Ramesh Powar and Mithali Raj, India’s head coach and captain respectively, claim to have reconciled after their very public falling-out following India’s semifinal exit in the 2018 T20 WC. And as they return to work again after nearly three years for India’s tour to England, there has been an attempt to create a positive vibe around the entire team.
Powar arranged for a special jersey handing-over ceremony to all the Indian players, many of whom are set to be a part of their first Test match and some others to play their first Test in four years. The ceremony was preceded by narrating to them the history of women’s cricket, the journeys of those who paved the way for the current generation of cricketers, to induce – as Powar says – a sense of purpose in their game.
“Whenever I take a new team, I try and find a purpose,” Powar said in India’s pre-departure press conference on Tuesday (June 1). “I had done something similar with the Mumbai team. I thought this was missing with the women’s team. They’ve never been presented with t-shirts or been told about the journey of women’s cricket.
“There has to be a purpose when you wear the India T-shirt. To understand why you are playing this game, why you are around this team and what is the purpose going forward. If you don’t have a purpose you will not create that atmosphere in the team and perform consistently over a longer period of time.”
Explaining the importance of the moment, Mithali – who is set to play her seventh Test against England and 11th of her 22-year international career – said, “[For] the girls who are getting into the team and playing the format [for the first time], it’s very special. Unfortunately, I never had this sort of ceremony in the 1990s. It’s good to have it because the excitement is there in the group. It’s important to have that idea of what Test cricket means to the players and the importance of the former cricketers who have laid the path and kept the sport alive for so many years for the current generation to inspire the future generation. It is an atmosphere built to make them realise that they play a very important role in the history of women’s cricket.”
Indian women’s team will be playing their one-off Test in Bristol, starting June 16. As a result, they won’t have ample time to get adjusted to the conditions with no practice matches scheduled. With India not having days cricket in its domestic structure, it will be an uphill challenge for the newly-appointed coach to train them for the necessary skill and mindset. However, Powar is looking at the larger picture.
“It is not ideal. We are trying to look at the bright side,” he said. “We are getting to play cricket – Tests, ODIs and T20Is. It’s a long tour of 45 days. It is not physically possible to prepare. The mental makeup will make a difference.”
The last time India had played a Test in England – in 2014 – the visitors had registered a six-wicket win, with Mithali and Smriti Mandhana registering half-centuries in the run-chase, and Jhulan Goswami picking a four-fer. Apart from the trio, much of India’s batting is expected to remain the same, with the possible inclusion of Shafali Varma, and Powar is hopeful that his team can spring a surprise yet again.
“Obviously I want more Test games all over the world but again it’s a good start,” he said. “Let’s take it step by step and don’t push the girls into a zone where you’re demanding too many things in Test cricket. It is a new format that has not been played consistently in the last 10 years. Let’s wait and watch how they react. We might get surprises, they will perform better given the opportunity.”
The one-off Test match will be followed by three one-day internationals and three T20Is.