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Almost a year to their last trip to England, the Indian team is all set to return to the old blighty under the leadership of Mithali Raj who was reinstated as captain after a gap of over three years. The seasoned cricketer has a wise head on her young shoulders and the team will need all her experience and calm composure, if they are to make a fist of it against the world's best. India finished bottom of the table in the quandrangular series last year featuring Australia, England, India and New Zealand. But armed with a determined bunch of cricketers the team will look to have a more respectable outing this time around as they build up to the T20 World Cup later this year in Sri Lanka.
TheSportsCampus met up with Mithali just after an intense net session at the St. John's Cricket Academy in Secunderabad under the watchful eyes of her coach, RSR Murthy. The sprawling two acre campus is buzzing with activity as the cricketing talent in the city throng their well-appointed facilities to hone their skills and prepare for the season ahead. The captain came across as a person grounded in reality, with a practical outlook on her role. It was easy to see the reason behind her consistent success, as her steely determination shone through the veneer of warm and forthcoming demeanour. Back at the wheel after a hiatus that was forced upon her after a miserable outing in England, Mithali is looking for the team to play some good cricket and erase some of the pain from those memories.
In a free-wheeling discussion with your correspondent, Mithali spoke about the recent disappointments against the Windies and Australia but expressed hope that the team can bond together during the pre-tour camp and gain some much needed confidence ahead of the tour to England. When asked if the conditions in England might pose problems, Mithali said, "The conditions are a smaller factor, what is more important is the manner in which our players respond to the situation on the ground and adapt their game to the circumstances of the match."
She was also confident that with help from senior players like Jhulan Goswami, Amita Sharma and others in helping the younger lot understand the quick changes of weather in England and help them adapt their game to get the best out of the wicket will enable the team challenge the hosts and emerge victorius. Armed with the advice, she believes that the manner in which the players step up to the plate under crunch situations shall determine the outcome of the series.
Mithali believes that with most of the team having toured England last year, there shouldn't be too many surprises. She reserved warm words of encouragement for the debutant Mona Meshram and the woman on a comeback mission, Nagarajan Niranjana. Niranjana last played for the country in 2008, during her brief stint with the team in England.
As our discussion turned towards Test Cricket, the Indian captain spoke about the changing contours of the game. Our team hasn't played a single match in the longer format since 2006 and given the direction of the market forces, Mithali cast a doubt about the viability of the format for women's cricket. "It is highly unlikely that we shall play any further Test Matches," she said, "besides, after being away from the format for so long it will be difficult to even contemplate preparing for the longer format of the game." The captain added, "with the amount of T20 that is played, even preparing for an ODI takes a different approach. I do not see us playing any Test Cricket in the near future."
The upcoming series provides the Indian team an opportunity to sharpen their game ahead of the T20 World Cup to be played in Sri Lanka this September. The tour will begin on 26th June, with a T20 game in Canterbury followed by another in Chelmsford on 28th June. There shall be three ODIs, starting with the game at Lords on 01st July. The final two games will be played at Taunton on the 4th and 5th July. When asked if this shall serve as an ideal preparation for the World Cup, Mithali parted ways with a disarming smile and a practical assessment, "Let us take it one series at a time." Women's cricket in India might still be navigating through uncertain weather, but at least there is wind in the sails and the team can depend upon the steady hands of their leader to steer them ahead on a promising journey into the future.
Team: Mithali Raj (c), Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), Ekta Bisht, Archana Das, Jhulan Goswami, Veda Krishnamurthy, Reema Malhotra, Mona Meshram, Sulakshana Naik (wk), Nagarajan Niranjana, Poonam Raut, Amita Sharma, Shubhlakshmi Sharma, Gouher Sultana, Sunitha Anand (wk)
1st T20I: Jun 26, 2012 (14:10 GMT | 19:40 IST) at Canterbury
2nd T20I: Jun 28, 2012 (14:10 GMT | 19:40 IST) at Chelmsford
1st ODI: Jul 1, 2012 (09:45 GMT | 15:15 IST) at Lord's
2nd ODI: Jul 4, 2012 (09:45 GMT | 15:15 IST) at Taunton
3rd ODI: Jul 5, 2012 (09:45 GMT | 15:15 IST) at Taunton
File Photograph: ICC World T20
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