June 12, 2017

'If it's our last World Cup, we should enjoy ourselves'

India Women's captain Mithali Raj looks forward to what could be hers and Jhulan Goswami's final World Cup, and the exciting young talent that will replace them

Play 06:05
"The team seems to be rounding itself in terms of the combination we're looking for the World Cup"

You're about to play your fifth World Cup and, at age 34, more than likely your last one, along with Jhulan Goswami, who is the same age. Are you preparing as if it's your last one? If so, are you more relaxed, or do you feel more pressure to put in one more great performance?
Yes, you're not the first one to tell us that this is going to be our last World Cup (laughs), but we do realise that and we are quite happy that the team, from what we started to where the team is now, it's come a long way, and the youngsters are responding quite positively to our suggestions.

As players who had long careers, we've enjoyed different times where the team has done well. Of course, Jhulan has broken the world record for the highest wicket-taker. That's a huge achievement for her. Normally, the career is very short-lived, so to have such a long career in itself is a very exceptional achievement.

So it could be our last World Cup, and I would definitely suggest to Jhulan to enjoy ourselves rather than piling up expectations of performing. It's natural that we want to perform exceptionally well in the World Cup knowing that this would be our last, but we shouldn't forget to enjoy this platform.

"We are quite happy that the team, from what we started, it's come a long way, and the youngsters are responding quite positively to our suggestions" © Getty Images

Where have you seen the biggest changes in women's cricket within India and across the international game as a whole over the course of your career?
Women's cricket in India has developed mostly because of the BCCI. When they came in 2007 to what it is now, the players are more professional. We have the best support staff and the best facilities to train at the National Cricket Academy. The players are looked after by the BCCI in terms of central contracts. Even if the players are injured, they are sent to the best rehab facility in the National Cricket Academy and have the best physios and trainers. That gives the players a few more years in a career.

Earlier, without the BCCI, we were not even aware of how to go about if we have injuries or to prepare ourselves for challenging conditions. Even the domestic circuit is well organised. We get to play on very good grounds back in India. When I started as an India player, I used to struggle to get to play on a turf wicket.

The Australian board and the ECB have taken great lengths to promote women's cricket in their countries. A lot of people now come up to us and say, "We hardly see much of a difference between men's cricket and women's cricket."

The ICC has also increased the World Cup fee, so there's a lot to play for. Now the matches are being televised, starting from 2009. I hope that one day women's cricket stands up as a brand in itself and it doesn't require [help from] men's cricket.

How does your preparation leading into this World Cup in England, specifically winning the quadrangular series in South Africa in May, compare to the build-up and preparations you have had for your previous World Cup experiences?
It may not be ideal preparation because English conditions are far different than what we've been facing in South Africa. It's winter time in South Africa and it will be early summer in England, but any form of matches we get to play before the World Cup is preparation. As a captain and as a player, I would want to play more matches and build momentum before the World Cup.

The India Women's squad before leaving for the 2017 World Cup in England © PTI

The Qualifiers [in February] have been one of the changes for Indian women's cricket because we've seen a lot of youngsters coming in - they are very promising and have scored a lot of runs, got wickets, performed in the Qualifiers. They have come into the series with a lot of confidence. The team now seems to be rounding itself in terms of preparation and the combination that we're looking for the World Cup.

Nineteen-year-old Deepti Sharma got a chance to open during the Qualifiers as well as the South Africa quadrangular series and was the leading run scorer in both. And she made 188 as part of a record 320-run partnership in women's ODIs. How has Deepti's performance had an impact on the team's batting plans for the World Cup?
It definitely will, because Smriti [Mandhana] is coming from an injury. Her last good knock was in Australia [in February 2016]. After that she's not really been among runs. I really relish watching Deepti. She's a very promising batsman who also chips in with her bowling.

But Smriti scored a lot of runs in England in 2014. I'm hoping that she will be among the runs in the World Cup. We need to have healthy competition in the side so that players are raring to perform, standing up to the challenges. That's how we'll build a very good side.

"I'm quite excited about Deepti Sharma. The form that she is in, she can be one of the allrounders India is looking for" © Associated Press

In the previous World Cup, at home, the team failed to go forward from the initial group stage into the Super Sixes and eventually finished in seventh place. Are you more relaxed playing this World Cup away from home?
Maybe the home crowd and expectations are an added pressure on the home side but otherwise the World Cup carries its own pressures.

The last World Cup, in 2013 had a different format, with Super Sixes. One bad game [against Sri Lanka] and we were out of the Super Six. Quite disappointing because being the home team, a lot of expectations were riding on us and the build-up to that World Cup was also very good. We started by posting a huge total against West Indies, who turned out to be runners-up. We raised the bar for people and didn't step up to the challenges when we faced England or Sri Lanka. This time round we are looking to definitely making it to the top four.

Does a different format for this year's World Cup, where every team plays everyone else in a round-robin format before semi-finals, change the team's mindset?
It gives us an opportunity to play all the teams, and even if you have one bad game, you always have another to compensate. Because you're playing all the teams, there's always the possibility of a surprise. Then there are a lot of options you can count on, bonus points or net run rate. It keeps the stage open for anybody.

What kind of influence has coach Tushar Arothe had in the short time he's been with the team since being appointed in April?
Tushar has been with the team earlier, so he's not someone new in women's cricket. He gets a lot of new stuff into the team, like pushing the girls to improve themselves, set up challenges. He's developing a very competitive atmosphere in the side so that the girls are not laid-back and are not adding too much pressure on themselves. Also, since he has played county [cricket] in England, he's well aware of English conditions.

Mithali leads the team out for the 2005 World Cup final, which India lost to Australia © Getty Images

What's a key target area for the team to have a successful World Cup?
The opening stand is very important in the World Cup. We've always struggled with the opening partnerships, where in the first ten overs we're not really able to make many runs - until the Qualifiers. When you're chasing 250-260, you need to have the run rate right from the go, which we struggled for a long period of time. But in the quadrangular series, I see that the openers have actually stepped up. It was very heartening to see that they have gave us the kind of start that we're looking for if we want to be the best side.

Whether it is Deepti Sharma or someone else, is there an up-and-coming player you're particularly excited about?
Deepti Sharma is the youngest member [of the squad]. It's going to be her first World Cup. And Veda Krishnamurthy's and Rajeshwari Gayakwad's. The team definitely is different to what we played in 2013, barring four or five players.

It's their first World Cup, but the way they have been performing in the last two or three years, I don't think they will add pressure on themselves. As a captain, I can only tell them to enjoy themselves. I'm quite excited about Deepti Sharma. The form that she is in, she can be one of the allrounders India is looking for.

Win or lose, what's the one thing you want to take out of the World Cup to look back on as a great memory?
When I led India for the first time, it was in the World Cup in 2005. That was my first outing as captain. This probably would be my last outing as captain. The first one went well as [we ended up] runners-up. I hope destiny repeats, maybe better this time. Even if it doesn't, I will be very happy that I have led a team which has, over the years, improved hugely. We've helped players improve from what it was in 1999, when I started, to what it is in 2017. I will be more than happy that I'm leaving a team which can actually go on to be one of the best sides.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan01790387 on June 22, 2017, 10:40 GMT

    about time women's cricket gets as much recognition (if not money) as their male counterparts

  • AFanOfGoodCricket on June 14, 2017, 7:31 GMT

    Two cornerstones of the Indian women's team, amongst the best in the game (men and women included). Hope you lift the cup this time. Thanks for making India and Indians proud.

  • cricfan31169655 on June 13, 2017, 8:31 GMT

    Very sad state of mind. You are not going for PICNIC to make such a statement. "Our last World Cup, we should enjoy".

  •   Soumyaranjan Mishra on June 13, 2017, 6:34 GMT

    But the key problem lies in their wicket-keeper as since unlike MSD or Pant or DK or WS as in their counterpart team is not a quality batsman.

  •   Soumyaranjan Mishra on June 13, 2017, 5:58 GMT

    What this current team has that previous Indian teams lacked is an abundance of all-rounders that gives Miss Raj a lot of options and they can bat till number 8 which is a bonus esp in England. They must go with 3 Fast bowlers and 2 spinners combo too considering the weather element in England. Best of luck team India

  •   Rajesh_gupta1969 on June 12, 2017, 21:35 GMT

    Good luck to team India to win the 2017 world cup

  • Anurag-Singh on June 12, 2017, 13:34 GMT

    Amazing players, both Mithali and Jhulan. All the very best for the world cup.

  • Pranav001_pm on June 12, 2017, 6:33 GMT

    All the best for the world cup !!

  • No featured comments at the moment.