Smriti Mandhana has stressed on the need for India Women's team to know and be informed about their schedule, especially ahead of the next year's World Cup, and has said that the team is "proactively working" with the BCCI on the matter.
With their series against England, Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies either cancelled or postponed amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the last one year, there was uncertainty around India Women's return to international cricket. The home series against South Africa, which began on March 7, ended a 364-day period of no international cricket for the side, which was their longest time off the field since 2008.
The squads, as well as the tour itinerary, for five ODIs and three T20Is against South Africa were publicly announced only after the team assembled in Lucknow in late February to go into quarantine. After Kerala Cricket Association informed the BCCI about its inability to host the series, the Karnataka Cricket Association was touted to host the games in Bengaluru, but the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association later said in a release that all eight games would take place at the Ekana Stadium.
"It's very important as a player to know what we're going to look like for the World Cup," Mandhana said. "We all are working with the BCCI, they're really proactive in telling us now what series we will be having for the next one year. I think we'll have a pretty clear idea in some days. I think as a player, it's important to know what series you're going to play next or what the schedule looks like so we can prepare ourselves mentally, physically and even with the skillsets like which bowler you're going to face in the next two-three months. It gets easy if you know who you're playing against."
Mandhana said that the team's focus will be on fielding and fitness for the next one year as they prepare for the 50-over World Cup, scheduled to be played in New Zealand in 2022, admitting that they have been working on it since their runners-up finish at the 2017 ODI World Cup.
"We've come off a really long break so at the moment we're going out there and trying to play some good cricket," she said. "But for sure we know that the World Cup is happening in New Zealand. The bowlers look pretty good in the last month and we want to be consistent with bowling. The only thing we're working on as a team post the 2017 World Cup is fielding. We keep working on our fitness and fielding and that's the whole plan for the next one year. I think skills can come and go but the fielding and fitness standards are something we want to keep getting higher. In one year, hopefully, we get to a place where we are fielding and running between the wickets really well."
On Monday, the BCCI secretary Jay Shah tweeted that India Women will be playing a Test - their first in six years - against England Women "later this year". Apart from Shah's tweet, there has been no official announcement about the Test from either the BCCI or the ECB.
Mandhana, who was part of the last two Tests India played - a one-off match against South Africa in Mysore and one against England in Wormsley, both in 2014 - was also not sure when the Test will take place but was excited at the prospect of playing in whites after a long gap.
"I'm not sure when the Test match is happening but it has been announced and we all are really excited," she said. "When we played there last we've had really good memories of that Test match. It's the feeling of putting on whites and going into bat with three slips and a gully, we don't get to do that much. That feeling as a batter I crave whenever I watch a men's Test match. It'll be exciting to go out there after six years and play a Test."
With two other global tournaments scheduled in the women's calendar in this cycle - the Commonwealth Games in June-July next year followed by the T20 World Cup in 2023 - India are possibly looking at a busy schedule following the year-long hiatus that would also see them spend extended periods in biosecure environments. Mandhana said that talks of having a mental health professional travelling along with the team are ongoing.
"At the moment the girls are in very good space because first of all, we've come after a long break and everyone's fresh to go out there and play some good cricket. Definitely, a mental conditioning coach or a mentor could be of use for a lot of girls. I think the BCCI is looking into it and hopefully, we'll have something going before the World Cup."
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo