India need to identify more match-winners: Mithali Raj | Cricket - Hindustan Times

India need to identify more match-winners: Mithali Raj

By, Mumbai
Dec 10, 2023 10:12 PM IST

The benefits of Women’s Premier League will take time to have its impact on the national team, says former India skipper and batting stalwart.

The financial uplift in player salaries is there for all to see. There are now many players in Indian women’s cricket who can live a good life just by playing in the Women’s Premier League (WPL). But the qualitative difference may take time to have its impact in India’s T20 cricket – the format of the present and future.

Former India captain Mithali Raj.(BCCI)
Former India captain Mithali Raj.(BCCI)

Big-hitting prowess wins over everything else in the shortest format. Last year’s WPL saw overseas batters dominating proceedings while most of India’s batters strived for the right scoring tempo. This despite the advantage Indian players had in terms of playing opportunities – seven home players in the playing 11.

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The leading run-scorer for all the five teams was an overseas batter. Only two Indians featured in the top 10 run-scorers' list. Shafali Verma and Harmanpreet Kaur who made the list were no WPL finds. Among the top 10 six-hitters, apart from Verma, Kiran Navgire, Dayalan Hemlatha and Richa Ghosh made the list; but none were able to make a match-winning impact.

Part of the reason is the absence of middle-order ball strikers in the Indian circuit – a problem that extends to the national team. Lack of lower-order depth cost India the 2022 Commonwealth Games Gold as well as this year’s T20 World Cup semi-final against Australia. Can WPL help change that?

“It will take time,” said Mithali Raj, mentor with Gujarat Giants. “Unless you have more players in domestic cricket playing at those slots which give the franchises an opportunity to identify them, it won’t happen. Right now, you pretty much have top orders of good state sides being picked at the auction.”

Australian players are by far the leaders in women’s cricket. A lot of the advance in Australia’s T20 cricket has come from Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) that began in 2015. Indian representation is limited to the big names, a reflection of the distance the rest of the players need to cover.

“WBBL has been around for a while and it has helped the Australia set up where a lot of players have come through the ranks,” said Raj. “But we have also seen that WPL in the first season itself gave players like Saika Ishaque, Shreyanka Patil, Kanika Ahuja. You have identified such players. By the second season you will have a stronger second string.”

The T20I series against England has showed up many cracks. Inability of players outside the experienced core group to leave an impact may be a matter of concern ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup. “It’s about how you prep in the run up to the World Cup. The tournament is in Bangladesh in similar conditions, which may be a blessing. But do we have players who can be match winners?” Raj asked.

“Right now, we have Smriti, Harmanpreet, Shafali and Jemimah. But what about the rest? We will have to identify more match winners who can step up when required.”

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    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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