The Indian women’s team registered two historic Test victories against England and Australia recently. Although they lost the first ODI against Australia on Thursday, the upward curve in the women’s game is unmissable. HT caught up with former India captain Anjum Chopra, who has been following the rapid rise of women’s cricket from close quarters. The former left-hander shared her thoughts on youngsters like Satheesh Shubha, and Jemimah Rodrigues, the rise of Pooja Vastrakar as an all-rounder, captain Harmanpreet Kaur’s aggression and the future of Test cricket in the women’s game.
Here are the excerpts
Good time to be a women’s cricket fan in India. Two historic wins against England and Australia. Your thoughts?
Obviously very pleased, very happy because you know, the success that you get with victories like these encourages the team and the individuals. The hard work that you’ve done, the perseverance that you’ve shown, the approach that has been there for some time now, it is very encouraging when the results are coming. And it’s a nice reward because India, like most other teams in women’s cricket, don’t play a lot of red-ball cricket. So, winning in a Test match is always nice. And even if the victories against England and Australia came in one-dayers, it would not have been any less. Because when you beat quality opposition, it motivates the entire team to continue doing the hard work and become better.
This was India’s first-ever Test victory against Australia. Where would you rank it as an achievement?
Honestly, it is not about ranking a victory. Whether one is bigger than the other, which one is second or third, it’s not about ranking at all. For me, each match that you play for your country, you have to win it. If you don’t win it, you try and come back stronger. And when you win a match, it doesn’t mean that this ranks higher than the previous one. This is more about collective success. Any victory motivates you. Of course, like I said, when you beat quality teams anywhere in the world it boosts you up further. Why these wins will perhaps taste sweeter is because they came in India. When you play in your own country, and after such a long time and look at the experience, hardly anyone has had any experience of playing Test cricket in that Indian lineup. So in that respect, you know, the test of skills, temperament and the pressure that you absorb, It is always special. But I will never rank a victory.
Satheesh Shubha and Jemimah were pretty good on their debuts but the former was playing her first international match in any format…
I like the first look of her and I even went up to her and had a word. I congratulated her for her efforts. Her technique looks very, very clean. It’s uncomplicated. It was very much important how she and Jemmi (Jemimah) put on a partnership against England. That was such a crucial point (in that match against England). If that stand hadn’t come in the first innings then who knows… In the context of that game, I was very impressed with how both Subha and Jemmi batted.
When the chips are down, captain Harmanpreet Kaur seems to just find a way to disturb the opposition with her aggression. The way she rattled Alyssa Healy was a prime example of that, wasn’t it?
I know that she has that in her because I’ve seen her (from close quarters). I know that she can bring that thing to the table and change the game when the chips are down. When she brings it out or how she does it is obviously an individual thing, she takes the call but as long as she possesses the quality and can utilise it positively, good for Indian cricket. The two wickets that she picked up in the last session of the day was a game-changer.
The last we spoke before the Asian Games, Pooja Vastrakar was in and out of the Indian side but now she has emerged as one of the top performers with both bat and ball. How do you see her growth?
I was very impressed by the way she batted. I was very impressed by the way she bowled too. The application she showed in both the Test matches against England and Australia was commendable. She batted for almost 110-120 balls (126 balls for 47) in that Test against Australia. I don’t think she is accustomed to batting for so long even in the nets. She is truly coming up and realising her potential as a genuine all-rounder. Because she always had that in her. It was about translating that into performance. I’m delighted that she is finally getting the results.
India don’t have another Test match lined up for the next two years… Should the FTP be planned in a better way?
The women’s game does not have more than these three teams playing Test match cricket. But slowly and steadily when you have less one-sided games, you will see the improvement. Like the India-England Test, even if it lasted for three days, there was a competition correct. In the Australia game, it was even better. So the more teams start playing the longer format, the better it will be.
Why so much focus on white-ball formats? Can’t Test cricket play as big a role in promoting women’s cricket?
It was a conscious decision taken by the ICC that they will promote the women’s game by playing more white ball cricket. Now after the kind of success India got in the 2017 World Cup, things changed. It reflected on the 2018 T20 World Cup even though it was in the Caribbean. In the standalone T20 World Cup in Australia, India played the final. It’s a very open thing that when India reach the final, you will get more eyeballs. Because you have, obviously a lot of numbers in our country, people follow the game. So that has assisted in the woman’s growth. The conscious move was to first popularize the women’s games, let it stand on its own feet, then do their workouts. Once you’re confident with your workout, then let’s go and assess strategy and whether we can start introducing Test matches.
One Test match possibly takes away the chance to play three T20Is, or maybe two ODIs. So you also have take into account the broadcasters, the advertisers. They also play a huge role in the growth of the game. It’s a step-by-step process and I’m pretty sure, Test matches will be part of the plans now. One thing that we probably can do is add more than just one Test the next time say India play England or Australia.