Mithali Raj was a happy woman after her team crushed tournament favourites New Zealand by 186 runs in their final group game of ICC Women's World Cup 2017 on Saturday, July 15. The mammoth win helped them seal a place in the semi-final of the quadrennial tournament for the first time since 2010.
However, India did not have a smooth passage to the last-four stages and the captain was even forced to lash out at her teammates following inconsistent performances, which could have hampered the side's chances of making it past the group stages.
The girls were on a roll in England after starting their campaign by beating the hosts by a comfortable 35-run margin on June 24. Three more wins on the trot and it looked like Raj's side would end its 17-year-drought for a place in the semi-final with ease.
However, it was not the case. Needing only one win from their last three games, India were crushed by South Africa in their fifth encounter. After letting Dane van Niekerk's side post 273 on the board, Raj's side was bowled out for 158, out of which 60 was scored by Deepti Sharma. Both the openers failed and there was no support from the middle order, which was decimated by the South African captain.
Now the equation boiled down to one win in two matches. India were to face a stiff test in their penultimate game as they were to take on defending champions Australia on Wednesday, July 12.
However, there was hope as Australia were also beaten in their previous encounter by England. Contrary to expectations, the match was a one-sided affair with Meg Lanning's side easing to a 227-run target with eight wickets and 29 balls to spare.
The skipper did not hold back
Raj, who had become the first woman cricketer to reach 6,000 runs in ODI cricket in the match, did not hold it back in the post-match press conference. The veteran cricketer said she was happy for her personal milestone, but not for the result of the match, in which the Women in Blue failed to put up a fight.
"The only thing that has always been a constant part of my career is the burden. Through the career, if I had had a few more batswomen to support me, my game would have been better than what it was," Raj opined.
She added: "If I really had to introspect, because of the responsibilities, I have had, I have not been able to enhance my batting as much as I wanted to."
The 34-year-old went on to point out that nothing had changed even during the ongoing campaign and shed light on how the openers' failure has been putting pressure on the middle order. It was evident from Raj's frank outburst that she was disappointed with the way her girls were performing in what will be her last World Cup campaign.
On Saturday, it was Raj, as usual, leading from the front. The skipper ended her three-year wait for an ODI century with a 123-ball 109, which included 11 boundaries.
A batswoman I have always admired has crossed yet another amazing landmark. Good luck with the rest of the World Cup @M_Raj03. ?— Ashwin Ravichandran (@ashwinravi99) July 12, 2017
However, it was not only Raj getting the runs, but Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy also joined the skipper with half-centuries. The latter provided the much-needed impetus to the innings with a blinder (45-ball 70) towards the end of the innings.
New Zealand were facing a tall target of 266 runs and the Indian bowlers exploited the pressure situation brilliantly. Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who was playing her first match of the tournament, ran through the opposition line-up and helped the team bundle out the Kiwis for a meagre 79.
It was heartening to see how the girls came out firing after taking criticism in their stride. Raj also deserves praise for letting her feeling know, which helped bring the best out of the team.
Another daunting task awaits the team as they will be facing Australia in the semi-final on Thursday, July 20. However, the win over New Zealand should have given the much-needed confidence. Regardless of the result, one can be sure that the girls will be prepared to fight yet again.