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June 3, 2009
The Indian women's team finished an unsatisfying third in the 50-over World Cup in Australia after being finalists four years ago, and heads to England for the first women's World Twenty20 with fewer expectations and less pressure than it did during the trip Down Under.
India were expected to be one of the top contenders in Australia; however, the highlight of a disappointing tour was a third place play-off win over the hosts. Three months on, things are different: None of the women's teams have played a lot of Twenty20; New Zealand have played the most - 12, England 11, Australia 10 and India 2, so there is little past form to go by.
India have prepared for the tournament with selection matches and practice games against Under-17 boys in Bangalore. Sudha Shah, the coach, said the players worked on their fielding, playing combinations and on avoiding dot balls. "We have a very balanced side with experienced and young players," Shah said a day before the team's departure to England. "We have one of the best bowling attacks. Gouher [Sultana, left-arm spinner] has been bowling well in her first few series and Priyanka [Roy, legspinner] was our highest wicket-taker in the World Cup."
Jhulan Goswami, India's captain, was also upbeat about her side's chances and didn't believe Australia and New Zealand, who have power-hitters in their line-up, had an edge over the others. "They are taller and fitter than us", Goswami said. "[But] Power is not everything, you need to play with your mind. If you're mentally strong you can beat them and we are confident about ourselves."
The success of their most senior batsmen - Anjum Chopra and Mithali Raj - in England is to India's advantage. Chopra, who has scored a century and two half-centuries in 13 ODIs in England, is expected to contribute in a big way. "I think things should work to my advantage even though I wasn't comfortable with Twenty20 initially," Chopra said. "I really like it now and it's like all our cricketing knowledge has been condensed into a smallish format. Since it's shorter probably the wickets will come into play but at the end of the day you have to hit the ball. Twenty20 may be a new format but I would still think it's best to play cricketing strokes. I know the aim is to hit the ball hard but not without timing."
Chopra pinpointed fielding and running between the wickets as areas where India needed to improve. "In this format we need to be always looking to take singles and also not to concede any."
Raj also said the changes she was forced make while batting in Twenty20 had made her uncomfortable at first but it was something she was getting used to. "I think for someone who is fluent in cricketing shots, this change can be difficult," Raj said. "You realise that you need to find other ways of scoring which will get you more runs than what you usually rely on."
Over the next few weeks it will become clear whether a level playing field will work in India's favour, and whether they can return to the glory days of 2005 when they qualified for the World Cup final, and subsequently enjoyed a series of other successes.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?