'WBBL stint has transformed Harmanpreet'
India captain Mithali Raj pointed to Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana's inputs on Australia players, courtesy their WBBL stints, as being key to plotting Australia's downfall in the semi-final in Derby
Mithali Raj hailed Harmanpreet Kaur's unbeaten 171 as the "greatest knock by an India women player" and underlined her example as the "big performance" that was needed to oust a "champion side like Australia." She pointed to Harmanpreet's knowledge of Australia's bowlers, courtesy her stint at the Women's Big Bash League, for helping them plan for the semi-final.
"I think the transformation [has come] after she played in the WBBL," she said after India's 36-run win in Derby. "That exposure she and Smriti (Mandhana) got by interacting with other players has been massive. As I mentioned in the last press meet, against Australia it was they who were giving us more inputs about these players."
"If more players are a part of these leagues, where they exchange ideas and follow the routine of other players, being part of the meetings, it will only help improve the standard of women's cricket, as well as it's very beneficial for youngsters and players from Indian team."
Harmanpreet's knock covered up for a sluggish start. Not for the first time in the tournament did the openers struggle. Mandhana, who opened the tournament with 90 and 106 not out, recorded her sixth straight failure. Even in victory, the holes India needed to plug ahead of the grand finale wasn't lost on Raj.
"Ideally, I would have wanted the openers to have more runs," she said. "But I think it is okay as long as the team looks very confident, inspired by the performances in the last two games because I personally feel that this team has changed the momentum of coming back into games.
"As I have said earlier, it is important to know how to comeback to beat good sides, which we have done here. Today, I can proudly say as a captain that this team has really made a comeback. We posted a total that we haven't done in 50-over cricket. All of them - batsmen and fast bowlers - looked in sync."
Raj attributed Harmanpreet's turnaround to her 90-ball 60 - her first half-century of the tournament - that was key in the middle overs against New Zealand in a must-win game. For a long time, it looked like India would huff and puff to 220 there, until Veda Krishnamurthy's blitzkrieg - an unbeaten 45-ball 70 - lifted India to 265. Her partnership with Harmanpreet gave them the momentum.
"The game against New Zealand, she had runs as well as Veda had runs. They backed themselves to make fifty and those runs gave them confidence," Raj said. "Had they not scored those runs, it would have been a different picture today. All said and done, everything happens for a reason and good. It was needed, and this knock will give her confidence tomorrow when she is in a position to take more responsibility as a batter. She will be in better shape and experience to take along."
She was equally effusive in her praise for Jhulan Goswami, who, she felt, had improved steadily after a slow start to the campaign. On Thursday, she sent back Meg Lanning with a peach that left her late to hit top of off. She finished with 2 for 35. "Well she has definitely worked on her bowling. From the first game to the Sri Lanka game and New Zealand game she was getting better in the nets," Raj said. "It was just a matter of time. You get a couple of good spells and you get the confidence."
Raj said the win against Australia also helped break barriers on how the team would approach finals going forward. "As a team we are very excited to be a part of the World Cup final," she said. "We knew that this tournament will not be easy but again the way the girls have turned up at every situation when the team needed, whether it be batters or bowlers, has been brilliant.
"In fact the fielding, in patches, has been exceptionally good. This win has definitely changed the scenario in terms of how the girls will look at World Cup finals. It won't be easy [to beat England] but beating Australia has given the girls a high.
"Today has been our day but England have also peaked after being beaten by us in the first game. They have performed well throughout the tournament in the run-up to the finals. Playing the hosts is going to be a challenge but, having said that, this unit is up for it."
Raj equated the team's qualification to the final as a completion of a full circle that started in 2005, when the side last had a shot at cricket's ultimate prize. Raj and Goswami are the only two members of the current squad who were part of the side that lost to Australia in the final in 2005.
"I am speechless because for me and Jhulan it is very special because we are two players from 2005 who have been with the team," she said. "It seems like it's going back to 2005, and I am just too happy that the girls have given us an opportunity to be a part of World Cup finals again."