India captain in the Test and One Day International format, Mithali Raj has completed 22 years in international cricket on June 26, 2021. While she and her team are ready to take on England in the three-match ODI series, a potential ODI debut for Shafali Verma is around the corner. Prior to the series, the captain addressed to the media where she revealed if Shafali is going to make her debut in ODI, if the team celebrated her special day and many more things as well.

“We just arrived for our session, so no thought of celebrations yet. We have an important game. Feels nice to get up to messages congratulating me on my career. If I have to give one advice to my younger self: enjoy getting onto the ground representing your country. At that time, the expectation was so much that I didn’t realise the importance of wearing the blue jersey, that will be something I tell 16-year-old Mithali,” she started with this answer when she was asked about the celebration.

While talking about Shafali Verma and her possible debut in ODI, the captain backed the youngster’s batting style. “That’s how she plays. That’s her strength. That’s her style of batting,” Raj said on match eve in Bristol. “There would be times she would give us head starts. We would love that (and for) her to be consistent. At the same time, she’s a young kid. She will learn with experience and with more matches she’ll also understand how to build an innings also.”

She continued: “Since she’s getting into playing the one-day series for the first time, I, as the captain, would always encourage her to play the way she enjoys playing and is comfortable playing. That’s the style of batting she should do.”

Shafali Verma has already made a name for herself in the shortest format. And now with 96 and 63 on Test debut last week against England, she became the youngest batter to score two half-centuries on Test debut. However, India have tried many opening partners since the 2017 ODI World Cup where Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia have all been tried and tested. But they couldn’t seal their place in that position yet. 

While Shafali Verma is likely to give a flowing start to India alongside Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj said that she would find the support needed in the 50-over games too. “We as experienced batters in the middle order, if we lose an early wicket, we are there to compensate and build an innings,” Raj said. “So if she gives us a great start, we’ll take it from there. Our team does have the batting depth wherein everyone has a different role to play. So we look forward to sticking to that role and give our best in playing that role.”

However, Raj has largely played at No. 3 but in the recent past, she has been batting at Nos. 4 since Punam Raut comes at one-down. Even in one match, Harmanpreet Kaur batted ahead of Raj, who came at No. 5 too. While this shuffle was a reason for India’s inefficient middle-order, recently, Taniya Bhatia and Sneh Rana showed their ability to bat there. And, the captain is happy with the bench strength.

“Healthy competition is always good in the team,” Raj said with a smile. “Having said that, we picked the team based on composition again and I would say that’s important and the girls would also understand that. There are times when we go with an extra seamer depending on the wicket, at times we go with a spin-dominant bowling attack. So, accordingly, we try and see into our batting order and depth as well. With the equation of the all-rounders coming in, we’ll definitely look into it, yes. We do have a few options, but we will select based on what composition the team is looking at getting into tomorrow’s game.”

While talking about the batting position in the series and in future, she said that it will revolve around the match situation. “I think I’ve scored a lot of runs at No. 3. I started as an opener and then came to 3 and 4. When you play a lot at 3, you be very flexible. I have been very flexible, have played in different batting orders. I have played even at No. 8 or 9. At this stage, I’m comfortable whether it’s No. 3 or 4. It revolves around the situation, and that’s always been my approach.”

However, this is the first time India toured England since their nine-run defeat to them in the final of the 2017 ODI World Cup. With the next World Cup are taking place within a year, Raj would love to have a series win in their name after their below-par performance in the home series against South Africa.

“The biggest thing we’d want the team to do is have a very strong mindset because we can’t really compare the series [to the one against South Africa in March],” Mithali Raj said. “Yes, we lost the home series but the conditions are very different at home and in England, so we can’t have the same approach. But yes, we’d definitely look into having a more positive intent, whether it’s our batting or bowling attack, and we have been working on our fielding. Right now it’s important that whatever strategies or whatever we tried to work on in our training sessions, we carry them into the match and be consistent at that.”

While talking about the similarities in the conditions between England and New Zealand, where the 2022 ODI World Cup would take place, Mithali Raj said: “New Zealand is windier than England. I wouldn’t say similar conditions, but more or less, the wickets there are far better. The last time we played there, it was a good one-day series. I think our preparation has definitely started but it’s important that when we get into a series we look to win. Yes, we consider that also as a game plan for the core players or the combination we would like to try or look at in the run-up to the World Cup. Having said that, it’s important for us to win a series because the last series didn’t go well for the team and as the captain, I would like the team to get back to winning ways.”

However, she also opened up on India’s inability to defend the total in recent times, although they are quite good at doing it as they have done many times in the past as well. “We have defended totals in the past, we have the bowling attack to do that. Spinners especially have won matches irrespective of wickets. Even in England in the 2017 WC in England… it all depends on how as a team we put on a total if we bat first or if we have a total to defend, it boils down to the rhythm and timing of the batters and bowlers.”

Meanwhile, a lot of buzz going around about the one-off Test match between England and India that ended in a draw. While England was exceptionally well in the game, for India, there were a few players who stepped up, including Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Taniya Bhatia and a few. And, it was Rana and Bhatia who took the game to a draw, remaining unbeaten at 80* and 44*. While their stunning knocks were undoubtedly praiseworthy, many believed they should get the time to score hundred and fifty respectively, given the situation as there were overs left in the game.

While Mithali Raj was asked about this if it was the captain’s call or umpire decided due to bad light, she said: “We wanted to continue the play, that’s what we informed the opposing captain. But I was told by Sneh Rana, I was also on the backfoot when I saw bails were taken off, she told bad light call was taken by the umpire. I saw the teams congratulating each other. The umpire told that since teams are congratulating each other, it’s pretty much given that the game is over. That’s what Sneh Rana told me.”

However, Mithali Raj and Co. will definitely try to keep their momentum on in the limited-overs series as well.

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