As the Indian women’s cricket team departs for Australia on Tuesday morning to play three T20 Internationals followed by an equal number of ODIs, it would have learnt important lessons from their male counterparts who have already lost the five-match ODI series with two more to go.
The Mithali Raj-led Indian women’s team will also take confidence from the fact that though they will be touring Australia for the first time since their third-place finish in the World Cup in March 2009, they have defeated the home team twice, once in the league stage and again in the third-place playoff six years ago.
But the 33-year-old Mithali, one of the world’s senior-most players, said that the tour will be tough for the girls, a majority of whom are first-timers to Australia.
“I don’t analyse my team based on the men’s performances,” Mithali said here on Monday. “We will definitely look at those matches and take general inputs like the pitches and what is working for the team and what is not. It all boils down to how the players perform and adapt to the conditions. We have not toured Australia since the 2009 World Cup and only five (Mithali, Jhulan Goswami, MD Thirushkamini, Harmanpreet Kaur, Poonam Raut) from the current squad have the experience of playing there before. It will be an interesting and tough tour for the girls.”
She said that the pitches for the women’s matches will be similar to what Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co have been playing on. More than anything, Mithali is happy just to be playing in matches ahead of World T20.
“As a player, I get to play matches before the World T20 irrespective of where we are playing. Since the lats two-three years, whenever we have played T20, the pitches have been more batting friendly.
Australian pitches, compared with other places, have more bounce. That said, if we get to play matches, that’s good enough for the girls to get some exposure. Australia are currently the world champions. By playing against them, we will be able to read and analyse where we stand in this format,” the Indian captain said.
India’s previous two bilateral series Down Under were disappointing, losing 0-3 and 0-5 in February 2006 and October-November 2008, respectively.
While the Indian players have been involved in a domestic T20 tournament this month, the Australian women – known as Southern Stars – have been involved in a more intense Women’s Big Bash League. Mithali and her team-mate Jhulan Goswami were offered to play for Adelaide Strikers but the invitation had to be rejected as it clashed with India’s domestic tournaments.
Mithali, who represents Railways in domestic tournaments, said she’d have “preferred a better preparation for the tour than just the domestic matches” and added that because of time constraints and with the World T20 side-by-side the men’s in March-April, the girls were still “prepared by playing matches than them coming straight from home”.
The right-handed batswoman from Hyderabad said that it was important that India do well in World T20. “A lot is happening for women’s cricket at this point with contract system in place. World T20 will be very important in terms of popularising the game more and much better. The girls have responded well with T20 and One-dayers. If we do really well in the World T20, that will lead to women’s Indian Premier League,” she said confidently.
Indian women’s T20 matches Down Under will be held before the men’s matches in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, and Mithali believed these double-headers “can show women’s cricket in the best light”.
“People are aware of women’s cricket. They have been following women’s cricket since the last two-three World Cups because of the double-headers. The double-headers are always exciting and the matches being televised gives an opportunity to put in a standard of cricket for people to watch,” she said.
Coach wants players to play beyond themselves
Women’s team coach Purnima Rau said that the present girls “enjoy T20 better than one-dayers”. The former off-spinner added: “Girls have to manufacture shots to get a lot of runs and to make the game more exciting. Girls have to entertain the crowd for women’s cricket to sell. The World T20 will have a lot of significance on where we can go next. We have come to a phase where we have to win the World Cup and take our women’s cricket to the next phase,” Rau said.
Rau said that she would encourage her players to play “natural shots”. “I want them to play beyond themselves if the game has to be sold. It is not about winning or losing, it is about how you play and enjoy the game,” said 48-year-old Rau, who admitted that the T20 format would have suited her game and regretted not being able to play it.
Mithali, who recently won the MA Chidambaram Trophy for best woman cricketer (seniors) for 2014-15, said she has begun to play the scoop shot in the recent domestic T20. “I got three runs for that and it is still good,” she laughed. “A couple of the girls play reverse sweep.”
Rau added that Mithali was so perfect with her strokes that she need not innovate shots. “I don’t have to worry about Mithali. It is for the other batswomen that I have to burn the midnight oil,” said Rau, who was a prolific wicket-taker for India between 1993 and 2000.
India were last involved in an international series at home against New Zealand. Though India won the series 3-2, they did not log enough points that’d help qualify for 2017 World Cup. Mithali said the ODIs in Australia are crucial in that aspect. “In terms of point system, the ODIs in Australia are very important. We have to be in the top four to qualify for the World Cup.”
Squad: Mithali Raj (capt), Jhulan Goswamy (vice capt), Smriti Mandhana, MD Thirushkamini, Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Shikha Pandey, Niranjana Nagarajan, Sushma Verma, Ekta Bisht, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Kalpana R (ODI only), Poonam Raut (ODI only), Sneh Rana (ODI only), VR Vanitha (T20 only), Anuja Patil (T20 only), Deepti Sharma (T20 only)
T20Is: January 26, Adelaide; January 29, Melbourne; January 31, Sydney
ODIs: February 2, Canberra; February 5, Hobart; February 7, Hobart