Roadmap to redemption: What India must to do in wake of Women's Cricket World Cup elimination

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Roadmap to redemption: What India must to do in wake of Women's Cricket World Cup elimination
© Provided by Firstpost Roadmap to redemption: What India must to do in wake of Women’s Cricket World Cup elimination

Just when it came down to South Africa needing two runs from the last two balls to win, India, fighting to stay in the Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022, found the most inspiring moment at the most opportune time. Deepti Sharma had Mignon du Preez caught at long on in what should have been the penultimate ball of the match. Just when the match was to swing in India’s favour, the call from the umpire came: “No ball”.

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So much was riding on that one moment. So much changed in that one moment. So many hearts broke in that one moment. And just like that India were out of the World Cup. The finalists in the 2017 edition, Indian fans wanted to see their team go one step further this time around. Instead, they exited the tournament in the league stage.

As the dust settles down following the defeat, it’s time for reflection, revision and course corrections.

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That no ball did play its part in eliminating India from the grandest of cricketing stages, but all the hopes hinging on one moment of inspiration was a result of mismanagement and inconsistency. To write your own script, you need to be the master of your own fate. Sadly, India weren’t in that position at the World Cup or leading into the tournament.

Mithali Raj and Co began the World Cup on the back of four consecutive ODI series defeats — against South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand. Before the defeats, there was a 364-day gap between international outings for them. Add to that some baffling selection calls en route to the ICC event. India were hamstrung.

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The past however is behind us, and that future that is unknown can be shaped in the way we like if we learn from our mistakes. Here’s a ready reckoner for BCCI and the Team India management on what they must change to have a better chance of breaking the world title jinx.

Clarity and consistency

There were experiments galore for India before the World Cup and that was understandable. The Indian team is undergoing a transition. The poor form of a few players and changing demands of modern-day cricket have led to gaping holes in the team and while new faces were brought in to plug those gaps, it was surprising to see the experimentation continue even after the World Cup began.

Shafali Verma was given one chance at the top before Yastika Bhatia replaced her in India’s second game at the World Cup. Soon after, Shafali was back as an opener and Yastika was dropped to No 3, replacing Deepti.

All-rounder Deepti who had made a place for herself in the middle-order was suddenly promoted to the No 3 spot before being dropped from the team midway through the tournament. In the middle, Mithali always tried out her hands at being the No 3, once.

That’s quite a lot of reshuffling in the batting unit in the most prestigious of tournaments. If anything, at a World Cup you wish to have clarity of thoughts and consistency in execution. Chaos is never a performance enhancer.

To not have a settled playing XI till the end speaks of how ill-prepared the team management was, something they would like to avoid next time in a big tourney.

Some consistency and accountability are also required from the selectors. Not for the first time, the selectors continue to make headlines for the omissions rather than the selections.

The Neetu David-led panel first made headlines when they dropped Shikha Pandey from both ODI and T20I sides in February 2021 for the home series against South Africa. This is after the Indians didn’t play any international and domestic cricket for a whole year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandey did make a comeback to the side afterwards but was dropped again before the World Cup, leaving the pace department a bit thin in the experience bracket. With Jhulan Goswami missing the crucial South Africa match due to a side strain, India didn’t have an experienced pacer to call upon. Meghna Singh and Pooja Vastrakar had a total of 29 ODIs experience between themselves. Renuka Singh didn’t play a single game in the tournament.

Jemimah Rodrigues was not in the squad or standby list despite scoring runs consistently in The Hundred and Women’s Big Bash League.

More matches

The simple formula to building a world-class team is playing as many matches as possible. Hopefully never again in the future will the women’s team be out of action for a 364 consecutive days as they did after playing the 2020 T20 World Cup final. There are multiple gains to be made with a consistent run of matches. From settled playing XI to capable replacements, players can only be prepared for their roles by giving them regular opportunities in the high-pressure international arena.

To widen the pool, the A tour formula that has worked so successfully for the men’s team must also be implemented. Given the pressure of expectations, it’s not always possible to try out new players in the senior team, but A tours are a perfect opportunity to audition new players besides giving them a close feel of what international cricket could be like.

The real work on the talent pool happens at the grassroots level, and expansion of the domestic structure is also important.

Former India skipper Mamatha Maben, in an interview with news agency IANS, suggested that BCCI must look to bring back the  Senior Women’s Cricket Inter Zonal Three Day Game that was last held in 2018.

“Jhulan, Mithali and all of us grew up playing three-day games, at least in the semis as well as the finals. But this current generation has not grown up on that. From the bowling perspective, for us to learn how to purchase wickets, we need to play the longer format. Tests will also grow as despite not playing longer format, we performed brilliantly in the recent Tests we played. Imagine if having a longer format and for the overall growth of the game, players can evolve well, like a Kohli has evolved by playing longer format,” she said.

WIPL

One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb for India at the World Cup and in the ODI series leading to the tournament was the team’s inability to hit the top gear in the clutch moments and seal close matches.

Sample this: If 250 is the cardinal number in women’s cricket, four times since the 2022 New Zealand tour India have failed to defend a target of 260-plus. Australia registered the all-time highest successful chase in a World Cup to beat India in the league stage match while South Africa recorded their highest successful chase ever to end India’s hopes.

It’s quite clear India need a women’s version of the Indian Premier League (IPL) sooner rather than later. The impact of the IPL on the men’s game has been multifold, but the most significant of them has been the inculcation of steely nerves, the imparting of skills to perform successfully under pressure. WIPL can have a similar impact on women’s game besides fast-tracking the overall progress.

Cancel superstar culture

Coach Tushar Arothe guided India to the 2017 World Cup final but was soon removed after complaints from team members. Ramesh Powar was appointed in 2018 but lost his job after a fallout with Mithali Raj. WV Raman came in as the new boss, led India to the 2020 T20 World Cup final, and then lost his job to Powar. He alleged a “prima donna culture” in the national team after his ouster.

One or two incidents can be a coincidence but three doesn’t look like an exception. What will happen to Powar now is as good as anybody’s guess, but its important decisions from hereon, on all aspects, are made on merit and not on whims and fancies. It’s the team that will win us a trophy, not the individuals.

Psychologist support

Sports psychologist Mugdha Bavare who travelled with the team on its trip to New Zealand earned a lot of plaudits in her short two-month stay with the Indian side.

From skipper Mithali, Harmanpreet Kaur, Sneh Rana, Pooja Vastrakar to coach Powar, Bavare’s contribution was acknowledged by one and all.

?

Meet the team’s sports psychologist who is working on the mental aspect of the game with #TeamIndia at the #CWC22 pic.twitter.com/bVS9cTgAAy

— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) March 15, 2022

Frankly, it’s no surprise. International cricket is tough, the scrutiny is intense with expectations abound. It’s natural for athletes to fight with their thoughts. You need someone to help them deal with the emotional baggage. To help them find clarity and confidence. For a team whose performance under pressure is not the most satisfactory, a permanent psychologist is a must.

This is not an exhaustive list. There’s a lot more that can be done. There’s a lot more the players can do themselves. If India weren’t able to seize the moments, a lot of it also came down to players crumbling under the pressure. No doubt, we would want to see the players raise their game a notch higher next time India play a World Cup but that cannot be a realistic demand if we don’t put in place an efficient administration and system around them.

It’s the system that breeds champions. Just look at Australia!

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