The ICC Women’s World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Mumbai as India take on West Indies in the opener. But does India really care? Or do we just sit back, avoid the TV and carry on with our lives… something in stark contrast to the excitement that surrounded the men’s version of the Cup.
Indian skipper Mithali Raj, however, is confident that women’s cricket offers something completely unique to attract the viewer: “Curiosity will pull people to watch us play. They will like the effort we put in… and our strokeplay is more graceful.”
But grace is not what will win games for India. It’s what they put in on the field.
According to Mithali, the team has to be on their toes for tomorrow’s game. “For me, fielding will be the most crucial aspect against West Indies. Along with that, we need tight disciplined bowling.”
And standing true to her words, Mithali was seen leading half-a-dozen members of the team to fielding training after the press conference.
The session saw some excellent diving, especially by Gauhar Sultana, but it saw lots of wayward throws and calls of “do haath, do haath (both hands, both hands)!” Couple that with Australia chasing down a total of 222 runs against India in the warm-up match in just 38.3 overs, and Mithali’s words ring louder than ever.
But the other concern she had, that of the opening pair, seems to have subsided: “Opening was a concern, but Thirush Kamini is back and openers are looking good this time. They’ve done very well in the warm-up games and that bodes well.”
About India’s first opponents, Mithali looks at West Indies as a developing team and is certainly aware of the dangers they pose: “They’ve come a long way in the last couple of years and have some hard-hitters in the team that we need to be careful of.”
India have failed to reach the finals whenever they have hosted the Women’s World Cup, and Mithali understands the pressures of expectation. “The main advantage will be conditions. I’ve observed that the tracks laid out are flat and helpful to batsmen and run-scoring has been encouraged in this tournament. As for pressure, there is always pressure at this level. The only solution to that is to perform. If we perform, we will win.”
The skipper, who enters the tournament as the top-ranked ICC batter was adamant to not talk about anything negative about the side: “I don’t want to talk about weaknesses and what has happened in the past. I just want positive vibes surrounding the team. Our preparations are very good. We’ve batted on all sorts of tracks and the practice suggests that the team is compact.”
Every time the Indian men’s side plays, the media talks about the perfect formula of picking a team. So, how much thought does the women’s side put into that?
“There’s a lot of thought in the game plan. Even When we meet players from the men’s side, we do talk about these things and how to sort out issues.”
With the Indian team on a short break, there are chances of someone coming to watch them play, but Mithali doesn’t really believe it makes a difference: “When you’re out there on the field, it doesn’t usually matter who is in the stands. But if someone from the men’s side makes a good remark about you, then it certainly boosts the team.”
Mithali and Jhulan Goswami are well known in the circle of cricket followers, but the skipper said that there is a lot of talent that people didn’t know about: “Harmanpreet Kaur, Poonam Raut, Kamini, Karu Jain and N Niranjana are all brilliant players to look out for.”
And Mithali says that she is in the same boat as these players when it comes to being recognised on the streets of India: “I’m not on television that much, so no one recognises me by my face. I’m recognised by my name.”
But if they start with a thumping win tomorrow, everyone will recognise the Indian women’s team.