ICC Women's World Cup 2017: Mithali Raj prefers winning title for India over leading 'Team of the Tournament'
'Being named captain of the ICC World XI is a privilege, I didn't expect it, but I would prefer to be the winning captain,' Mithali said.
The Indian women's cricket team is on a high at the moment, dominating headlines across the cricket-mad nation after their runners-up finish in the World Cup in England. Such was captain Mithali Raj's impact in the tournament as a leader that she was picked as the captain of the ICC's Team of the Tournament.
While Mithali described it as a privilege, being the winning captain in the final of a tournament was something that she said she would rather have preferred. However, that did not stop her from praising her side for the way they performed in the tournament.
"Being named captain of the ICC World XI is a privilege, I didn't expect it, but I would prefer to be the winning captain. Unfortunately, that didn't materialise, but I'm happy because the way the team has done.
"I believe at some point because of them, today I can probably say that I have led the team well. It's all credit to the team because the way the girls have responded to the challenges, the way I asked them to perform and motivated them... I'm sure the captain is what the team is. Otherwise there is no captain," said Mithali while addressing a press conference in Mumbai on Wednesday.
While she described the team's runners-up finish as the "beginning of good times", Mithali said their journey to the final of the 2005 edition of the mega event was also a defining moment in the history of women's cricket in India.
"In terms of the World Cup, I think even 2005 is a defining moment, because that was the first time the Indian team reached the finals. Had it not been for those years, we wouldn't have seen today.
"Doing well in the World Cup has always has its importance. You always enjoy doing well at that stage. But no matter which stage, representing India will always be satisfying," said Mithali, answering a question on whether the 2017 World Cup was the most satisfying occasion of her career so far.
Talking about the team's preparation before the World Cup, Mithali described the matches they played in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, as well as the subsequent quadrangular series — also featuring South Africa, Ireland and Zimbabwe — as a blessing in disguise. India went on to win both tournaments, beating South Africa in the final of both events.
"We were preparing for the qualifiers. It was important that we first had to qualify for the World Cup. Unfortunately, we didn't have a series where we could get the points, so we had to play the qualifiers. In a way, I have always felt that it was a blessing in disguise that we are playing matches before the World Cup.
"In the qualifiers, the girls have done well, with the final (being) a thrilling one. And then we had the quadrangular series. Even that was a preparation for the World Cup," said Mithali.
With women's cricket in India finally getting the attention that it had deserved for so long, there were hopes of the domestic structure in women's cricket getting a boost in terms of facilities and training. The veteran cricketer was confident of the BCCI creating more opportunities for young domestic cricketers to prove themselves, in the form of new tournaments. She hoped that the massive gap in quality between domestic and international cricket would narrow down in the coming years.
"Since two-three years, we have got the base in the domestic structure, and even BCCI is making effort to get to the under-16 level, because that is the basic level from where the girls can get into playing the higher level.
"So there are changes in the domestic structure, the purpose of which is to develop quality players, and of course there is a huge gap between domestic and international standard, but again it will close down with the (improvement of) facilities," said Mithali, adding that the real improvement of the players depended on getting more matches.
The Indian team's journey to the final of the World Cup saw a number of individual milestones being conquered along the way. While opening batswomen Smriti Mandhana became the youngest Indian to score a century in a World Cup, skipper Mithali went past Charlotte Edwards's record for most runs in women's ODIs, and also became the first to 6,000 runs in the format. India eventually lost the final to hosts England, whom they had beaten earlier in the group stage, by a narrow margin of nine runs.
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