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Mithali Raj welcomes having sports psychologist on board: 'They help you understand and deal with the pressure'

"Today it is even more important to have them around traveling with the team with longer durations of quarantines and bio-bubbles"

India's ODI captain Mithali Raj has stressed on the importance of having a mental health conditioning coach traveling along with the side, especially during the pandemic when the players are put through the rigours of extended quarantine and bio-bubbles.
ESPNcricinfo understands Mumbai-based sports psychologist Dr Mugdha Bavare, who has previously worked with Mumbai Cricket Association, the Bengal Ranji team and several Olympic athletes, is currently in New Zealand with the women's team. India are set to play one T20I and five ODIs ahead of the 50-over World Cup scheduled to begin on March 4 in the country, which means they are expected to spend nearly two months away from home as a result.
Raj, who had told Cricket Monthly after India's loss in the 2020 T20 World Cup final that a sports psychologist could help them perform better in world tournament knockouts, feels that while every player has their own ways to deal with the pressures of the game, having a professional guiding them individually was a positive step forward.
"I think every individual has their own way of absorbing pressure, coming out and playing their best cricket," Raj said ahead of the solitary T20I. "Having a sports psychologist traveling with the team this time around helps. She has one-on-one sessions with the players to give them more time to understand how to deal with their pressures and find ways that they can absorb and play their best cricket.
"In today's time, it is even more important and helpful to have them around traveling with the team with longer durations of quarantines and bio-bubbles. Unlike before where we get into the World Cup directly we have a series where the tour is extended for two months. It does help to have a one-on-one session with them because you see things in a very different perspective and that clearly helps you understand your own self to find your own ways. Everyone has different ways of dealing with pressures and quarantine times, to have somebody address those issues is always helpful - a more professional support."
With extended time in bubbles also comes the question of workload management, but Raj feels game time ahead of a big tournament like the World Cup is more crucial at the moment. Apart from the six games India are scheduled to play against New Zealand this month, they will play seven matches in the first round at the World Cup and an additional two if they progress to the final. Since their return to international cricket after a year-long break in March last year with the home series against South Africa, they have played only two more series - a tour of England in June-July and a one against Australia in September-October last year, both multi-format. They have not won a single series across the white-ball formats since their return.
"Workload is in our minds but having said that rather than seeing two months if you look at the games we are getting it could be around five-plus or nine or 10 of the world cup games. We do have a couple of more seamers in the side so we'll see how we can give them an opportunity. Workload is secondary right now but getting them to bowl in these conditions is important so that's where they need that game time to get on to the field and get two-three games to get used to the conditions.
"[We're] looking to give game time to the core players. It's important that each and every one of them find their rhythm before the world Cup. that's what every team would want to do, find their composition and their core so they can prep for the World Cup."
Raj was also part of the India side that traveled to New Zealand for the World Cup in 2000. From her first World Cup experience back then to leading the side in the same country 22 years later, she believes one big difference is that India could do much better than their performance back then, when they were beaten in the semi-final by the hosts.
"I played my first World Cup way back in 2000 in New Zealand. I remember when we had a session in Christchurch in Lincoln University, that's where we played the World Cup. I couldn't play the entire world cup because I was down with typhoid in 2000 but this time around we are looking forward to see that India does well than what we did in that edition. We bowed out in the semi-finals.. but yes the team has done well in the last year, we lost a couple of bilaterals but the way the team has unified to perform well with some of the young players with experience. I'm sure the team with unite to put forward our best cricket."

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo