New Delhi [India], February 5 (ANI): Former Indian skipper and batter Mithali Raj said on Sunday that India's success in the upcoming ICC Women's T20 World Cup is largely dependent on its top order and also hoped that Under-19 World Cup winners Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh, who already have experience of playing in SA's conditions, have a good run in the tournament as well.
ICC T20 Women's World Cup will start from February 10 and will go on till February 26. India will start off its campaign in a high-voltage match against Pakistan on February 12. Women in Blue were the runners-up in the 2020 edition of the tournament and lost to Australia in the final.
"India's chances will be largely dependent on the top order. Smriti Mandhana is playing well and is a match-winner. Harmanpreet Kaur has looked in good form too. But we have to beat Australia and England, and you need other batters to come to the party," said Raj as quoted by ICC.
"I hope Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh also have a good run at the World Cup considering they have gained so much experience of the conditions in South Africa. The bowling will be tested and that is where we need to see an improvement.""I am excited about some of the young players coming through and there is definitely some talent in the Under-19s team which I had the chance to see play at the inaugural ICC Under-19s Women's T20 World Cup," Raj concluded her point.
With an outstanding ICC Women's U19 T20 World Cup still fresh and an inaugural Women Premier League (WPL) auction coming, Raj is hugely enthusiastic about the future of the game.
"I am really hoping that the WPL will also help with player development. We have seen at the Under-19 World Cup how much young talent there is around the world and how players are already benefiting from the number of televised matches and the chance to play alongside big names in domestic cricket," said Raj.
"I cannot wait until the start of the World Cup, and I am expecting a really high standard of cricket in South Africa. We should be in for a brilliant tournament," added Raj.
India legend Raj was capped 333 times across the formats in her extraordinary international career. And on the back of that experience, the 40-year-old believes that one of the biggest factors going into the ICC Women's T20 World Cup will be to ensure that the players are mentally ready for the contest.
"The ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2023 will get underway soon and while most of the preparation has already been done, the challenge will be to ensure the players are ready mentally," Raj said.
"For an event like this, you have to do so much work on the mental side. It is so important to be in a very good mental space. The clearer and more composed you are, the more natural your performances will be and your cricket will start to flow."Australia go into the tournament as the current holders of the trophy and as five-time ICC Women's T20 World Cup champions, and Raj says that they will be the favourites once again in South Africa.
"Going into the tournament in South Africa, I think everyone would agree that Australia is the favourites, and deservedly so," Raj said.
"They are so difficult to beat because they bat deep and have an excellent batting line-up.""There are not many teams who can rival them in terms of big hitters, and the fact they have numerous players who can play a similar role means that if one fails, others can step in.""We saw recently that when they toured India, although that was a very competitive series, when it came down to it, more often than not, it was Australia who came out on top," concluded Raj.
The former opener has also opened up about her experience in South African conditions, a place where she believed batters with clean footwork and the ability to play bounce will be rewarded.
"The conditions in South Africa will make life easier for those batters who can negotiate bounce. If you can deal with the bounce, there are runs to be had square of the wicket, and the cricket can be very pleasing to the eye," Raj explained.
"The seamers should thrive as well. It might be a bit trickier for the wrist spinners in particular, but if you give it a tweak you will get purchase off the wicket.""I was lucky enough to play in the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup in South Africa in 2005 when India got all the way to the final. I really enjoyed playing on those tracks where you are rewarded for your clean footwork. You can play through the line as well," concluded Raj.
According to Raj, the arrival of franchise leagues around the world had changed women's sport as we knew it, helping in player development and providing financial stability.
"It will be a little strange not being out there but I will be analysing the game as if I am still in the middle. I cannot help it but I still watch the game as a player, someone who is trying to read the game and think about what to do in a given situation," Raj added.
"What is great at this moment is that the women's game is constantly evolving. Where 140 used to be a par score in a T20, now you can see 160-180 plus chased down, and so many matches go down to the wire. It is certainly nerve-wracking and fun to watch.""That change has come down to the increase of leagues all over the world, with the WBBL in Australia, the Super League in England and of course the Women's Premier League in India which is going to start this year.""Those platforms not only give local players the chance to interact with overseas stars, but they also offer better financial stability which allows them to invest in their own games, hiring personal coaches or strength and conditioning coaches," concluded Raj. (ANI)