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India youngsters need to play against top teams for quality exposure: Mithali Raj

Back from the tour of South Africa, Indian women’s cricket great Mithali Raj has lauded the performances of youngsters, but said that they must keep playing against top teams for ample quality exposure

CRICKET Updated: Mar 05, 2018 15:59 IST

Mithali Raj has lauded the performances of youngsters during India’s tour to South Africa.(AP)

Playing in their first series after the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup, India showed their prowess and won the ODIs (2-1) and T20s (3-1) against South Africa recently. Indian ODI captain Mithali Raj finished the T20s against South Africa with 192 runs at an average of 96, and was named the Player of the Series.

With 10 Tests, 189 ODIs and 68 T20s under her belt, India’s most experienced woman cricketer Mithali looked in top-form, playing a T20 series after a gap of two years.

In an exclusive chat, the 35-year-old Mithali, who is tied up with her newly-built house in Hyderabad, spoke on her current T20 form, on how Indian women are preparing for a challenging season ahead, her thoughts on the youngsters in the team and why a T20 league for women in India should not a distant dream.

Excerpts:

Q: We have known you play copy book shots in the past. However, you looked in a different avatar batting at the top in the T20 series against South Africa, playing all range of shots and sneaking runs. Did you prepared differently after the 2017 World Cup for the South Africa series?

A: T20 is a high-intensity format. One needs to adjust to the format and make the most of it. I last played in the T20 format back in 2016 during the Asia Cup. Since then, I brought changes in the T20 batting approach. I worked hard to bring my game a notch up for the T20 challenge. It was wonderful to get under some runs against South Africa in the T20 series. I enjoyed and relished playing T20 cricket. With a lot of T20 cricket ahead in the season leading to World Cup in the Caribbean, I am pumped-up.

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Q: Can we say that Mithali Raj is rediscovering her game at 35 ? Also the fact that Harmanpreet Kaur led the Indian side in T20 series against South Africa kind off lifted pressure of our shoulders and you could go out to bat with a free mind ?

A: I won’t say that I have rediscovered my batting abilities but I have prepared hard to adjust to the nature and demand of modern-day cricket. The pressure to do well individually under difficult circumstances is always there. It never goes off. But yes, not being the captain gives me time to read, try out new cuisines, relax, listen to music and meditate off the field. I am not thinking about the strategies all the time.

Q: You were involved in a match-winning 98-run partnership with young Jemimah Rodrgues in the deciding T20 match against South Africa. Looking at the young talented cricketers like batter Jemimah, medium-pacer Pooja Vastrakar and wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia, what do you make of India’s team strength ahead of the series against Australia, England and during the T20 World Cup ?

A: They are at a very initial stage of international exposure. It was refreshing to see them come good on foreign soil. I think they need to play against top teams like Australia and England ahead of the T20 World Cup in order to get ample quality exposure. Australia and England are strong teams and will arrive in India with good amount of cricket experience behind them. Having won the ODI and T20 series against SA has raised our confidence. It would be exciting to take on England after the World Cup final loss.

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Q: It has been learnt that the BCCI is mulling a T20 Indian league for women and planning to have some exhibition matches during the later stage of upcoming Indian Premiere League (IPL). Were you consulted for suggestions regarding this and have you been approached by the BCCI for the exhibition matches ?

A: It would be incredible if such a T20 league transpires in India. Post the 2017 World Cup, popularity of women cricket has gone high. The television ratings of the World Cup show people really loved seeing the ladies in action. And if games like badminton, kabaddi, wrestling, football etc can have their own leagues then why not women have an IPL-type T20 league. We have been asked for our suggestions for the development of the sport for women in the past and we have contributed too. It has been a week since the Indian team landed in India from South Africa. We will see in the coming days how things go in this direction.

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