India needs to play more international matches

Mithali Raj… “ We need to play at least 3 to 4 international series every year. It would be good for the youngsters who are new to the system. It will also help seniors like us to maintain the momentum.”-K.R. DEEPAK

According to many players lack of international exposure may be one of the reasons why the Indian women are not able to deliver consistently well. By Haresh Pandya.

The overall standard of women's cricket in the country — including facilities and infrastructure — has improved noticeably ever since the BCCI had taken it under its wings a few years ago.

The latest success for the Indian women was the convincing win against the West Indies at home in January. The team led by medium-pacer Jhulan Goswami beat its opponent, captained by wicketkeeper Merissa Aguilleira, 3-2 in the five-match ODI series and 2-1 in three Twenty20 matches. Except the first ODI in Mumbai, all other matches were played in Gujarat (Baroda, Rajkot and Ahmedabad).

More than the speedsters Goswami, Rumeli Dhar and others, it was the spinners, particularly leg-spinner Priyanka Roy, off-spinner Diana David and left-armer spinner Gouher Sultana, who proved too good for the home team. Even the West Indies captain praised the Indian spinners.

Apart from its superior spin bowling, India's all-round strength also made a big difference.

Though it took her sometime to regain her touch, vice-captain Mithali Raj turned out to be the most outstanding Indian batswoman in both the ODIs and Twenty20. She came up with a splendid century in the 4th ODI in Rajkot. Allrounder Stafanie Taylor (220 runs at 55.00 and nine wickets at 16.10 in five ODIs) was the mainstay of the West Indies batting.

But for India's poor fielding, a fact Jhulan admitted more than once, the margin of victory would have been bigger for the host. With this triumph over the West Indies, India has consolidated its position and status in international cricket and erased some disturbing memories of losing crucial games in the past.

But there is no denying the fact that India has been a force to reckon with in women's cricket in the world for quite some time now. But the Indian girls have the tendency to lose important matches and thereby spoiling their chances of winning major tournaments after coming agonisingly close to doing so.

For instance, they were runners-up in the 2005 World Cup, which they should have won. They finished third in the 2009 World Cup, after beating the Aussies, but lost to the Kiwis in the match that mattered. They lost to Australia in the semifinals of the Twenty20 World Cup late last year.

"I do miss Test cricket," laments Jhulan Goswami.-G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

According to many players, lack of international exposure may be one of the reasons why the Indian women are not able to deliver consistently well. “We need to play at least 3 to 4 international series every year. It would be good for the youngsters who are new to the system. It will also help seniors like us to maintain the momentum,” says Mithali, who has scored 572 runs, including a career-best score of 214, in eight Tests.

The former India captain has also echoed the sentiments of other senior players like her. “I do miss Test cricket,” laments Jhulan, who has taken 33 wickets, in addition to scoring 263 runs, in the same number of Tests as Mithali. “It's the best of all formats and also the most challenging. It's the ultimate test of a cricketer's skills.”

Though the BCCI is providing the best of facilities and infrastructure to the players, it does not seem to encourage the players with regard to Test series. The Indian girls have not played a Test series since 2006.

There is no dearth of talent in the country. In the past, when there was neither encouragement nor money in the women's game, not too many girls pursued the willow game. But the scenario has changed today, thanks to the BCCI's efforts, more girls are coming forward to play cricket with a fair degree of seriousness. On its part, the BCCI gives more and more importance to grooming promising young girls. In 2008, two talented girls, Pallavi Bharadwaj of Madhya Pradesh and M. D. Trushkamini of Tamil Nadu, were sent to Australia for special training. With the next World Cup to be held in India in 2013, the BCCI has identified about a dozen talented young girls and ensured that they are properly nurtured.

These girls underwent vigorous training in the company of senior players at a specially organised one-month camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore last year.

“What the young, talented players need is a platform to show their potential. In other words, they require more and more match practice. Unless they're exposed against major international teams, they won't learn how to adapt themselves to different conditions and situations, how to deal with different bowlers on different wickets, how to play and perform under pressure,” says a senior player, who does not want to disclose her identity.

“You can judge a player's mental toughness by how she performs under trying circumstances against a strong opponent. But then, when even senior cricketers aren't getting to play a couple of series or tournaments against a top international team or two in a year, let alone Test matches, you can imagine the plight of youngsters. The BCCI should organise more and more matches against international teams on a regular basis.”