While men’s cricket still insists on persisting with futile bilateral series, more matches and improved results mean India go into ICC Women’s World Cup with best possible preparation
After the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, ICC is back with another premier limited over tournament. The ICC Women’s World Cup began from 24 June, just 6 days after Champions Trophy got over with a final between India and Pakistan.
Team India began its campaign on 24 June against England. Six-time winners Australia head into the tournaments as favourites. India, on the other side, relies heavily on the performances of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami to achieve their first target of ‘reaching the semi-final’.
“Our first target will be to reach the semi-finals, but for that you need to be able to play good cricket throughout the tournament and have good momentum,” Mithali Raj was quoted on ICC’s official website as saying.
While men’s cricket around the world still insists on persisting with meaningless bilateral series that fill the coffers but drain interest, women’s cricket has been ahead of the curve for four years now.
The ICC Women’s Championship (ICCWC), implemented after the last Women’s World Cup in 2013, essentially serves as a Future Tours Program (FTP) that actually has a future. A brainchild of the ICC Women’s committee, it mandated that the top eight teams play each other in at least one bilateral series (minimum three ODIs) in a four-year cycle. Points from these ODIs are counted towards the ICCWC table; the top four teams in the table earn direct qualification for the next World Cup, and the bottom four have to earn their spots through a 10-team Qualifier tournament. India found themselves in the bottom four after forfeiting their bilateral series against Pakistan for political reasons. It was a blessing in disguise though, as the extra games have meant that India go into a global tournament having tasted success in the Qualifiers.
Consider this: between the 2009 and 2013 World Cups, India played just 26 ODIs, winning 11 of them. In hindsight, India’s first round exit at home in 2013 should not have been surprising. However, the numbers this time around are more promising in both quality and quantity. Since the 2013 World Cup, Indian eves have played 37 ODIs, mostly within the ICCWC umbrella. Then, India remained undefeated in the Qualifier earlier this year, chasing a record 245 against South Africa in a tense final. The win was all the more valuable as it was achieved without Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who were both injured. Stand in skipper Harmanpreet Kaur sealed the last wicket win by scoring eight off the last two balls. Then, India played a quadrangular tournament in South Africa, also featuring Ireland and Zimbabwe. They dropped only one game in the tournament, once again beating a talented South Africa in a one sided final. Overall, Indian Women Cricket Team has lost only 9 out of the 37 games they have played since 2013.
Mithali revealed the importance of the quadrangular Series in South Africa last month and said the team would like to carry forward the same momentum in the International Cricket Council (ICC) event also.
“For me, the Quadrangular Series was fantastic — we played very convincingly and as a team we performed really well. We’re looking to produce the same kind of performance over here,” said Mithali adding, “The conditions there (South Africa) are completely different to what we are facing here in England. We can take a lot of confidence, but we need to start fresh again in the World Cup.”
The recent success of the Indian eves in between the 22 yard strip has been promising. Captain Mithali Raj is currently on the cusp of a world record, with six consecutive score of 50 or more in ODIs. Fast bowler Jhulan Goswami became the highest wicket taker in ODIs last month, crossing the 180-mark that stood for a decade. Harmanpreet Kaur’s successful stint in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) seems to have done her finishing skills a world of good. And as a team, Indian eves have won a record-equaling 16 ODIs in a row, starting with a win against Australia in 2016, and ending last month. India has won four of the last five series they have played. Some of India’s success has come against teams in the bottom half of the rankings though, something that a heavy loss against New Zealand in a warm-up matches exacerbated. The tournament opener, a televised game against hosts England, will be a stern test of India’s steel. Also, the round-robin format means India play all seven other teams once; it leaves nowhere to hide and rewards teams who can play consistent cricket, not just provide flashes of brilliance. “Our first target is to get into the semi-finals,” said Raj on her departure from India. “It’s a long tour, and I want the players to take one match at a time.”
To make the semi-finals, India -currently ranked fifth -will have to beat every team ranked below them, and at least one ranked above. That is if all goes to the script, and as the recent Champions Trophy showed, it rarely does.
Thanks to the ICCWC, Indian eves go into the World Cup with the best possible preparation. Hard earned confidence and match practice beat net sessions any day, and India carry both into this tournament. Critically, unlike Indian teams that led up to the past two World Cups, this team knows how to win. And that could make all the difference.