VADODARA: Not too long ago, Mithali Raj was asked a question sportspersons her age are often asked. ‘When does she plan to retire? Will she play the next World Cup?’ India’s women’s cricket captain replied she would play for a few years and that 2021 is too far to think of.But the story is not about her. It’s about a reality the team has to face. When the playing XI for the first ODI against Australia was named on Monday, it missed two veterans. Other than an indisposed Mithali, fast bowler Jhulan Goswami had already been ruled out of the series with a heel injury.
It’s not that India lost the match tamely because of the absence of the two. But life without them is a situation they must prepare for. It’s a transition phase in the sense that they have to look for back-ups for stalwarts in two departments. One has 6259 ODI runs to her name and the other, a flag-bearer of fast bowling in the women’s game, has 200 ODI wickets. Both are 35.In the last 10 years, only on two occasions has the team missed the two at the same time. The first was last year’s final World Cup qualifier in South Africa won by India and the second was Monday.
“When you’re playing against a good team it’s important to have your two most experienced players in the XI,” said stand-in captain Harmanpreet Kaur after Monday’s match. “Their absence was a big loss, but one positive is juniors are getting a chance. Like Pooja (Vastrakar) batted really well. It’s a chance for them to show character. So that’s a positive for us.”
The team currently is composed of young blood, the average age without Mithali and Jhulan being less than 24. If T20 captain Harmanpreet takes over from Raj in all formats in future, she has to make sure things don’t fall apart, like in the Sri Lankan men’s team after the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
It’s up to the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Deepti Sharma, Pooja Vastrakar and Jemimah Rodrigues to realise their importance in the side. Coming in at 113 for seven on Monday, the 18-year-old Pooja showed grit with a 56-ball 51. And though the 17-year-old Jemimah made only one on ODI debut, she has shown promise.
But with an India A side led by Anuja Patil proving no match to Australia in the warm-up matches, losing by 320 runs and seven wickets, it looks as if bench players have a long way to go before they can be called for national duty. Even before the first ODI when Mithali’s illness was not that serious, coach Tushar Arothe mentioned that it’s time for other players to step up. He was referring to a time when the seniors won’t be around. “All these years Jhulan has done extremely well. At the same time, Shikha (Pandey) and others need to carry the weight.”
After missing the first ODI with suspected viral fever, India skipper Mithali showed signs of recovery on Tuesday. Express understands that she is likely to take part in training sessions on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s second one-day.