“I am speechless,” said Mithali Raj on being asked to describe her feelings after India beat Australia by 36 runs in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 semifinal in Derby on Friday.
“For me and Jhulan (Goswami), it is very special because we are two players from 2005 (ICC World Cup) who have been with the team,” said Raj. “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 the World Cup Final again.”
Harmanpreet Kaur’s unbeaten 115-ball 171, the second-highest score in ICC World Cups, set the tone for India’s 281 for 4 in a rain-curtailed match. After that, Australia tried hard through Elyse Villani, Ellyse Perry and Alex Blackwell, but was dismissed for 245 in 40.1 overs.
Raj called Harmanpreet’s knock the greatest innings by an Indian batter, and revealed that the secret behind the win was to not give Australia any psychological edge.
“When you play against Australia, you need to be in par in terms of you mentally being strong,” she said. “You need to take your chances because more defensive you are, they start attacking. It is always better to be attacking with them.”
This was India’s second consecutive victory in a must-win clash, having prevailed over New Zealand by 186 runs to book a semi-final berth. That result came after India had lost to South Africa and Australia and teetered on the brink of elimination.
“As I have said earlier, it is important to know how to come back 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,” said Raj. “(We) posted a total that even in 50 overs we haven’t really posted. All of them, whether the fast bowlers or batters, looked in sync.
“The game against New Zealand, she (Harmanpreet) as well as Veda (Krishnamurthy) had runs. They backed themselves to make fifty and those runs gave them confidence. Had they not scored those runs, it would have been a different picture today. All said and done, everything happens for a reason. It was needed, and this knock will give her (Harmanpreet) confidence tomorrowwhen she is in a position to take more responsibility as a batter. She will be in better shape and experience to take along.”
India will now take on England in the final at Lord’s on Sunday. This is its second final appearance, after 2005, and a chance to make history at the home of cricket. With tickets sold out, around 26,500 people are expected to turn up for the title clash.
“It’s going to be a different experience to what I have faced in 2005. Back in 2005 it wasn’t as big a base as it is now. It’s a huge thing. I think in 2005 hardly anybody knew that India have qualified for the final because they were all too involved in men’s cricket. Nobody really paid attention to the India women’s team,” continued Raj. “The match was not televised as well, so we could not really garner that many viewers at that point of time.
“But now you know it will be a big achievement for the girls if they pull it off. I personally feel the girls need to enjoy being in an atmosphere like that. Each one of them will be the lucky ones to be a part of the finals, to play at Lord’s. Every cricketer dreams of playing at Lord’s because of the history. We have made an effort, we have reached there. It’s just that the girls (have to) perform the best as they have always done.”
Raj felt that a title finish could change the landscape of women’s cricket in India. “If we pull it off it’s a big thing back in India. Everyone has always emphasised that we need to win ICC tournaments, we need to have one cup in the ICC tournament. So this is the stage and this is the platform,” said Raj. “Now that the team has done well, in the run up to the finals, and everybody is glued to the television on Sunday. If we can pull it off nothing like it, I probably wouldn’t have a word to describe it. It definitely will help the future of women’s cricket. All the women cricketers back in India thinking of making it a career, will always be thankful to this bunch of players to giving them that platform.”
Raj has said that this will be her last World Cup, but made it clear that retirement was not on the cards. “I definitely won’t be playing the next World Cup in four years from now. But I will still play international cricket for a couple more years,” she revealed. “Yes, being my last World Cup, I will obviously want to enjoy being in the World Cup.
“This World Cup is completely different to the other editions because it has really given scope for the players to increase their profile as well as promote Women’s cricket on a larger scale because all the matches are televised and broadcasted. Also an opportunity for the Indian team to make it big in India. It was important for me to perform but also see to it that the girls don’t get burdened with the pressure of playing the World Cup. So far the girls have enjoyed challenges, enjoyed being there. I am sure so far they have enjoyed every victory, and even the defeats have taught us a lot to come back into the tournament.”