NEW DELHI: Rift in the team, “fitness issues” and an attack that lacked variety and sting, all of it seems to have contributed to India’s pre-mature exit from the ICC Women’s World Cup.
The runners-up finish five years ago had changed the face of women’s cricket and considering the massive strides the game made since that final in 2017, there were expectations that India would go all the way this time.
Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana and skipper Mithali Raj struck half-centuries and set the platform for India to reach a competitive 274 for seven at the Hagley Oval after opting to bat. But South Africa chased down the target off the final ball for a three-wicket win.
However what unfolded was a disastrous campaign that ended at the league stage itself. Course correction for the Indian women’s cricket team has become the need of the hour.
The BCCI organised series against the likes of South Africa, England, Australia and World Cup hosts New Zealand ahead of the ICC event but in the end, the players failed to deliver.
She may have earlier hinted at a possible retirement at the end of the Women’s World Cup, but veteran India captain Mithali Raj on Sunday said it’s not the right time to take a call on her future just after the country’s heart-breaking exit from the showpiece.
The team could never attain the consistent levels that are required to win a major event.
It was a last-ball heartbreak against the South Africans on Sunday that halted their run but the Mithali Raj-led squad could not get over the line even against other SENA teams including Australia and New Zealand.
The team atmosphere was also far from ideal with a long-standing rift between two senior players creating a sense of unease in the team.
Head coach Ramesh Power, who was brought back last year after being controversially sacked following the 2018 World Cup, also has a lot of answering to do for the team’s hot and cold run over the past one year.
For a long time, scoring 250 plus score was an issue for this Indian team but now its bowling looked flat with opposition chasing down 270 with ease on two occasions.
The fielding throughout the event was ordinary to say the least and the bowling lacked variety.
“It all comes down to fitness. When you compare with top teams like Australia and England, India’s fitness is simply not up to the mark. We need to focus more on strength and conditioning,” former captain Diana Edulji told PTI.
“It is only when their fitness improves, they would be able to field and run between wickets like a professional outfit. They were fumbling too much in the field and dropped sitters.
“Those small things make a huge difference. There was also no consistency in picking the playing eleven,” she said further.
The management packed the side with three all-rounders — Deepti Shama, Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar — for most of the games.
Though they all did well in patches, the bowling unit was not penetrative enough.
“The team played well but were not consistent enough and the players will learn from this. Looking ahead, I would like to see more specialists in the team.
“Play seven batters including the wicketkeeper and five bowlers. Out of the five bowlers one can be an all-rounder but not more than that.
“You need to have specialists to take wickets,” said former chief selector Hemlata Kala, whose panel gave opportunities to the likes of Shafali Verma, Richa Ghosh and Pooja in its tenure.
Regular India A tours and a proposed Women’s IPL next year should also help in creating a pool of players for the highest level.
Though their retirement is not official yet, the team must also get used to life without one of its longest servants, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, who are touching 40.
In the immediate future, the BCCI and the selectors need to start preparing for life beyond Mithali and Goswami.
Both remain at the top of their game but it is important to plan for the future since they can’t be around forever.
Picking Mithali’s successor is also a task in the near future. T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana are the top contenders for the all format captaincy job.
“Mithali and Jhulan have been among the best to have played the game for India but if they don’t announce their retirement anytime soon, BCCI should take a call on them soon. We need to plan for the future,” said Edulji.