Excerpts from an interview…
Shafali Verma spoke about the conversation you had with her about losing the World Cup final in South Africa in 2005…
I was just telling her that we have a connection with this ground (Potchefstroom, the venue for the final). We had beaten New Zealand at this ground in 2005. I told her that there are so many women cricketers back home waiting for one ICC trophy. This is your chance to get one. It was an emotional moment.
What is the one major difference you see in cricketers in their teens compared to the time when you played the first World Cup final in 2005?
Compared to the times we were playing U-19 cricket, these girls are far more aware about how the game is played. In fact, when we were building this team with zonal cricket academies (ZCA), I saw these U-19 girls were actually watching the Ranji Trophy. They watch a lot of games and analyse the players’ strategies. They discuss a lot among themselves. Our generation largely depended on skills, but this generation has game awareness to boost.
Could you talk about the significance of this win with the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) looming?
Over a period of nearly 20 years, India’s senior women’s team managed to play three World Cup finals (in 2005, 2017 and T20 final in 2020) but failed to cross the hurdle. Everybody had opinions about where we fell behind. People talked about how we lacked preparation and that we are not used to handling pressure. It’s easier to comment but it’s very difficult to work on a solution. Clarity of roles is necessary. That’s what we worked on with the U-19 girls.
(Coach Nooshin al Khadeer – IANS Photo)
This win has come at a good time with the WPL due to start in a month or so. Everybody was talking about how we needed to win a trophy first before building on women’s cricket. So, this U-19 win has done just that. It has provided a roadmap. Earlier, women’s cricket in India was all about the senior team. Many players disappeared from the system during their journey through junior cricket. That will not happen anymore.
Do you see a cultural change with regard to parents encouraging or allowing their daughters to pursue cricket as a career?
I would like to say it goes back to 2017 when India played the World Cup final at Lord’s. Parents saw the potential in women’s cricket then and backed their daughters to persist with cricket.
This feat has obviously triggered euphoria in the country. How important is it to keep these girls grounded?
We keep telling them that it’s just U-19 cricket. We still have to win trophies in senior cricket. Even Neeraj Chopra (2021 Olympic gold medallist in javelin), during his interaction with the girls before and after the final, emphasised on not forgetting your roots. Legends like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami have pointed out to them that it’s easy to handle failure but it’s very tough to handle success.
(The team being felicitated by BCCI – IANS photo)
Is it time comparisons with men’s cricket stopped?
They have already stopped. I would like to give full marks to the BCCI and Jay Shah (BCCI secretary) for this. There’s no difference in the facilities and exposure. We are getting ZCAs, the National Cricket Academy (NCA) has been proactive. The BCCI has been arranging bilateral series and quadrangular series even for U-19 girls just like what the boys get. The girls are given the best accommodation just like the male players. BCCI has offered contracts to women cricketers and given equal pay to women cricketers. And then the introduction of WPL is just another milestone. And all this growth happened in five years.
The previous generation of women cricketers would take names of men cricketers as role models. Has that changed?
I think that has changed. Now, if you ask a girl about her role model, she will take the names of Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Deepti Sharma first.
There are many positives about women’s cricket with the WPL coming. What is the one thing that we need to be careful about?
I would like to count only the gains. The biggest gain would be Indian domestic cricketers rubbing shoulders with international stars. They can learn a lot from them and pass it on to cricketers when they come back to play for their states.