India Women’s led by Mithali Raj created several records as they clinched the Quadrangular series in South Africa. While the skipper became the first woman captain to lead India in 100 ODIs, pacer Jhulan Goswami became the highest wicket-taker in women’s ODI cricket with 181 scalps. The youngsters too scaled new heights as Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut became the first opening pair in Women’s ODIs to share a 300-run stand when they posted a 320-run partnership against Ireland. Deepti’s 160-ball 188 is the second highest score in Women’s ODIs and the highest by a Indian batter.
The landmarks and achievements hold the team in good stead as they look forward to the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017. In an elaborate interview to BCCI.TV, Mithali observed that having a consistent opening partnership was a big boost ahead of the all-important tournament. She also added that mental preparations and fielding will be crucial at the forthcoming event. She also reflected on significance of the recent successes of the team, which includes winning three tournaments overseas.
On the significance of winning the Quadrangular Series in South Africa and breaking several records in the tournament.
It was very important that we continue what we developed during the (World Cup) qualifiers, and take the momentum into the Quadrangular Series. Though two oppositions – Zimbabwe and Ireland - were no match, the South African team was the one that we thought would give us a good fight and we were playing in their backyard. All of us carried a lot of positivity from the qualifiers into the series, but also knew it wouldn’t be easy to beat SA at home. When we beat SA in the first leg everybody felt that if we play to our potential, we are capable of winning the series.
The matches against Zimbabwe and Ireland were equally important for me as a captain to give everybody an opportunity to get into the groove because this was the last series before the World Cup and an ideal preparation if you get matches to play before a big event. Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut had the partnership and then Jhulu (Jhulan Goswami) broke the record. The opening partnership (was crucial), especially Deepti played remarkably. She has improved as a player from when she made her debut. I think that innings – an individual best - has made a whole lot of difference to her approach as a batter because when she played next, which was against SA, the bowlers were much better than the Ireland bowlers so when she kept playing positively (scored 71 runs) when we were chasing a total of almost 270, her approach was very good. I think that innings gave her a lot of confidence as a player.
It (the partnership) came at a right time I believe because we have struggled in the past to have right opening partnerships. Jhulan of course has been a part of the team for long and it is a big achievement in terms of her career and the way she has progressed as a player from the time she made her debut to now a very experienced seamer. I am equally impressed with Deepti’s performance, of course Punam has made a comeback and she has transformed herself.
I think these things really help to propel the team before a big event and it generates that confidence. You have those four-five players who are very confident, it is very infectious. So naturally the team was very upbeat even though we lost that game (against SA in the league). In the final, the girls were back as a very strong unit. After losing a close game to South Africa, I had thought maybe the final would be difficult because girls really gave it all in that game but they showed the same intensity (in the final). It was probably from the past performances during the league from where they garnered so much of confidence getting into the final which made it a one-sided game.
On leading India in 100 ODIs.
Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of it until during the match when the manager told me that it is my 100th ODI as captain. Luckily, I didn’t because the human mind tends to linger around a bit. I am grateful that I had this opportunity to lead India in so many games. I have seen the transformation of the team. The first time when I led India in the 2005 World Cup, I had so many seniors under me and then I had my players of my own age group and today, I am leading a young brigade. So, I have seen three generations and I can only say that I am honoured and grateful to have this achievement against my name. Also, thanks to all those players who played under me and supported me as a captain.
On the three successive overseas tournament wins.
As a captain, I am very happy with the way the team has shaped up before the World Cup. We know that the run-up to the World Cup is important. Every player would want to be in form and every team is looking into things that they would want to develop going into the tournament. It is a good thing because earlier we used to struggle in touring games to win series. Usually, we would win one odd game and lose the series, but now the team is winning even outside India, which is a big positive and it is commendable.
The one thing that troubles me is that the team should not peak early because that’s what I felt in the earlier World Cups too; whether it was the T20 or the 2013 World Cup where the run-up was very good but as we entered the World Cup, we won and then started to lose and we didn’t make a comeback.
This World Cup has a different format - a league followed by knockouts, so you have chances to make it to the semi-finals even if you have one bad game. Our very first game against England is important because it will set the tone for us in the tournament, so it is important that we be at our best and that we stay higher and not come down in terms of momentum and performance as a unit.
On areas to look into ahead of the ICC WWC 2017.
I would definitely want the team to prepare mentally because that is something that will be tested in the World Cup. You are up against the best and under a lot of pressure, so it is important that the girls are tuning themselves mentally. The second aspect is our fielding. The more you develop that department and the stronger you become, you will always have a chance to turn things around when you are fielding. Also, fine tune the roles that each one of us has to play.
On the ICC Women’s World Cup.
I am not putting extra burden of expectations on myself as a player. Even as a captain, I would tell the girls not to put pressure on themselves, but to just be at their best every game. Every team is coming there to win. I definitely want this World Cup to be a very significant one in terms of the Indian Women’s cricket team. It is an opportunity for us, a platform where most of the matches are televised or streamed so people are going to follow. It is our best chance to promote the sport in India. And if you are giving your best, and the way the team has been doing, I am sure a lot of people are now interested and will be tuning in to the game, so it is important that we present the best standard that we have.