India’s World Cup future hangs in the balance after an eight-wicket defeat to Australia, but captain Mithali Raj is confident her side has the potential to be world beaters.
The skipper insists what stands between Indian women’s cricket and a maiden World Cup triumph is a lack of resilience inside their own heads rather than a lack of skill inside the boundary ropes.
And with their backs to the wall and a winner-takes-all clash against New Zealand on the horizon on Saturday, Raj is urging her teammates to buck the trend. Her team is hoping to join England, Australia and South Africa, who have already ensured knockout berths.
“India is still searching for its first World Cup title. Australia and England have shown they are able to bounce back from disappointment,” she said.
“At this level, if you are aiming for the World Cup, because the tournament is so long there will be points where the team may lose a couple of games.
“If you want to win, you really have to have the players who are able to make those comebacks because every other team is trying to do the same thing and play good cricket.
“You can’t just give up because you lose one game. India has always had the problem that when faced with the crunch matches, the team does not necessarily step up.
“If it is a very crucial game in the T20s, the World Cup, or even one that just dictates a series win, we tend to fall down in that match.
“So that is something that Indian players in general really need to work on. The girls are so talented, but it’s just a matter of how well they pull themselves up after a defeat.
“That’s what makes world champions.”
With her career 18 years in the making, Mithali Raj finally climbed to the top of the world on Wednesday as she became the leading run-scorer in women’s One-Day International cricket.
A measured 69 against defending champion Australia took the 34-year-old’s career ODI total to 6,028 – past Charlotte Edwards’s existing milestone of 5,992, and in doing so Raj became the first woman to pass 6,000 runs in the process.
The tributes poured in for Raj on Wednesday, with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli leading the adulation from back home.
And while those heroes of Indian cricket have all ascended to the top of the game over the past two decades, Raj admits she feels the same pressures leading her country.
She said: “Me being in the middle gives the other batters a lot of confidence. It keeps the dressing room confident too.
“I really have enjoyed my long career, but probably because of the responsibility, perhaps I haven’t been able to enhance my own batting as much as I would want to.
“I haven’t had that freedom to play my shots and not had to think about what happens if you get out.
“There are times when you want to take calculated risks, but I can’t really push it because if I lose my wicket it’s a big problem for the team.
“It feels nice to score runs and pass that landmark, but I would have to say that was not my intention coming into this tournament.
“As a captain and as a player I wanted to lead the team well and score runs, because I know the team still depends on me very much.”