Purnima Rau is a cricketer much respected within her circles and without. One of the few cricketers who has dedicated everything to the game, she endures as one of the dominating figures of women's cricket in India despite not being the captain. An experienced campaigner, Rau has dedicated herself to the game despite many stumbling blocks. She has endured great personal loss at times and is understandably looked up to by most young cricketers. Keen to make this CricInfo Women's World Cup her own, Purnima Rau speaks to CricInfo's Anand Vasu in an exclusive interview on the eve of the competition:
AV: You've played in two World Cups before and have said in an earlier interview that you wanted the forthcoming CricInfo Women's World Cup to be your swan song. How special is this World Cup?
PR: This World Cup is definitely special and I can feel it in my blood. We got very close to beating Australia in the semifinals in 1997. That kind of rubbed salt into my wounds. Ever since then I've had sleepless nights. This time I'm not going to let it go. I know it is just there in my hands. I can feel it.
AV: How much has the World Cup been occupying your thoughts?
PR: The World Cup was occupying my thoughts till about last month. Now I've decided to segregate it from the rest of my cricket. I don't want to think about it too much and pile up pressure on myself. I'm just trying to enjoy the motions of the game. I would like to think of it just before we actually play. I'd like to put in all what I've done for years - collect my thoughts. Right now I'm in a very blank, serene, even placid state of mind.
AV: India's bowling strength has always been spin bowling. The conditions in New Zealand are going to offer more than a bit of an assistance to the mediumpacers. Do you think this will give teams like Australia, England and New Zealand a big advantage?
PR: Not at all. I've played in New Zealand before, in 1995. Our spinners used to turn the ball on any wicket that was prepared. Whether it was the Basin Reserve at Wellington, or Christchurch or even Auckland at the Queen's Park. On all those wickets we were turning the ball square. I have very good memories of the 1995 series. In fact, batswomen from the other teams use their feet very well to the mediumpacers. They come down the track and whack them all over the place. When it comes to the spinners, they don't really use their footwork. I know that the Australians will be taking a lot of quick singles, graft their way through, taking four or five runs an over. That's where we'll really have to choke them up. They're not going to use their feet and go for big shots. That much is there in the offing. I know our spinners are going to do well, unless the wickets have changed dramatically over the last four or five years.
AV: From what you say, you seem pretty confident. This must only come from the fact that you are well prepared. How easy has it been to bring the team together for preparatory camps? You don't always get the best practice facilities either...
PR: The preparation for any player playing at the national level goes back many years. Take our team, Neetu David, Rupanjali Shastri, Smitha Harikrishna, Anju Jain, Chanderkantha... we've all grown up together. We have been playing together for many years. Our preparation is not just three months prior to the World Cup. It's a preparation that began in 1993 or thereabouts. We know each others' strengths and weaknesses inside out. Playing on bad wickets, and in God forsaken places, whatever it is, we have been together. That's been the solid foundation for the way the girls have improved over the years. I myself can see the changes in technique, skill and improvised shots. That really amazes me sometimes. The fact that we are still a young team and yet have a lot of experience behind us is our greatest strength. We are a good mixture of youth and experience, and that is going to help a lot in this World Cup. In 1997 we were still a bit raw. The core remains the same from then. Apart from Promila and Sangeetha Dabir we are basically the same team. We know that we have made a few mistakes. We also know exactly what our strengths are and this is what we are going to work on now.
AV: You said that you had a gut feeling that India would do well in this World Cup. You must have gone into previous World Cups feeling pretty confident and strong as well. What makes this World Cup different?
PR: We have played a lot of matches in recent camps. We have had a lot of match practice and that is one of the key differences. We have played a lot of matches against the boys recently. This has helped develop our understanding much better. Whether it is fielding or running between the wickets or bowling when we're being hit around... we've been tested in all areas. The camps before the previous World Cups were quite futile in terms of match practice. There was a lot of patriotism instilled in the side in those camps, I must add. We have gone a bit deeper in terms of preparation this time.
AV: The big guns would obviously be Australia, England and New Zealand. Who in particular are you looking out for in these teams?
PR: Every team will be tough to beat, Anand. Everybody is an unknown quantity, especially South Africa. I was very impressed with them last time in the quarter-finals. They bowled a very good line and length, with very good pace. Their only drawback was their batting, and Conrad Hunte was working with them. They lost him two years back, but the good work is going on for South Africa. Sri Lanka seems to be a dark horse. I've played against them with the touring Andhra Pradesh side. As a race they seem to be mentally very strong. Anything can happen. I think we should just put our heads down and play every match as it comes. New Zealand and Australia are the big sides to watch out for. I think we should just put our heads down and climb up - that's about it.
AV: I remember hearing you say in an interview earlier that you dreamt of the innings Aravinda de Silva played in the 1996 World Cup that got Sri Lanka victory. How much of an inspiration is an innings like that?
PR: Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, I think I place them at the pinnacle of the game today. To chase three hundred runs every match is a great feat. Coming in to bat two or three down chasing an impossible target, I wonder what stuff these guys were made of. Especially de Silva, I remember the innings he played in the semifinal. He came in at 26/3 and played Javagal Srinath for three coverdrives, won the game for Sri Lanka and then that wonderful innings of 107 and he won the game for them. That has been a great inspiration for them. I've dreamt of something like this. Even now Anand, I think I'm going to get my winning runs in the midwicket region. I've been a dreamer all my life and seventy percent of my dreams have come true. I've been very lucky that way.
AV: You said seventy percent of your dreams have come true. Perhaps leading India in this World Cup is one dream that did not come true?
PR: It would have been an honour to lead India. But I'm probably destined for bigger and better things. What is important for me is the fact that my presence should be a motivating factor for the team. I want to be the catalyst for the team. I want to be there for the girls when they need me. My grand-pop always said it was not about leading India as a captain. I lost the captaincy in 1995 and he said that I should lead my team from the outside just with my performance. He always thought that I should lead the team off the field with four or five wickets.
AV: We wish you all the best in the forthcoming CricInfo Women's World Cup 2000 and thank you for talking to us.
PR: It's always a pleasure sharing my views. I just wish more people hope and pray for India. This effort I would dedicate to my coach who I lost in 1997, Sampath Kumar. He poured in everything he had for this. He also dreamt that at one time, me and Mithali Raj would play for India at the same time. That is exactly what we are doing now, and I am hope he is watching our performance.