Team India are all set to take on South Africa in a limited-overs series at Lucknow with the five-match ODI series starting from Sunday (March 7). This is going to be their first international series after a year as the global pandemic novel COVID-19 hit the world last year and put it into a standstill. However, India ODI captain Mithali Raj on Saturday said that she would like to give a chance to every youngster in the side for a perfect build-up ahead of the Women’s World Cup in 2022.

“Definitely, yes because it’s a five-match ODI series and we have some young players in the side. As the captain, I would like to give them opportunities to show their talent and yes we are looking at giving the youngsters an opportunity in this five-match ODI series,” said Mithali Raj during a virtual press conference on Saturday.

“This series is very important, we will see the composition of the team. Everybody is coming after a long gap, this series is very important as we have young players and it is the right platform to give them opportunities. It is also about ensuring that the core players get enough game time to develop that rhythm and take it from there,” she further added.

‘She is on the radar’: Mithali Raj on Shafali Verma

Rather than their return, it was the squad announcement that created the much hype. While six new faces have been included, a few key players were dropped too, including the pacer Shikha Pandey. While many thought to see young Shafali Verma in the ODI squad, she failed to make it to the cut. When asked about her, Mithali Raj replied: “She definitely is in the scheme of things, she is on the radar. We need to have a little bit of patience and we will see her very soon.”

However, Team last featured in the 50-over format in November 2019. Since then they only played in the shortest format. As far as the domestic tournament is concerned, they only played in the Women’s T20 Challenge last year in the UAE during the IPL playoffs. 

While talking about practice sessions, Mithali said: “As a professional athlete, it’s important that we keep ourselves fit and find ways to be in training. We have had four good days of training sessions, we also had a session on the central wicket. The girls have been training in their respective places before joining the team as the domestic season is underway.”

When asked about her own preparation for the South Africa series, the highest run-getter in ODI said: “It’s been like how I prepare myself before any series, it is no different. In terms of game time, we have not played any matches as such but in terms of training and preparation. A lot has gone into the methods as players are coming after a long gap. I am definitely looking forward to getting more runs, the last series against West Indies in 2019, I was in a rhythm and I would like to continue that.”

However, it is also noteworthy that, South Africa are coming from a successful series against Pakistan. And, a confident squad of visitors can give a tough time to the host. But the captain is quite confident that they have practised well to counter-attack as well.

“South Africa played against Pakistan before coming to India but then we are playing after a gap. Having said that, we have put in the efforts to train ourselves, we had a short camp and we have had four sessions here. It does not look like that we are rusty, girls are excited about putting in a good performance,” she again shared.

‘He brings a positive environment in the dressing room and it shows in the team’

Meanwhile, she had shared about the gameplan too. Since they have net sessions ahead of the series, considering the pitch condition, Mithali believed the team is capable of scoring more than 250 on board as well.

“If we do bat first, 200-250 looks like a good target for us. If we get going, then perhaps even more. It all depends on the pitch. We’ll see how it goes in the first game. The girls are confident. We’ve had some good sessions. It doesn’t look like we’re rusty. We’re waiting to go out there and give our best. It’s time we get our campaign for the World Cup and start playing some cricket,” she expressed.

However, she also praised the head coach WV Raman‘s contribution on the side. She opened up about his impact that brings a lot of positivity to the team as well which certainly needs in a team especially in the run-up to the World Cup in New Zealand next year.

“We have been under WV (Raman) sir for more than a year. The best part about him is that he is able to gel well with the senior players as well as the young players in the side. He shares his experience as a coach and even as a player. I personally chat a lot with him about the technical aspect of the game. It is a different perspective from a person who has played and coached for so many years. He is around young players, giving them more confidence if someone is lacking it. He brings a positive environment in the dressing room and it shows in the team,” she told.

Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA) on Friday had confirmed that fans can enjoy some live actions as 10 per cent of the capacity of Ekana Stadium will be opened for spectators for the series. While it will give fans a chance to watch them play in front of them, the crowd and cheer will help the host too.

While speaking on this, Mithali raj said: “It is always good to play in the stadiums where there are people who turn up to watch the match. You have supporters supporting the team. I am happy to see that there is a price on the tickets for people to come over. This probably is one way where women’s cricket can sort of develop the revenue coming in. If we do well, the interest will develop, I am looking forward to people to turn up in the stadium and support the national women cricketers.”

SQUADS:

India: Mithali Raj (Captain), Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur (Vice-captain), D. Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma (Wicket-keeper), Swetha Verma (Wicket-keeper), Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, C. Prathyusha, Monica Patel

South Africa: Sune Luus (Captain), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Tasmin Britz, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune

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