournament; we need to have a domestic structure that would ensure quality players and help them adapt to different conditions. This again will be possible only if we have a National Championship regularly with two-day matches. Right now except for camps and a couple of one-day tournaments, we don’t have any other event in our calendar,” said Mithali, who has a terrific record in both Tests (9 matches, 626 runs, one century, average: 52.16) and one-day internationals (150 ODIs, 4855 runs, five centuries and 36 half-centuries, average: 50.05).

If given a chance to offer three suggestions to improve women’s cricket, what would they be?

“First, we have to build a strong base from the under-19 level, where the basics need to be very strong. Here, I must say that the T20 format has led to faulty technique amongst many players.

“Second, the national side will have to play as many matches as possible and not just confine itself to only camps. Even a three- to four-month long camp will not serve any purpose unless you have real match practice.

“Third, efforts should be made to ensure that the gap between international events is not too long. It is very difficult for players to recover and regain form if they play once in a while. So, besides having clinics from the school level to promote women’s cricket, you need to have a structure at the State-level that provides a platform for the young talent to showcase their skills,” Mithali said.

How does Mithali feel to be the No. 1 women’s cricketer again?

“I have been so for more than four years now. Yeah, it keeps you going; it’s very motivating no doubt. But I am quite used to this,” she said with a smile.