The dramatic one-off Test concluded on a hard-driven note with England trying till the last two deliveries of the match to bounce back and get the two remaining wickets of India and on the other hand, India’s Sneh Rana and Taniya Bhatia reckoning well to resist their wickets to be given away on a bonus with a match itself. But at the end of the game, it was Mithali Raj led India that somewhat stood victorious even after making a draw with the hosts as, despite the fall of big names, it was the army of the debutants in the lower middle order that held the strings tight.
In the post-match press conference, Mithali Raj stood still and straight on the lessons from the match to say, “I think the biggest learning is that there are other players who can stand up and deliver for the team as required after the collapse of the first innings. The lower middle-order like SnehRana, Shikha Pandey, and Tanya Bhatia has played a very crucial role. Even Deepti Sharma in both the innings, she stood out along with Shafali.”
She further added, “These girls have shown that even the lack of practice on the netball in the longer format, they stood up in the test match to perform for India and I think that confidence is what we will be carrying into the next Test. I know that it’s a Pink Ball Test, the next one, but the preparation would be equally important. Having said that, the mental space that these girls are in after today’s performance will have a very positive impact moving into a longer format, the Pink Ball Test.”
On the decision of promoting Deepti Sharma up the order, she said, “Although Deepti was not out in the first innings, we lost a lot many wickets on the other hand, and she was left stranded. But she was one of the players who were in good form in the first innings, who was already settled there. It was a collective decision of the head coach and I to send her at number 3 and she did play her role.”
“And as far as Sneh Rana is concerned,” Mithali Raj prompted, “She has come back after 5 years but that girl has a good couple of domestic seasons. She walked in with lots of confidence but at the same time, she played a very-very sensibly with Tanya and Shikha Pandey, that partnership was very-very crucial for us at that stage, losing Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut. The partnership that SnehRana built with Shikha Pandey was very-very important for us. So I am mighty little impressed of the debutants because right from Shafali to Deepti, Sneh and Pooja Vastrakar and Tanya Bhatia, they have really done well and it will be really memorable for the first game in the format.”
Admitting the fact that the stage where India was in the mid of the match, India would have lost the match altogether, she noted, “Test matches have these moments where we need to identify and grab them. There are times when the match fluctuates from one side to the other but a very experienced side can understand this but when you have relatively young players in the side, it becomes really gets difficult to make them realize these moments.”
She goes on to say that when they sit around with the team to discuss the long and short of the game that they have been through, it gives a wider insight to the young players as it becomes an added experience for them.
On the selection of Rana, she said with much impact that it was crucial for her and the coach to make the decision of picking up the suitable spinner. She also wanted to lengthen the batting that made way for Deepti Sharma into the team. Hence, in order to counter the spinning side of England, they chose to have Sneh Rana who had a really good domestic season and she did make to the club many wickets.
“When we played against England seven years ago, that was a different standard of Women’s cricket. Over these seven years, there have been leagues in several countries like Australia, England and in India, we do have our Women’s T20 Challenge. But a lot of these players who have come in have exposure in the last seven years in conditions even if it is a One-Day format or a T20 format. So when they are coming to play a Test match all they have to do to tune their minds,” she dotingly said.
“As far as Smriti or Shafali, who is, of course, a young kid, and Deepti are concerned,” she went on to amalgamate, “They have been part of these leagues so they know the bowlers as they have faced them in the same nets or probably against each other in the leagues so the sort of exposure they get mingling with these players does play a role when you prepare for any international series.”
She also emphasized the fact that when it comes to Test match all they need to do is a mind game. Despite the crumbling of opportunities due to the pandemic, she believes that if more and more opportunities are given, the side will obviously do well.
She also believes that when the young talents are on the verge to face so much pressure the message that needs to go out is too much minimal in the sense so that they don’t get burdened with the down-thrust. As a captain, all she can impart is the confidence to believe in their ability to play their game. It’s wiser not to give the young players many inputs thus confusing them. Notwithstanding the follow-on conditions just a mere talk of intent and situations around can do a ton for them instead of big discussions in the team, she firmly pounds.
Commenting on the selection of Shafali Verma, a player who has been so fresh to the longer format and accustomed only to the T20 format, Mithali Raj remarked, “We know that Shafali has a range of shots and she can be very-very effective in a format like this if she gets going. I mean in no time we could see that the score would be somewhere else if she gets going and once we knew that it’s a used wicket and there won’t be much movement, we thought it would be the best time to give her a test debut and she lived up to it. In fact, personally, I would say that her fifty in the second innings was a very-very beautiful fifty because I think the 96-run (knock) came well but the fifty in the second innings was much sorted to more experience, I would say and those sweetly timed drives, it was beautiful to watch her.”
And she thinks, from here Shafali will grow her strength and it would be very important for the batting unit of the Indian team in all formats. “She beautifully adapted to this format and reacted differently to the way she would have gone on in a T20 format. She played with the new ball sensibly and it’s great to have her,” she added on a positive note.
On the urge of the English skipper, Heather Knight to have a five-day Test, she noted, “I would say that it’s just the beginning. I think it’s a good idea to have a five day Test but then we actually have to start a test match regularly. Having a Test match feature in a series is important and then you may take it to five days. It completely depends on the home-board and the visitors if they are ok with having a five-day because in five days there are more chances of a result than a draw and I understand from where she (Knight) comes. I am ok with the five-day test also but I would prefer having a test match in every series.”
To talk about the batting approach, Mithali Raj noted, “Our intent was to not be very defensive, play according to the situation but yes most of them has been playing the white ball for quite some time. Batting is a very instinctive thing, no matter how much you tune yourself. If you have played a lot many games or a lot many formats with the white ball, there are times when the instinct takes to play a shot which is bound to happen if you are playing a longer format after six to seven years gap. If it is a regular feature then the players adapt to it quickly. But our basic thing was to keep positive intent and not look too defensive.”
Raj pounds on the reason to select SnehRana and says, “She was in a good rhythm and secondly her batting is a plus for us.” With this Taniya takes the lead here too to further add, “Psychologically thinking, it’s a big boost and this definitely put England on a back-foot clearly because they know that even though the main batters have not performed, there is the lower middle order that stood up and performed. So the Indian batting lineup goes deep now, it’s not just the top order and the lower middle order also can bat, can give match-winning partnerships. This also helps the Indian players as they take a lot of confidence from here is not just one or two match-winners.”
Mithali Raj also believes that it’s a great way to start a series where the team is seen not in any way to give up. This is what something, according to her, the side is preparing for and take it forward not containing to just one format.