Mithali Raj in action. ©ICC

Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, felt that the quality of cricket around the globe will improve if there is an age-group World Cup in place. There is Under-19 World Cup for men, which started in 1988 and then resumed in 1998. Since then it has been a massive success and has been the base that has produced legends like Brian Lara, Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli among others. But there is no such structure in place for women cricketers.

During the 2016 Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, Lisa Sthalekar, in an interview with Indian journalists, had told that time is ripe for an Under-18 World Cup for women. There have been murmurs in the corridors of International Cricket Council about an age-group World Cup, but nothing has materalised so far.

“It will be important because every country is looking forward to getting more girls to play the sport. And if you have another World Cup of, say, Under-19 or Under-21, it gives an opportunity for young girls to compete at that level because there’s something to look forward to,” Mithali said on the eve of India’s second One-Day International against England at the Wankhede Stadium. “Someone who’s playing Under-19, they have to straightaway aim for the senior level (from a World Cup perspective). That’s a long shot. Very few are able to make it. For the rest who don’t make it, at least they have another shot at playing or representing their country at the World Cup.”

Mithali, who had said during the 2017 World Cup that time is ripe for IPL but had changed her stance last year, felt that a T20 league in India is a must for players to improve and go to the next level.

“Now, since a year or two people have gone beyond (noticing) two-three players (in the Indian team). Now they recognise other players in the squad and now is the right time to get in IPL because T20 is also a format that ICC is looking to promote women’s cricket. So it’s important if we can have an IPL, promote an IPL kind of league in our country, so the domestic structure will improve immensely,” she added. “A lot of young players who come in like Harleen (Deol) or any debutant will take some time because our domestic structure doesn’t offer that much experience before coming into (the) international arena. So, if you have leagues like this, when they make a debut, they are already experienced enough to absorb the pressure at international levels.”

There has been a debate around the ODIs starting at 9am. The men play day-nighters, but the last time Mithali’s team played an ODI under lights at home was way back in November 2014. Infact India have played only 13 day-night ODIs, the first being against England in Hove in September 2008. They recently played two day-nighters in New Zealand.

Mithali did not have any concern about early morning starts. “Having IPL in the mind, that’s the T20 format. You cannot think about promoting that format along with the homes series (as) that’s a completely different format. In India, every one-day game starts at 9am, whether men’s (sic) or women’s.”

She opined that double-headers during IPL will make things interesting. “As far as IPL is concerned, if that can be a double-header, like how we had the T20Is, in New Zealand, that will definitely garner more people to come and watch us play. And obviously televising it and marketing it will get a lot of people to follow it.”

Mithali also stressed on the need for more India A tours to improve the standards. “Given we also have India A tour, I’m sure there is one in the near future. If we have more of that and we can give opportunity to the second string, not just playing at home against visiting teams as part of President’s XI or India A, but also tours abroad, playing against Australia A or New Zealand A, that exposure will help them immensely.”

Shifting her focus to the ODI series, she said that India need to stress on building more partnerships. “We have to work on partnerships. We had just two, between the openers and mine with Taniya (Bhatia). We need to work on playing the middle overs,” she said. “When we can go and score 200 with just two partnerships, if another couple of batters can score runs, that would be a good score on this wicket.”

She heaped praise on Jemimah Rodrigues, the teenaged-opener who has been in good form. “She has gradually improved since her debut in South Africa (in 2018),” Mithali added. “So much exposure at such a young age will only help her progress more and take responsibility of giving a good start. India have, for long, struggled to have a good opening pair. Now I can see good starts since the New Zealand (tour).”

Mithali also appreciated Shikha Pandey’s return to form. “She’s been with team for long. Every player goes through a lean patch. As a senior and captain it’s my duty to give more confidence, giving more opportunities,” she said. “Since the New Zealand tour you’ve seen how she has taken up the responsibility of the first spell along with Jhulan Goswami. Jhulan, being around, also helps, as she shares her experience. With a senior around, juniors develop under their wings,” she explained.

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