<
>

A letter to the India women's team

No more flying under the radar: Every win and loss from here on will be watched and remarked upon Associated Press

My dear girls,

I thought I'd write to you a while after the World Cup final - just putting some distance between us and that emotional day. I still find myself halfway between rejoicing and heartbreak. You must be feeling this yourself - the joy of making the final balanced by the thought that you were so near and yet so far. For Mithali and Jhulan, history repeated itself. I too relived the emotions we felt in 2005 when we missed our opportunity in Centurion. Even today we all remember it and talk about it and feel bad.

But apart from the result, I must say, there really is no comparison between 2017 and 2005. Your performance has given all of us in cricket so much optimism and positivity. You have grabbed the country's attention.

I know you all must have been surprised by the huge turnouts that greeted you back home in India, and by the affection and fanfare you received. You have been showered with rewards, and rightly so, for you have brought pride to the country. The next step now is to make sure you do whatever it takes to keep winning and hold on to the faith, affection and adulation showered on you.

This was an unforgettable World Cup for me, though I wasn't playing. The fact that I witnessed a capacity crowd for a women's cricket match at Lord's, and more so that I was able to commentate on India's biggest women's cricket game so far. I figured out quickly that I would need to be detached while calling the game. Being busy all morning before the start of play helped, but afterwards, I realised defeat still tastes the same. It was emotional and humbling.

When you pulled yourself out of the slump of two defeats, against South Africa and Australia, and played New Zealand with determination, I remember feeling as though it was the start of our World Cup.

"Along with your rewards will come more responsibility. Youngsters in India will look up to you. Girls, many of them, will be keen to follow in your footsteps"

I was elated at seeing you come out of that slightly quiet dressing room with sheer focus, showing character, getting your heads sorted and just playing cricket. I was happy that you played teams, not nations with big cricketing reputations.

When I stuck my neck out and backed India to beat Australia in the semi-final, when just over a week earlier you had received a drubbing in Bristol, I wasn't being brave. Not many, I think, believed me - including, a few in the dressing room perhaps.

I just felt that it would be a good day for India and the reason was my belief in you and the spark you showed against New Zealand. The way you played gave me belief, and left me happy - and relieved that the match had gone India's way.

In the semi-final, I finished my commentary stints early in the first half. Harmanpreet Kaur was in the groove and timing the ball well, ready to make an impact. The media box was packed, and the adjacent rooms seemed more full than usual. I moved from one room to the other, trying to find the right place to enjoy what was happening on the ground before my eyes. Maybe it was because I was fidgety or nervous, or maybe I didn't want to miss a second of the Harmanpreet show. It was a knock played with a stamp of authority.

Well batted, Harman. Not only because the occasion was a big one but for the sheer domination that you showed, the conviction in your body language, and your ability to create an authoritative presence. It was simply stunning.

I knew the target made for a tall ask for Australia, but deep down I feared they would get there. The way they went about their chase showed why they are six-time world champions. Not for a moment did they give up the fight, nor did they look out of control for long. They consistently put pressure on the bowlers, and the class of Alex Blackwell kept pulling them towards the target. The relief and jubilation from Deepti Sharma when she took the last wicket was plain for all to see.

The generations of teams that will follow you all will always remember this victory. As I look back at the final and what happened and why, I will say again, as you must have heard me say before: preparation is the key.

I think all of you know fitness remains a concern. I hope it becomes the most crucial point of your planning for the future. You can only become better and stronger if you train harder. A strong body helps strengthen the mind too, and gives you the confidence to handle different and difficult situations. It helps conquer nerves and provide the strength to handle yourself better.

Finals of tournaments are always more to do with the mind. Both teams have crossed similar hurdles to get there, but the one that is better prepared to handle the occasion emerges the winner.

By now all of you will also have heard analyses from friends, family and others, and views of what the world saw on TV, but in any case, I'm sure each of you, through your own individual judgement, knows where you faltered. I'm sure each of you feels the pain of the gap between winning and losing. About what went amiss and how; what lies ahead and how much. Yes, there will be felicitations, award functions and accolades, but once all of that is done, each day will count towards the preparation of the target that lies in the immediate future.

The journey from here won't be any easier. Few might have noticed us earlier, but the attention now will be greater. Along with your rewards will come more responsibility. Youngsters in India will look up to you. Girls, many of them, will be keen to follow in your footsteps.

Anything you do after this will be highlighted. Even an ordinary performance. But that's not what you are looking for. You have taken India to a higher pedestal in the sport, and how you play from here will decide where the sport takes you. For a few of you it was your first World Cup. You showed us many bright sparks, but your consistency moving forward will depend on your preparation and the hard yards you put in away from the spotlight.

Next year there is an ICC World T20 in the West Indies. After that, a 50-over World Cup. The increasing number of power-hitters and improved fitness levels are constantly reducing the gap between the men's and women's games. Whatever happens between now and then, India will expect you to win.

The words I hope to call on air some day - about India winning the World Cup - will need to wait. Cricket is a game of patience, so I will wait. For how long is up to you.

Girls, I wish you, as always, happiness and success. Stay strong, be bold, work hard and always respect the game.

Yours,
Anjum

Former India women captain and batsman Anjum Chopra is now a commentator