The Indian women's cricket team, who reached the final of the World Cup in South Africa, were received with much fanfare at a suburban hotel in Mumbai. The team, decked out in their India colours, faced uncommon glare and attention from the media, as their sponsors, Sahara, called a press conference to congratulate them on their performance.
The team, the first from an Asian country to reach the final of the women's tournament, got the slightest glimpse of the attention and publicity their male counterparts are used to day-in and day-out. "It's almost overwhelming to see the kind of support and publicity we have got," said one team member as the press conference got underway.
When the hue and cry - aided at every step by Mandira Bedi, who has almost become the brand ambassador of the women's team, clapping and cheering - died down, Mithali Raj, the captain, fielded questions with poise. "Australia, with an experience of having played four or five World Cup finals, played better than us," she said, explaining India's stumble at the final hurdle. "It was a dream come true for us reaching the final. Many expected us to reach the semis, but we exceeded their expectations by reaching the final."
India's strength has traditionally been its spin bowling, and this was seen as something that could be a problem on the pitches in South Africa, which traditionally aid medium pacers. "Our spinners did very well even on those pace-friendly pitches, with three of them in the top five of the wicket-takers' list," continued Raj. "But fielding is one area which we need to improve. We have progressed but need to improve more."
Another of India's weaknesses has been chasing targets, and in the final they began well, restricting Australia until halfway through their innings. But Karen Rolton ran away with the game in the latter half, scoring a matchwinning century and then India faltered chasing a large total. "In most of the matches we chased small targets, but in the final we lost our way chasing in excess of 200," said Raj. "We restricted Australia in the first 30 overs, but then couldn't sustain it."
Sanjay Lal, CEO of Percept D' Mark, was asked if Sahara were likely to announce a cash bonus, or perhaps go further and gift members of the team with apartments in Amby Valley, a township near Mumbai which they have developed, as they had when the men's team returned from the last World Cup in South Africa having lost to Australia in the final. "We have been discussing similar matters in management circles," he said, "but have not decided on anything yet."
For the moment at least, the team, who walked away with a purse of merely 10,000 Rand (US$1600) for being runners up, will have to be content with attention and praise.