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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Mithali Raj believes mental preparation is key to World Cup success

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Cape Town: Former India skipper Mithali Raj has spoken up on a number of fascinating subjects, including the mental aspect of cricket, who her are for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, India’s chances and the overall evolution of the women’s game.

India legend Raj was capped 333 times across the formats in her extraordinary international career. And on the back of that experience, the 40-year-old believes that one of the biggest factors going into the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup will be to ensure that the players are mentally ready for the contest.

“The ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 will get underway soon and while most of the preparation has already been done, the challenge will be to ensure the players are ready mentally,” Raj said.

“For an event like this, you have to do so much work on the mental side. It is so important to be in a very good mental space. The clearer and more composed you are, the more natural your performances will be and your cricket will start to flow,” she said.

Australia go into the tournament as the current holders of the trophy and as five-time ICC Women’s T20 World Cup champions, and Raj said that they will be the favourites once again in South Africa, the ICC reported.

“Going into the tournament in South Africa, I think everyone would agree that Australia are the favourites, and deservedly so,” Raj said. “They are so difficult to beat because they bat deep and have an excellent batting line-up.”

“There are not many teams who can rival them in terms of big hitters, and the fact they have numerous players who can play a similar role means that if one fails, others can step in,” she said.

“We saw recently that when they toured India, although that was a very competitive series, when it came down to it, more often than not, it was Australia who came out on top,” Raj said.

Talking about India’s chances, the former opener believes that the side are heavily dependent on its top-order’s success and that the bowling will be tested in South Africa.

“Having said that Australia are definitely favourites, we have seen India and England play some of their best cricket in the knockout stages of tournaments so I would not write them off. India also have the knack of bringing their best against Australia,” she said.

“India’s chances will be largely dependent on the top order. Smriti Mandhana is playing well and is a match-winner. Harmanpreet Kaur has looked in good form too. But we have to beat Australia and England, and you need other batters to come to the party,” Raj said.

“I hope Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh also have a good run at the World Cup considering they have gained so much experience of the conditions in South Africa. The bowling will be tested and that is where we need to see an improvement,” she said.

“I am excited about some of the young players coming through and there is definitely some talent in the Under-19s team which I had the chance to see play at the inaugural ICC Under-19s Women’s T20 World Cup,” Raj said.

The former opener has also opened up about her experience in South African conditions, a place where she believed batters with clean footwork and the ability to play bounce will be rewarded.

“The conditions in South Africa will make life easier for those batters who can negotiate bounce. If you can deal with the bounce, there are runs to be had square of the wicket, and the cricket can be very pleasing to the eye,” Raj explained.

“The seamers should thrive as well. It might be a bit trickier for the wrist spinners in particular, but if you give it a tweak you will get purchase off the wicket,” she said.

“I was lucky enough to play in the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2005 when India got all the way to the final. I really enjoyed playing on those tracks where you are rewarded for your clean footwork. You can play through the line as well,” Raj said.

According to Raj, the arrival of franchise leagues around the world had changed women’s sport as we knew it, helping in player development and providing financial stability.

“It will be a little strange not being out there but I will be analysing the game as if I am still in the middle. I can’t help it but I still watch the game as a player, someone who is trying to read the game and think about what to do in a given situation,” Raj added.

“What is great at this moment is that the women’s game is constantly evolving. Where 140 used to be a par score in a T20, now you can see 160-180 plus chased down, and so many matches go down to the wire. It is certainly nerve-wracking and fun to watch,” she said.

“That change has come down to the increase of leagues all over the world, with the WBBL in Australia, the Super League in England and of course the Women’s Premier League in India which is going to start this year,” Raj said.

“Those platforms not only give local players the chance to interact with overseas stars, but they also offer better financial stability which allows them to invest in their own games, hiring personal coaches or strength and conditioning coaches,” she said.

With an outstanding U19 Women’s T20 World Cup still fresh in the memory, an inaugural WPL on the horizon and the Women’s T20 World Cup just days away, Raj is hugely enthusiastic about the future of the game.

“I am really hoping that the WPL will also help with player development. We have seen at the Under-19 World Cup how much young talent there is around the world and how players are already benefiting from the number of televised matches and the chance to play alongside big names in domestic cricket,” she said.

“I cannot wait until the start of the World Cup, and I am expecting a really high standard of cricket in South Africa. We should be in for a brilliant tournament,” Raj added.

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