Fitness, fielding and finding two or three good fast bowlers are India's focus areas looking ahead to next year's 50-over Women's World Cup in New Zealand. This is the assessment of Harmanpreet Kaur, who also insists T20I captaincy isn't a burden despite her lean returns with the bat recently.
"Now the players are getting more aware about being fit and following the right daily routines," Kaur told Mumbai Mirror. "The things we have grasped in last two-three years, England and Australia have been doing from long before."
Kaur believes India's domestic structure is "five-six years behind" Australia and England, but adds that increasing awareness and popularity of women's cricket, central contracts and better facilities are starting to make a difference.
"Definitely we are five-six years behind them in these aspects," she said. "But now girls have understood their responsibility towards being fit. Earlier there used to be huge difference between a domestic player and what is expected at international level. But now some 30 girls are given individual programme by the BCCI.
The captaincy keeps me alert all the time. Earlier, I used to think about my performance alone. Captaincy has made me a better person
"So when one of them is picked for India, she is not clueless of what is expected of her. As we keep improving our domestic level, the performances at international level will improve. That is why I said we are five-six years behind these teams because our domestic set-up is not as good as it should be."
Kaur says India are at par with the top sides in terms of skills, and the increased focus on fitness has helped them beat sides like England and Australia, like at the T20 World Cup and the tri-series prior to that.
"Just the fitness. In these two countries fitness is part of their culture. Unfortunately, in India we start these things late," Kaur told The Week. "For the last three years the girls have been working hard on fitness. It does not improve overnight, we need to work on it for longer durations. Earlier, we would come close to these teams and lose, but now we are winning matches against them. Skill-wise we are better batters and bowlers than these two countries."
Fitness and fielding aside, Kaur underlined the need to become less dependent on their spinners. She feels this can happen only if they find "two medium pacers, especially when there are two set batters." At the T20 World Cup in a February-March, India banked on Shikha Pandey's swing, along with their plethora of spin options right through their run that ended in the final, even though conditions did not always favour slow bowlers.
"Cricket-wise definitely not," she said when asked if that tactic made sense. "But we need to look at our strengths and weaknesses. At present, spin is our strength. Had we focused on grooming medium pacers a year or two back, we would not have had to depend so much on spin.
"We definitely need three medium pacers in the side. But we also need to see if they are good enough. We need to look more on the existing talent in the medium pace department. Hopefully in the next one or two years we will have them ready."
Kaur's improving captaincy graph has coincided with a lean patch with the bat. At the T20 World Cup, she finished with scores of 2, 8, 1, 15 and 4. Her previous fifty-plus score in T20Is came over 16 months ago. Her previous ODI half-century came over two years ago, in February 2018 against South Africa.
These have elicited murmurs of whether India will be better off with a change in captaincy in T20Is (the 50-over side is still captained by Mithali Raj). Kaur, however, remains confident and unfazed by the drop in batting numbers.
"From outside it may look like that, but personally I have never felt so," she said, when asked about the pressures of captaincy. "I really enjoy this part. I feel more involved. The captaincy keeps me alert all the time. Earlier, I used to think about my performance alone. Captaincy has made me a better person. [ Now,] I cannot think only about myself, but [have to think] of other things, too."