Mithali Raj in action. ©ICC

Already looking ahead to the 2021 World Cup, India skipper Mithali Raj emphasised the importance of India’s upcoming ODI series against England.

With the ODI Vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur already ruled out of the series, Raj said the series against England is crucial for the Indian team to secure its top-four position in the world rankings till 2020 to get direct qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

At the press-conference, Mithali said “It’s a very important series for us, being no 3 in right now in points table, points are at stake and I definitely want the team to get direct entry [into the next World Cup]. It’s important to get as many points as possible from the series.”

Looking at the injuries in her own camp and England’s players returning from their lay offs, Raj said, “England are a formidable side, being the World Cup champions and they will come strongly at us. We should be playing a positive brand of cricket.”

“They’ve got their senior players back into the squad, and we are without one of our senior players. But this series will also show how we meet this challenge. It will reflect the depth of our team. However, it is also an opportunity for young players in the team to rise up and use the opportunity to step up and perform,” said the India captain.

She added “I should emphasise that we, as a batting unit, should take the [added] responsibility and whoever gets the opportunity should play that role.”

As only the top four nations will get a direct qualification for the 2021 World Cup, India knows that 6 points are at stake from the series against England are very crucial. This added emphasis comes on the back of the Pulwama terror attack, due to which the Indian team may not face Pakistan. This will mean India will have to forfeit those 6 points.

Taking this factor in consideration, the Indian captain reiterated the importance of the 3 match ODI series against England. She said, “It’s always been in our minds that we probably won’t play Pakistan, And that’s why, whatever matches we play, we should be going in by keeping in mind that we need those points.”

England has not played any ODI since they beat New Zealand 2-1 in July 2018, whereas India is playing after beating the same opponent, New Zealand, by ironically the same score line of 2-1 in the January 2019.

Acknowledging the fact about the series win, Mithali said, “It was our first win on the New Zealand soil, so it feels great to win a series there, but to come home and play England is completely different. The conditions are different. We’ll take a lot of positives and confidence from that series win, but our preparation and strategy differs from what it was in New Zealand.”

Further elaborating on the different conditions, Mithali stressed on the role her bowling unit will play in the series. She said, “A little bit of moisture will be there because most of the matches in India start at 9 am. But as the days progress it [wicket] will ease out. I think spin will be the main factor for all the matches we play at home and that’s one of the reasons why we produce the best spinners. If there is moisture the fast bowlers will come into play and in the second innings there will be some slow turn.

“In New Zealand they [Indian spinners] did very well and considering the slowness of the wickets, I hope they will do well in these conditions.”

Mithali is aware of the fact that due to the strong starts by the openers, the middle-order hasn’t been tested. She added “Jemimah [Rodrigues] and Smriti [Mandhana] gave us great starts in New Zealand and the middle-order was not tested that much.”

Upon asked about her much speculated retirement from the T20 format, Raj said, “When it’s the right time, I’ll let you all know.”

Tomorrow India will take on England at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai for the 1st of the three match ODI series.

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