Jhulan Goswami hopes 'those near-misses help us react better in big matches'
"Having been through difficult match situations and close defeats, hopefully we will react better under pressure at this World Cup"
Three appearances in the knockouts in as many world tournaments between 2017 and 2020. Yet, a maiden World Cup title has eluded India, their mental toughness in the face of pressure coming under scrutiny every time. Runners-up last time out, India renew their pursuit of the ODI world crown on March 6 in New Zealand, and their premier quick, Jhulan Goswami, is hoping that the "near-misses" of the past help them respond better in high-pressure fixtures.
"This is a very valid point," Goswami, set to become only the eighth player to feature in five ODI World Cups, told ESPNcricinfo. "If you see the last three World Cups, including the T20 World Cup in the West Indies [in 2018], we had a very good chance. We played good cricket, but the pressure of that semi-final (in 2018) and the final (in the 2017 ODI World Cup and in the T20I equivalent in 2020) is something that cannot be denied.
"It may have played a part in how we performed. It was like a final barrier we were stumbling at every time. Maybe this year we will be able to respond better as a team. Sports is very unpredictable, but hopefully, those near-misses and our preparations leading up to this World Cup will help us react better in big matches."
India's inability to get out of sticky situations in knockout fixtures had its most pronounced manifestations at the two most recent finals: at Lord's, where they lost the 2017 50-over World Cup to hosts England by nine runs, and then at the MCG, where wayward bowling and shoddy catching early in the 2020 T20 World Cup final effectively pushed them to a point of no-return against Australia.
With record crowds in attendance on both occasions, critics, fans, and casual followers deemed India's defeats less a reflection of their technical abilities, and more a case of fragility of nerves.
"I think people can criticise us. But it's something we are [still] developing slowly, slowly. Overnight it will not happen, but we are in the process of developing," Goswami said. "So, whatever experience we've gathered in the past - I'll put it in that way - hopefully, in this tournament we'll handle in a better way.
"I can expect that [kind of approach] from my team-mates. They are mentally very strong. Whenever challenging stuff comes, they take that challenge and take responsibility. So, I am very much hopeful that learning experience is going to help us in this tournament."
New Zealand is traditionally conducive to pace and movement. Seam-bowling talisman Goswami, the highest wicket-taker in the women's game with 340 strikes and India's most successful bowler in ODIs in 2021 with 15 wickets, will spearhead an attack that doesn't have Shikha Pandey, one of the notable absentees in India's extended 18-player squad for the upcoming bilateral fixtures against the hosts in February and the ODI World Cup that follows.
"In my 20 years as an India cricketer, never before had I participated in anything officially known as a boot camp. Yes, we may have gone on camps from the National Cricket Academy for a night or so in the past, but this camp - the boot camp - lasted five days, so it was definitely first of its kind"Jhulan Goswami
Goswami, 39, had said earlier this month that the bilateral series could help India acclimatise better to "windy conditions" and "fix our errors" ahead of the World Cup. She had also stressed that she appreciated the need for her and her team-mates to not put themselves under undue pressure by overthinking about variables.
Instead, the focus, she said, should be on implementing the takeaways from India's series defeats in 2021 against South Africa (at home) and England and Australia (away).
"World Cups come with pressure, expectations, and unpredictable elements - it's sport, after all," she said. "But I expect, individually and as a unit, I and we back ourselves to deal with that pressure in a positive way without thinking too much about anything. We must enjoy our cricket because I think that's very important if we are to express ourselves and our preparedness in a proper manner.
"We have been put under very challenging situations [in the recent past]. Though we did not win any of the three series we played last year, they were all very important preparations for us. So, having been through a variety of difficult match situations and close defeats, hopefully, (we) will react better under pressure at this World Cup."
India have been in quarantine since January 16 in Mumbai and are scheduled to leave for New Zealand on January 24. They are expected to serve at least a seven-day hard quarantine upon entering the country, with a very real possibility of being under rigid restrictions, albeit with some relaxations, for much longer.
"This [dealing with restrictions because of Covid-19] is not something you can overcome in a day," Goswami said. "It's not a cricketing technical part that individually we can go there and bat and bowl [to improve]. It's a different thing. It's not easy.
"I think worldwide we all are struggling with mental-health issues at this moment. Because of the present situation, sportspersons are having to quarantine, they're staying in biobubbles, not able to meet your family, friends, staying in hotels, having same food - that's a challenge. That's called mental toughness."
Heading into the World Cup, the Indian squad, Goswami suggested, has grown into a more tight-knit group. She attributed that to the players' participation in a boot camp, understood to be the brain child of head coach Ramesh Powar, during Christmas last year in the cool climes of Dehradun, in northern India.
"In my 20 years as an India cricketer, never before had I participated in anything officially known as a boot camp" Goswami said with a smile. "Yes, we may have gone on camps from the National Cricket Academy for a night or so in the past, but this camp - the boot camp - lasted five days, so it was definitely first of its kind.
"It was a new and fun experience, especially getting to know each other better, from up close, as team-mates - was refreshing and could be helpful for us in the future. I now know my team-mates a little better than I did before the boot camp because we were put through a kind of challenging situation - living in a tent, in cold weather, with limited resources, and yet no body complained.
"Plus, there were tasks devised to help with team bonding and react in pressure situations. I hope this experience helps us in the World Cup because understanding each other as team-mates plays a big role in a team's performance. We never had this kind of a team bonding exercise or camp, so I'd say it was a good thing to participate in before New Zealand tour and the World Cup."
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha