G VISWANATH & G KRISHNAN
The Indian women’s squad chosen for the one-day series against South Africa surprised distinguished players of the past. Former India captain Shubhangi Kulkarni felt that Shafali Verma should have been given a break in the ODI format. A few others felt the same about seamer Shikha Pandey and left-arm spinner Ekta Bisht. They say with the World Cup a year away to be played in New Zealand, an opportunity was lost to give Shafali an early start in ODI cricket.
In this exclusive chat with Cricketnext, the Indian women’s cricket team head coach WV Raman recalls the white ball series against South Africa, the proposed one-off Test against England and the need to prepare well before a series.
What are your thoughts on the one-off Test planned for India against England in England. The women’s team has played two Tests in the last 14 years – against England in Wormsley and South Africa in Mysore – both in 2014. And, India won both the Tests. Except Australia and England, no other team plays Tests. New Zealand has not played one since 2004.
It could cut both ways. One is that this could be the start of Test matches played on a regular basis. The other side to it is whether all the full members will be available to play women’s Test cricket. This question needs to be answered. It’s not going to be easy in the sense that because the girls are used to playing the shorter formats and so adapting to Test cricket will be a challenge in every respect. But all the same, it would be a worthwhile experiment to try and see if the girls can be slowly eased into Test cricket. I think that’s what is happening in a way, although it may not be expressly stated. We saw England play Australia in a Test match last year. It’s too early to say anything about the future of women’s Test cricket.
England and Australia play the one-off Ashes Test. And New Zealand believes that white ball cricket is the way forward for women’s cricket.
It’s not going to be easy to make women’s Test cricket commercially viable. If you have to have the three formats for women on a tour, a lot of things come into force. A lot of things will be assessed even before it can be said with conviction that women’s Test cricket has come to stay.
What’s the reason behind the BCCI being inclined to consider women’s Test cricket?
Perhaps they feel that it’s one way of trying to provide the girls a feel of Test cricket, duration cricket. Personally, I feel it’s a kind of a two-way prong here. One is the experimentation to see what the girls do in a duration game, and the second is to see if it can be a viable proposition. Maybe it can be restricted between a few countries.
So, how do you prepare the team for Test cricket?
We would need to try and have a preparatory camp or even before that, a fitness and skills camp for a few weeks. It would give the girls a good opportunity to improve upon not only the physical fitness and endurance but also work on the skills part when it comes to handling Test cricket. It’s making the girls extend what they do in the other two formats. It’s also a question of change in mindset required for duration cricket. They need to have a lot more patience in Test cricket. They should be prepared to bowl over after over after over and earn the batsman’s wicket. Our batters are capable of batting long, but they have to get used to batting for long in the preparatory camp and extend their period of batting in the nets as well.
How would you sum up the white ball series against South Africa. India lost 1-4 in the ODI series and 1-2 in the Twenty20 series?
The point is that without wanting to sound monotonous, it’s not easy to come out and start doing things from where you left off and had a break of 15 months. What also happened was that the side chasing did better right through the white ball series. On the couple of occasions that India won, we chased and won. But it was evident that the girls were not anywhere close to a competitive level they were before the long break, which meant that they had to start from the scratch and accept the fact that things did not go well as we would have liked. On the one hand, there is a disappointment, and also on the other hand there was a lot of learnings and a lot of reality checks as to how important it is for them to be at their best in international cricket. It was not a case of going out there and doing it at will. There is a fair bit of work that needs to be done. Everybody is aware of it. They have the attitude and diligence to work hard and become better in whatever they do.
Batting-wise, either team’s top four or five scored some runs but India did not have anyone in the lower order at all?
That’s a little bit obvious that we need to find some balance there. There are a few girls who are capable of doing that. This is where going forward I have to work out as to who exactly can fit in there. A lot of discussions need to happen. This is where a good duration camp would come in handy. We did this sort of camp in June 2019 when we started preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup. A lot of things got settled at the camp. At the end of the day, it also remains a fact that the scoring rate has improved by leaps and bounds in women’s cricket.
Do you think a longer camp before the series against South Africa helped in better preparation?
What we had in Lucknow cannot be dubbed as a camp. We had three to four days of nets. But this happened probably due to the fact that everything was arranged in the eleventh hour. A lot of protocols had to be followed. But going ahead, we would like to have about ten days of net sessions before going into a series.
Was it a big ask to select the squad?
The selection of the squad should not have been difficult. It should have been very straightforward. If one looks at what the team has done in the last two years, it won every one-day series. We had the girls playing regularly and it was becoming a very well set combination. This is the secret of any team. You have a core team of twenty players and keep rotating them depending on the conditions and workload management. That’s the way forward and become the side to beat. Australia follows the process and the South African team was doing the same.
How long can Jhulan Goswami continue? She has been phenomenal in the last 18 years. Where is the second seamer?
We started a programme to identify fast bowlers, but soon the pandemic struck. That programme has to be restored. It will take 12-18 months for preparing a player to match up to international level. Harleen Deol has been part of the squad for 18 months. So we need to work with a few talented cricketers who can give you what you expect from them.
Poonam Yadav went wicketless right through the series?
To be honest, this was one series she did not find things going her way, But this can happen. Somehow, she did not get into the groove. But, you always give some allowance to a leg-spinner. Even in the best of form, they go for some runs and have their bad days.
Batting is largely dependent on Mithali Raj, Punam Raut, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur.
It would be great to have a wicket-keeper batter or a batter-wicketkeeper. There are options.
So, the women’s team needs a thorough sprucing up, isn’t it?
We have to start from scratch. A long camp will pave the way for this. They have had a long break. The girls need to improve on all fronts. The girls themselves want these camps. They need to top up on their fitness and fine-tune their skills as well. To achieve certain goals, we need to have camps on a periodic basis.
Shafali Verma has said that she was not picked for the ODI series because she may have lacked something?
That kid has said whatever she’s said. Everybody has been asking a lot of questions. I would personally not like to take part in any discussion. I am not the one to answer for all that.
Punam Raut seems to be showing a little more urgency to find ways to score?
I had a chat with her. I told her to be a lot more positive. The reason I told her was that the average score in women’s cricket has spiked a bit. We need to become a side that can get to 260 on a bad day. For that to happen, the batters have to learn to manage 50 overs. The top six is tightly packed.
Do you believe that Harmanpreet can bowl a lot more?
She has been working on her bowling. She had this shoulder injury that took two years to get over with. Since 2019, she has been bowling a lot in the nets. We will see her bowl a bit in the future.
Mithali’s 10,000 runs in international cricket, that’s something.
She has been a colossus in terms of batting. She has also shown the way to youngsters. But what’s important is that she continues with her form as a batter.
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