Focus is on getting back to rhythm in first ODI: India skipper Mithali Raj

Mithali Raj addresses the media. © Getty Images

India ODI skipper Mithali Raj has said that although South Africa might have had more match practice, they are confident and excited to do well in the five-match ODI series that begins on Sunday (March 7).

Speaking in the pre-match press conference, Raj said the players are excited to get on the field and put out their best performance. “They (South Africa) have had game-time. They have played Pakistan before coming to India. Having said that, we definitely have put in the efforts to train ourselves. It doesn’t look like we are rusty or anything,” she said in the virtual meeting.

India are returning to the ODI format as a team after a long break. Their last ODI series was in November 2019 in West Indies. When asked about their approach in the first ODI, Raj said that they would be assessing the conditions and try and get in the rhythm.

“If it is a good batting track, we will definitely look forward to 240-250 around. We will start aiming at that and push beyond if we get a good start. It all depends on how we will take the first game, how the wickets behave. As of today, the girls seem to be very confident. Clearly, I am looking at a very confident unit to take on the field tomorrow.”

On the possibility of providing chances to the younger players in the squad, the 38-year-old said that they would get a chance, as it is a five-match ODI series, adding, “We have some young players in the side, and as a captain, I would like to give them opportunities to show their talent. So, yes, we are definitely looking forward to giving them opportunities in these five ODIs.”

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Shafali Verma, who was the leading runscorer for India in the T20 World Cup last year, is not a part of the ODI format. When asked about her exclusion, Raj said that Verma is in the scheme of things. ” She is definitely on the radar. We need to have a little bit of patience. You will see her very soon.”

On her personal form, Raj said that despite the lack of game-time, she had been training at home and in the academy through the break. She felt that a lot of work had gone into the mental aspect of things, adding, “We are coming back from a long gap. It means that you know you have to be strong enough to put your best foot forward. That is how we have been all these years.”

“I am really looking forward to getting more runs. Because, in the last series against West Indies in 2019, I was in  rhythm and I would like to continue from there this series.”

A year from now, India would be playing in the ICC ODI World Cup in New Zealand. When asked whether this series starts as preparation for the global tournament, Raj said that while they try and work on the team combination, it is also crucial to see that team as a unit start to get that momentum right.

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“This series is very important for two reasons. We have young players, and it is the right platform to give them opportunities in the home conditions. At the same time, it is important to see that the core players get enough game-time to get out there and develop their rhythm, come together and set our standards out there and take it from there.”

Applauding the work done by the head coach WV Raman with the team, Raj said that he gives a different perspective as someone who has played and coached for many years. “I think 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 is able to give a very positive environment in the dressing room, and that is what we carry over to the field.”

The Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association had said that 10% per cent of the stadium is allowed for spectators, and the tickets are sold on online platforms. It would mark the first instance where the tickets for the women’s game is sold since BCCI took over.

“It is always good to play in stadiums where there are people who turn up for the match. You have the fans supporting the team. I am happy that there is some price on the tickets for the people to come over. If we do well, the interest will develop. I am looking forward to the people turning up in the stadium and encourage and support the women’s national side,” she concluded.

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