As India’s women’s cricket team gears up for a Test match after seven years, all eyes are on the team’s young batter Shafali Verma – who is set to make her debut in the longest format of the game.
Head coach Ramesh Powar is optimistic of Shafali’s prospects in the United Kingdom. “It depends on the way she handles the sessions of practice. We have done something great with Prithvi Shaw when he played the Vijay Hazare Trophy (for Mumbai). You can wait and watch, you might see a different Shafali Verma after a month and a half,” Powar said on Tuesday.
While he did not elaborate about his plans with Shafali, Powar indicated that the team will plan its strategies keeping the conditions in England in mind. “Every player in this tour will make a difference. Shafali is a special talent. We will explore the combinations that will help us win matches,” he said.
Powar had guided Mumbai to victory at the Vijay Hazare Trophy win before taking over as the India women’s head coach.
In an ideal scenario, the Indian women’s cricket team would have wanted a few side games before taking on England in the Test, but Indian players will have to undergo mandatory quarantine after reaching the UK. And, Powar said that the mental aspect will be a huge difference. “It is an not ideal world, but we are looking at the bright side that we are playing cricket – Tests, ODIs and T20s. It’s a long tour of 45 days. It is not physically possible to prepare, but mental make-up will make a huge difference.”
“In my last assignment (with Mumbai), I tried that and it paid dividends. I have done with the Mumbai team, we only had six sessions, but we reacted positively in the tournament,” Powar added.
On the eve of the side’s departure to the United Kingdom, captain Mithali admitted that even though it will be a first Test outing for most of the players, they would be hoping to make the most of the opportunity. India will play a pink-ball Test against Australia in September and Mithali is excited.
“It’s good to have Tests, whether it’s home or away. If there’s continuity it’s great because it helps players as well. Sometimes its nice to go in without a baggage, you just go in, play and enjoy the atmosphere,” Mithali said.
“It’s good to have the girls who are playing for the first time and the girls who have played in the past and share their experiences how it was back in 2014. But having back to back Test matches can give a lot of exposure to the current lot.”
Of the 18-member squad, only seven players have played Test cricket in the past.
“There is less experience about Test cricket, but slowly and steadily, we have kept an open mind and we will take things as they pan out,” Powar said. “We will not go into details, which could complicate things. We will work on our strength as per the match conditions, and the opponent’s weakness. We are keeping things simple.”
Powar had coached the Indian team in the T20 World Cup in 2018, but was sacked after differences with Mithali and India’s semifinal defeat in the tournament. Mithali was dropped from the semifinal and relations between the two soured. However, in a chat with this publication recently, Mithali said that both of them have moved on and now the target is to look ahead.
Even Powar echoed similar sentiments. “I would like to stop the speculation. We interacted well, otherwise, I would not have come back to women’s cricket. Everyone grows up after three years, larger goals are in the picture. This is a great opportunity for me, Mithali and the whole group to take women’s cricket to another level,” he said.
The Indian team will fly out to the United Kingdom on Wednesday for a lone Test and limited overs series against England. The team will be travelling with the men’s team and Mithali believes that the women cricketers will pick up a thing or two from the men’s team on their flight to the UK.
“I am sure the girls have been interacting whenever they cross paths. It is good to have the men’s team here because they have played a lot in the UK and you can ask them questions, they can help out because most of the girls are playing a Test match for the first time, so it can help them if they talk to them and gain some more experience,” she said.