Raj hails resilience of 'new India'
Following the 186-run win against New Zealand in Derby, Mithali Raj has hailed her team as a "new India". Needing a win in their final league game to qualify for the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup, India shrugged off the effects of successive losses to South Africa and Australia and turned in their best performance of the tournament. Having posted 265 thanks to a century from Raj and fifties from Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy, India bowled New Zealand out for 79, with Rajeshwari Gayakwad grabbing a five-wicket haul in her first game of the tournament.
"The girls realised it was a must-win game for us to qualify for the semis," Raj said, after the match. "We came back to the ground where we've played four games, so we know how the wicket and the outfield plays.
"The girls wanted to do well today, give their best and they knew it was one game that could get us into the semis. I'm extremely happy that the girls made a comeback.
"I think this is a new India team. In the earlier editions, we've seen one bad day and then we've never made a comeback into the tournament. This is a very good win for the girls and it will give them a real boost and a lot of confidence."
Raj said India's players had been "very down" on the eve of the match, and that she had spoken to her team-mates about the importance of bouncing back from setbacks.
"I'm very happy and thrilled because, until yesterday, most of the girls were very down because of the performance that we displayed in the last two games, against South Africa and Australia. Of course, Indian camp was on the back foot after two games, but it's something I have always told the girls - if you're aiming to play the semi-finals or trying to be in the top four in the world, it's important that we need to make comebacks after disappointments. Usually that's what the best teams are made up of. Every time you may not win a game, but how you make a comeback is very important."
Raj was pleased with the performance of India's new-ball pair of Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey, who sent back both of New Zealand's openers by the third over of the chase, easing the job of Gayakwad and the other spinners.
"It's always important that if the fast bowlers give you those couple of early wickets, then the spinners really don't have the pressure of getting the first wicket," Raj said. "It happened in the last two games, against Australia and South Africa, that the spinners had lot of pressute when they came in to get that one wicket. But today, when we had Suzie Bates in the second over, we knew they were already on the back foot because when you're chasing 260-plus, the team always looks for the openers to give them a good start."
India have lost seven of their last eight ODIs against Australia, stretching back to July 2011, but Raj said there was no reason why they couldn't beat them in Thursday's semi-final if they continued to play the way they had against New Zealand.
"Australians are a very good side, very rounded side," Raj said. "They have a lot of depth in the batting and they have good bowlers. But again it is how the team responds to the situation on that day, how we step up, because it is one game now, and if we continue to play the way we played today, there is more possibility that we can beat Australia."
Raj's 123-ball 109 against New Zealand was her sixth ODI hundred. She is also the leading run-getter in Women's ODIs, having gone past Charlotte Edwards' career tally during India's match against Australia in Bristol.
"Well, I think nothing beats representing India at the biggest stage," she said, when asked what keeps driving her. "I'm at my peak, I'm playing well, I've worked on my game since the last year, I was preparing for the World Cup, and I'm happy that I'm still scoring runs for the country."