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Women's Cricket

"Graph lowest before highest" — former Indian cricketer on how the women's team can break a leg at World Cup

Weaning off a result-oriented outlook, Nooshin Al Khadeer, a member of the 2005 World Cup finalist Indian team, reminds Mithali Raj & Co. that the team was in a similar slump 17 years back.

The Indian womens cricket team

The Indian women's cricket team


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 2 March 2022 8:51 AM GMT

Dusting off the series outing against New Zealand with a lone victory that must be taken with a pinch of salt, the Indian women's cricket team, busy permuting and combining ahead of the upcoming ICC Women's World Cup 2022, have quite some matter on their plate to chew on.

With precious days left before the 12th edition of the Women's World Cup makes leeway, former India off-spinner and current coach of the Railways, Nooshin Al Khadeer, wonderfully optimistic yet briskly brazen spoke to The Bridge in an exclusive interaction, and helped paint out the picture for the Mithali Raj-led squad as they head into the World Cup madness.

Reflecting on the successful run chase by India in the 5th and last ODI against New Zealand, Nooshin, a former World No. 1 bowler, mentioned, "It's very good for women's cricket. There have been scores above 250-260 and that is commendable. Loss or win is a different matter - but the kind of cricket that the girls have been playing has been fantastic. For the game to improve, for people to catch up to it we need scores like this that need to be chased," Khadeer said, visibly impressed.

But does that mean it was all blue skies and good vibes for the Women in Blue? Well, no, not so fast.

"It's been a bit disappointing for India, to be honest," Khadeer confessed. "Till the 3rd ODI, we didn't have our exact 15 because of the quarantine measures. In this sport, it's all about the right combination that needs to be taken into consideration," she mentioned.

With Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami and Harmanpreet Kaur still acting as the overarching umbrellas for this motley team of Indian cricketers, some driven by experience, others by young ambition, it hasn't been a rosy ride entirely.

Being the grand-seniors in the team, quite a lot of dependence falls on this trio from the fledgling debutants, which often disrupts the overall balance, especially with the 15-member playing squad being caught in a game of trial and error, not thanks to the virus and quarantine measures.

Plotting the graph

India during the WODI series against New Zealand (Source: Photosport NZ)

The criticisms have been harsh, coming from all corners, as India lost the series to New Zealand 4-1 and also lost the one-off T20 encounter as well. On paper and in theory, the alarms are blaring for Mithali and Co. but Nooshin isn't one to lose heart.

Jogging her memory back to 2005 when India had played their first-ever World Cup Final, Nooshin recalled, "Back in 2005, we had played an Australia series before the World Cup and that was a series India lost 4-3," she pointed out.

The Indian women's cricket team in 2005, of which Nooshin Al Khadeer was an integral part (Source: ICC)

"The graph of the team back then was low. But the next thing you see is that India played the World Cup Finals in 2005 - so you never know, it's all about recouping and getting the combination right," Nooshin reminded, remembering her spell in South Africa where she played a key role in taking India into the Finals against Australia, again.

"People forget that when a graph is going down, the next possible thing only is that the graph will go up for that team," Nooshin wisely predicted, optimistic about the dip converting to a rise for Mithali and Co. soon.

"I see this win will see our team doing well in the World Cup, we have the right combination now and everything is falling into place," she said.

Towards a performance-oriented approach

Indian team in action against New Zealand (Source: PhotoSport NZ)

While it's easy to judge a win and a loss with a black and white lens, it's hardly the case that should be done Nooshin feels, especially with the world acting up since 2020 with the virus - things have been frustratingly difficult for players, getting tossed from one bubble to another.

"As players you want to be on the ground, playing cricket and not sit in the rooms," Nooshin hit out empathetically. "Sometimes people are too result-oriented but they need to understand how difficult it is for the players to bear the impact of hard quarantine."

"In the last ODI, we played the right kind of players in the right combination and that resulted in a win. People are coming back from COVID, so it won't be easy for them to jump back into the game and play and perform, right?" Nooshin spoke supportively.

With the World Cup slated to start in a week's time, Nooshin takes comfort in knowing that the trial and error game of the team has finally come to a point of stasis with the expected set of 15 all coming in to play.

Richa Ghosh in action (Source: PhotoSport NZ)

"The batting unit looks very sorted. Smriti, Harmanpreet, Richa, Deepti and of course, Mithali are getting runs. The top order has been in-form. Shafali had a good knock. It's not like we are struggling in batting," Nooshin positively put forward.

Bowling has been a concern for the Indian team as usual but in the final ODI, the bowling unit functioned well and this Nooshin takes as a big ray of hope.

"A lot of talks have gone around saying that medium pacers do well. I don't think so - the right bowling unit should be working well, I'm glad our spinners are back. To restrict New Zealand to 250 showed the calibre our girls are capable of," she said.

If anything else is a fetching concern, it is the fielding department of the Women in Blue that have led to it being pretty costly for them.

"Frankly speaking, I feel that we need to pull our socks up in our fielding. There are a few lapses in our fielding in our recent matches that need to be taken care of immediately," the Railways coach advised.

Beyond the shadows of Mithali and Jhulan

Jhulan Goswami celebrates a wicket (Source: PhotoSport NZ)

As India eyes a third Final (2005 and 2017 being the other two times) and seizes the elusive dream of lifting the Cup, they will have seasoned campaigners Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami for possibly, one last time by their side in a World Cup expedition.

Given the kind of banking that the current team does on these two trusted warhorses, it's an unputdownable thought then about the vacuum that might emerge once they leave, especially on the bowling front.

While that in itself entails a bittersweet moment, Nooshin, a former teammate of Mithali and Jhulan, paints the other side of the picture, "They are living legends and the kind of contribution they have made for Indian cricket has been immense, no doubt. But when Jhulan and Mithali had made their debut, they were also young, over a period of time, experience, the kind of cricket they have played over the years have made them the legends they are today. It will be wrong on our part to compare a youngster with Jhulan or Mithali," she pointed out.

"Every youngster will need that much amount of time and experience to become the next Mithali or Jhulan. You can't expect it overnight," Nooshin realistically admitted, well-aware of an impending vacuum.

However, the strains on Jhulan Goswami, now 39, and the highest wicket-taker in WODI's, will be immense heading into the World Cup, especially with Shikha Pandey also not being in the squad - India's bowling unit stands to struggle and depend all-too-much on Goswami.

"The people who have come in, instead of Shikha Pandey, are Meghna Singh and Renuka Singh and they have done well at the domestic and international levels," Nooshin reflected.

"The fact that a person like Shikha Pandey couldn't make it only shows the kind of competition we have right now. People who are waiting out will be raring to go in. Also, people who are in the squad will be aware of those sitting out of the bench, ready to come in. That's a healthy thing happening in Indian cricket," Nooshin gathered, pointing to the positives.

"Before Jhulan there were medium pacers in the team. Jhulan came in and filled that gap, right? Before Mithali we had batters, it's a cycle," Nooshin opined.

"It's up to the youngsters to fill in the gap once Mithali and Jhulan leave," Nooshin hoped.

"We have some lovely youngsters now - Shafali, Smriti, Richa, Meghna, Yastika, Deepti…who are all taking up the responsibility. Once given the period of time, each one of them will understand their responsibility and step up more," the off-spinner predicted.

Stars to watch out for

Youngster Yastika Bhatia will be one to watch out for (Source: ICC)

Blended with this mix of young and old blood, the Women in Blue will soon embark on the gargantuan task of making history at the World Cup and thankfully, there are a lot of new faces, aside from the living legends to watch out for.

"I was quite impressed with the way Yastika has been displaying her batting skills. She looks composed and hits the ball all around the park. I see that girl having a long way in the Indian team and making her place solid," Nooshin, excitedly mentioned, thoroughly keen about the 21-year-old Bhatia's performance curve.

"We have players like Deepti Sharma who was playing at No. 6 and then she also played at No. 3 and did the job. This kind of flexibility in the players makes you happy because it shows that they are doing well for the team. They are doing what the team's requirement is, what else do you need?" Nooshin wondered.

As India prepares to reflect and literally pull up their socks after the New Zealand series, Nooshin remains ever-optimistic that the final ODI win will act as the key boost for this team in the World Cup.

"Everybody is quite talented but the only thing I would advise is that they should take one game at a time. Every game is going to be a stepping stone, closer to the World Cup finals, so as a player, we always need to understand this," the veteran campaigner pointed out.

"That's what we did at the 2017 and 2005 WC. It helps you take less pressure as a player and understand your game better and it makes you feel light," Nooshin mentioned as a last piece of food for thought, before signing off.

India begins their World Cup campaign against archrivals Pakistan on March 6th, 2022. In the lead-up to it, they will be playing two more warm-up matches - against South Africa on February 27th and West Indies on March 1st.

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