The Indian captain at the ICC Women's World Twenty20 shares her thoughts into the team's psyche, preparation and the players to watch out for
Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, will be one of the flag-bearers of the batting line-up at the ICC Women's World Twenty20 2012. Ranked No. 3 in the ICC Women's T20 rankings, expectations are riding high. Placed in a tough group consisting of the two former champions – England and Australia, Mithali believes India will have to exceed their own expectations in order to progress through to the semi-final, a stage which the team has reached in the previous two editions. Excerpts:
How has the preparation been coming into the ICC Women's World Twenty20 2012?
I'm very satisfied with the way we've prepared for the tournament. We had a good eight-day training camp in Bangalore at the National Cricket Academy. We got together as a team, spent time together as well, so we're all in a good frame of mind and looking forward to the tournament. In August, we had a probables camp in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh at the Women's Cricket Academy, where all of us were put through the paces, by a dedicated team of coaches and support staff. The facilities there are outstanding and it really helped us bond together as a team. All of us are raring to go.
What were the specifics the team focused on at the camp?
It was a combination of everything, that T20 demands. We focused a lot on the fitness aspect first, since we've to be extremely agile physically to live up to the rigours of T20 cricket. It is fast paced and there is no scope to take things lightly at any stage. Strength training at the gym, fielding drills, running between the wickets and most importantly, I believe it was the time spent as a group ahead of a big tournament like this, was very important.
What are your thoughts on the Indian squad for the World T20?
I think we've got a very balanced squad, a good mixture of the young and experienced players. It is pretty much the same team that toured England except for a couple of changes. We've seen a lot of talent coming through, none better than Harmanpreet Kaur, who has also gone on to become one of the pillars of our batting, as well as the vice-captain of the team. Having her in the mix has taken a little bit of pressure off me in the batting department. We also have a lot of experience in Amita Sharma, Jhulan Goswami, Sulakshana Naik, so I'm very happy with the team that we've got. There are only two new faces in Anuja Patil and Rasanara Parwin, the off-spinners, who are mighty talented. It will be exciting to see how they shape up.
What are the problem areas, according to you?
Definitely the batting has been a concern. Yes, I've been getting runs, so has Harman, but apart from the two of us, the other batters need to get into their groove. It can't possibly be that we both keep scoring runs all the time. We are bound to fail at some stage, and then it will have to be someone else who will have to take the responsibility. The bowlers have done a reasonable job, but unless we put defendable totals the bowlers can't be blamed.
What have the batters specifically done to adjust to the conditions?
At the NCA, we were exposed to a variety of pitches. So, playing on slow surfaces, turners, ones with bounce has given us confidence. But, obviously it is completely different once you go out and employ that in a match situation. We can have as many nets and practice matches, but there we tend to try things and experiment, because we know even if it fails to come off, we don't lose anything. But, the same can't apply for an international game where there is everything to play for. Batting-wise, it is about the batters being confident in themselves and believing in their abilities.
You've been batting at your best in recent times. Have you done something differently over the last one year?
I think when you score runs, the confidence begins to show in every area of your game and that is exactly what has happened with me too. I've just been focusing on one match at a time, and have learnt to build an innings. Whether it is a 50-over game or 20-over game, the basics remain the same. So it is important to play the role of an anchor, and as I said before Harmanpreet's form has helped me immensely as well.
What is your assessment of the bowling attack? Too much pressure on Jhulan Goswami, you think?
Of course, Jhulan is one of our most experienced bowlers. She has been around for a long time now, but we can't always expect her to pick wickets, which she has been doing. I'm happy with the way Niranjana Nagarajan has shaped up. Spinners will be crucial to our chances and all eyes will be on Ekta Bist to see how she performs. We've got a lot of promise in there, it is just a matter of applying themselves.
India has reached the semi-finals in the previous two editions. Is there self-belief that you can win the cup?
I will be brutally honest here. We're not the best side out there. Yes, we have a good team, but we will have to play out of our skins to get past the group stages, and that means we've to show tremendous character and play beyond what we have been so far, especially since we are playing two former champions – England and Australia, in our first two games. That is going to be a huge challenge. We've often let the pressure get to us in the past and will try to focus on what is in our hands, rather than worrying about the opponent.
You didn't have the best of times in England, especially in the T20s. Can we read too much into it at all?
Yes, we didn't do well as a team.. We were completely outplayed in both the T20Is, but the ODI performances were slightly better. We won two matches, but this is a different scenario altogether. In England, it was wet and cold, so the pitches were conducive to the bowlers. Here, if the rain stays away, I'm sure the conditions will remain slow and low, so the other teams like England, Australia and New Zealand will have to adapt and adjust more than us. That is only a slight advantage.
What is the realistic expectation going into the tournament?
Our first target is of course to reach the semi-final, which we've done on two previous occasions. Once we do that, it is an even game from there on. That would require us to have tremendous self-belief, which I think should come from within. Every player has to believe that we can win. We have to support each other. From the semi-final stage onwards, anyone can win, it all depends on which team handles the pressure well on the given day.