India Women kick off a busy year ahead with a seven-match tour of England. It starts with a one-off Test from June 16, their first game in the longest format in almost seven years. Ahead of the team's departure for the UK, Test and ODI captain Mithali Raj and newly reappointed head coach Ramesh Powar spoke about India's preparedness for the tour, workload management of key players, and much else. Here are excerpts from the pre-departure press conference.
Ten out of the 18-member Test squad haven't played a Test before. India play two Tests away this year. Could blooding first-timers in the longest format away from home be a challenge?
Raj: It's good to have Tests, whether it's at home or away. If there's continuity, it's great because it helps the player as well. Sometimes it's nice to go in without the baggage; you just go and play it, enjoy the atmosphere and it's good to have girls who have played for the first time and girls who've played in the past share their experiences of how it was way back in 2014. But I guess having two back-to-back Test matches, I mean to say touring England and Australia, can give a lot of exposure to the current lot. And If that can be carried forward in the coming years, it will be great for the sport.
Powar: I think it's a great start. As head coach, obviously, I want more Test games all over the world. We have to look at it in a different way. It's just a start; let's take it step by step. Don't push the girls into a zone where you're demanding too many things in Test cricket. It's a new format [for them] that has not been played consistently over the last ten years, so let's wait and watch how they react. We might get surprises. They will perform better [if] given the opportunity.
India have only played one full series - at home against South Africa in March - since the T20 World Cup last year. How will quarantines in Mumbai [before departure] and Southampton [upon arrival] affect the team's pre-series preparations?
Powar: It's not ideal, worldwide, right now. We are trying to look at the bright side. If you look at it, women's cricketers are getting opportunities - Test cricket, ODIs and, T20Is. It's a good, long tour of 45 days, and I think, we as a team are thankful to the BCCI for putting up such a tour. It's not easy.
It's not physically possible, yes, [to prepare oneself adequately], but mental make-up will make a huge difference and I think in my last assignment we've tried that, and it paid dividends. I have done it with the Mumbai [men's] team, and we had just six sessions, and we managed to react positively to the tournament we played.
Powar on the key to adapting quickly to English conditions Powar: There will be balls seaming around for batters as well as bowlers. I think in every part of England the conditions will be different, so we will try and adjust to that. Batsmen will, obviously, play close to the body, they will show more patience. When the sun is out, they will enjoy their batting, when the sun is down, they'll put in hard work to get over that period.
Bowlers also - if there's a lot of help, they will have to control their swing also. There are a lot of things. We'll go there and assess and we'll build on it. We can't go there with a fixed mind. The sun might be out and you may get flat tracks too. You never know.
How important is workload management of 38-year-old Jhulan Goswami, the senior-most member of the Indian attack? Raj: It's important that she gets games because even she needs game-time in the middle but, at the same time, being the senior-most it's also important to keep her in the thick of things. If she needs rest, it's up to her completely. Knowing Jhulan, I know for a fact she wants to play every game. As a captain also I would like to have her on the field so that the young fast bowlers in the side will get a lot of help if they have her around.
Powar: It [guidance she needs in longer formats] depends on the way she handles practice sessions because we've done something great with Prithvi Shaw when we played the Vijay Hazare Trophy, so you can wait and watch. You might see a different Shafali when she [takes] the field after one and a half months.