Although the Indian team fell short of lifting the trophy in the final of the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 by a mere inch, they won a billion hearts back home with a series of inspirational performances that led them to the summit clash. If captain Mithali Raj is to be believed, the World Cup performance is "just the beginning of good times for them".
After landing to a rousing reception back home, with the team being accorded a deserved heroes' welcome in Mumbai, the captain couldn't help but admit that the experience was overwhelming for them.
"Obviously it is quite overwhelming to get such kind of reception, first of its kind for the whole of us. It was a little lesser in 2005 (the first time the team reached the final). Then we got took over by BCCI, and that time I was wondering had we got taken over by BCCI (back then) what kind of a reaction we would have had back home.
"The broadcasting, and of course coming under BCCI, has made a huge difference to women's cricket. It's just the beginning of good times for us," Mithali was quoted as saying in front of a packed gathering at a press conference in Mumbai on Wednesday.
For the veteran, their World Cup run could be treated as a watershed moment as far as women's team sports is concerned, adding that while female athletes had already established themselves in the world of individual sports, their efforts in the mega-event has helped bring the limelight to the often-ignored team events.
"I think this is a moment where a team sport garnered so much attention other than men's cricket, because, you've seen individual sport gets that much mileage because there is only one player, two players to focus on. But when it comes to team (sports), irrespective of how good the players, it doesn't get that much attention.
"I'm happy that we have defined women's sport in India, especially the team sport, and I would like to see many more women's team sports coming to the limelight, and this probably is the beginning," added Mithali, who made her international debut back in 1999.
The buzz in the cricketing circles following Mithali and Co's latest feats centred around the formation of a women's version of the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) — the tournament that has been credited as one of the factors behind the rise of the men's team. Mithali reiterated the fact that the Australian and English teams were benefitting from the T20 leagues back in their country, and that the impact of a women's IPL would be no different.
"After going through the World Cup and the way women cricketers have responded and improved the standard of women's cricket, taking it to a different level. It is probably because of the leagues in Australia and England in the (last) couple of years, they have improved their standards and they have performed really well.
"I'm sure if something in that format is started in India, it will only help the domestic players in terms of exposure. Again it's up to the board for organising the league," added Mithali.
Talking about the team's performance in the World Cup, the Jodhpur-born cricketer described the team's win over hosts England in the lung-opener as one of the reasons behind the team's spirited performance, while praising her side for the way they bounced back after defeats to South Africa and Australia in the group stage.
"The most important moment for us as a team to realise was the England game, beating the hosts in the first game, the opening game of the campaign was a boost for the girls because that's when they realised that they are capable of beating the hosts which was the second-best team in women's cricket. Since then the girls believed that they can always turn things around.
"It was a little difficult when we lost against South Africa and Australia, but again it is bound to happen when you have a long tournament, and there are bound to be defeats. But it's important if you are willing to be in the top four, we have to make comebacks, and the girls have really turned things around against New Zealand and Australia to make it to the finals," added Mithali.
The Indian team reached the final of the Women's World Cup, with Harmanpreet Kaur's valiant 171 not out helping the side beat defending champions Australia in the semi-final. However, the 'Women in Blue' fell short of the 229-run target set by hosts England in the final by nine runs, despite controlling the proceedings for a major part of their chase. Anya Shrubsole was the star of the English bowling attack, ripping the middle and lower-order with figures of 6/46.