Former India captain Mithali Raj on Thursday emphasised the significance of nurturing grassroots talent and suggested that hosting women’s cricket matches in Hyderabad could aid in the growth of women’s cricket.
“Hosting international women’s cricket matches can significantly benefit the growth of the sport, especially since a lot of talented athletes come from this part of the city,” Mithali said during a panel discussion titled ‘Bringing women’s cricket to the forefront’.
“While I haven’t had the opportunity to play at Uppal, my colleague (V.V.S.) Laxman has been fortunate enough to do so. I wholeheartedly agree that Hyderabad should host women’s cricket matches to generate interest among young girls. Perhaps for Telangana, we can encourage clubs to have women’s teams and select the best state side from them. A league for women within the state can also be established to help young girls get exposed to the environment and not feel overwhelmed when franchises pick them.”
The veteran cricketer reflected on her playing days and noted the progress in women’s cricket. “I began playing cricket in the 1990s when our team was not yet a part of the BCCI. Instead, we were under the Andhra Pradesh Cricket Association (APCS). Initially, many clubs were reluctant to include women cricketers, but we still attended training camps.
“Nowadays, I believe that there should be more matches for women rather than relying on trials. Back then, there were no turf wickets available for women, and sponsorships were scarce. Many of us had to dig into our parents’ pockets to afford equipment, while others relied on scholarships. Despite the limited facilities, we managed to develop our skills, which proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic when I had to return to training,” Mithali said.
Nooshin Al Khadeer, the former India cricketer spoke of the time she travelled the length and breadth of the State in search of talent. “When I decided to quit, I received an offer from HCA for the role of a coach,” she said. “I still cherish those memories when I travelled alone to different districts to find raw talent. As a coach, I visited various places such as Adilabad, Khammam, and Warangal, in search of that girl who could make a difference. With the implementation of contracts system in BCCI, there were changes in the state association. Today, around 1800 girls are registered with BCCI, and as a coach, identifying the right talent has become a crucial task.”
Venturing into the interiors of Telangana is the way forward to identify talent, feels Mithali. “There is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done at the grassroots level. Nowadays, many parents are eager to enroll their children in cricket and even if they don’t make it to the Indian team, they can still benefit from match fees, access to different leagues, and other opportunities,” she said.
“In fact, many players from rural areas have made it to the Indian team and are celebrated for their achievements. Visibility is crucial, and state associations are doing well in this regard, but providing more facilities in districts would benefit more aspiring players.”
Nooshin urged the authorities to grant access to grounds that fall within the city’s radius. “I have been living in Hyderabad for 20 years and I have noticed that the city has been fortunate enough to have grounds located in the heart of the city,” she said. “To provide the best facilities for cricket players, it is important to have at least two turf wickets, one cement wicket, and two astroturf wickets. If these facilities are provided, it will be a great blessing for the players. As parents are now taking the initiative to provide the best equipment, the system has changed for the better.”
Importance of red-ball cricket
The former India captain suggested that the young cricketers should be exposed to red-ball cricket rather than just playing T20 leagues.
“You don’t have a red ball tournament even for the seniors. But the coaches can train the players with the red ball as there is a lot more movement with the red ball and coaches do say to train with the red ball when going to England even if you are going to play a white ball series. I am not a fan of introducing T20 cricket at the age group level but if the BCCI and ICC think that’s the way to promote sport I am okay with it,” she said.
The legendary cricketer also touched upon the importance of mental conditioning.
“There is a vast difference in the way you approach while coaching an international player and an age-group player. The mental aspect is very important and the earlier coaches were more into that aspect to teach talented players who come from districts and don’t belong to the city is a challenge. As a coach, you have to be a confidant. You should be able to allow them to express freely and even coaches of Level 1 and Level 2 certification probably don’t have the answer to dealing with the mental aspect.”
The Conclave is being held in association with Hero We Care — a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, Carrera, Indian Oil, ISBC, NTPC, Khan Study Group, KPMG, Sprint Diagnostics, Sneha Fresh Chicken, Great Sports Tech, Epione and NewsX. The day-long event can be followed live on sportstar.thehindu.com.
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