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India Women
Womens World T20

‘If we grow as individuals, Indian women’s cricket grows’

India Women, WT20, feature

“We are looking forward to it; someone getting a hundred and a five-wicket haul" – India coach Ramesh Powar.

Powar isn’t hesitant about broadcasting his ambitions for the side at the ICC Women’s World T20 2018. But it’s not for the reasons you’d think.

Powar, a former India spinner, hasn’t set specific targets for the team in the tournament. But, in the team game of cricket, he wants to see the individuals constantly better themselves and grow.

ICC Women's World T20 2018: India captain Harmanpreet Kaur pre-tournament press conference

“They know that if we grow as individuals, the team grows, Indian women’s cricket grows, and people will start noticing the game in India and around the world,” the coach told the ICC. “When you enter such tournaments, you have to break records, get noticed as an individual and team also, so I’m looking forward to that.”

India, despite their runners-up finish at the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, don’t come into the 20-over tournament as one of the favourites. The T20 game has traditionally not been their strength.

However, in recent months, a switch has been flicked. A side packed with untested youngsters and a new coach has shown a brave approach. At a time when “fearless” cricket is the buzzword, they’ve tried to explore what that means and implement it.

They understood that very quickly and got the security that if the team management is backing them, they will go for it

“After the setback in the Asia Cup, everyone went back and worked hard,” said Smriti Mandhana, the opener and vice-captain. “You can see everyone is up to the mark where you need to be at the international standard.

“The Sri Lanka series has been really good. For me personally, I didn’t get really good scores, but one match, Harman (Harmanpreet Kaur, the captain) and I didn’t score a single run and we got 170. That was brilliant. The bowlers too have improved massively in last three months, they are clear with their plans. And fielding wise, we are 10% better than in the last World Cup.”

Kaur's side have now won all of their warm-up games ahead of the 9 November start to the main tournament. There is intent in this side, but also a lightness of step to the team on and off the field – be it in playing a game of beach volleyball on the white sands of Antigua or celebrating Diwali far from home in Guyana. They back themselves to put the hard runs on the board and count on their spinners to keep the opposition for less.

The Indians won all their warm-up games in the lead up to the main tournament
The Indians won all their warm-up games in the lead up to the main tournament

“They forgot their potential for some time. I was only there to make them realise you can do it,” added Powar, explaining the change. “I’ve instilled the approach that you have to be fearless in this format. They understood that very quickly and got the security that if the team management is backing them, they will go for it.”

Insisting that it didn’t mean players could take their places for granted, he added, “We make sure [struggling players] get into a zone where they know they can do better next time.

“If you’ve seen Jemimah (Rodrigues) … she was down with confidence. That’s where I stepped in and told her that it’s not about one innings, it’s how you plan your career.”

Rodrigues, who has been India’s find of the year and averages a healthy 37.33 in 14 T20 Internationals at a strike rate of 137.14, said the stress on positive approach to the game has freed her up and made her a better player.

“It’s really changed the mindset I’ve been brought up with,” said the 18-year-old. “When I started cricket, each and every person was like you stay on the wicket, you’ll get runs. But it’s not just that. At international level you need to have a positive approach, you need to be ahead of the bowler, in other words, dominate. That’s how you’ll get better.”

According to the players, the freedom to express themselves has also brought flexibility. “Everyone can bowl in the Powerplay, everyone can bat in the Powerplay,” said Mandhana. “Everyone knows their role, whether they are going three down or one down or opening. So being flexible is easy for everyone.”

At the same time, a new approach doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned what England coach Mark Robinson praised as a more “old-fashioned” style with the ball – doughty and solid – on tricky surfaces where stroke-making isn't a given.

“They bowled into the wicket and protected the short boundary,” Robinson said after England’s warm-up game against India. “It shows here that if you bowl back of the length as a spinner, with leg side back, it’s old-fashioned women’s cricket, it’s hard to clear the boundary.”

                                                                                       – Karunya Keshav