Mithali Raj, the India captain, put down India’s nine-run loss in the World Cup final at Lord’s to nervousness and lack of experience in finishing close games. India lost seven wickets for 28 runs after looking set to clinch their maiden World Cup title. They slumped from 191 for 3 to 219 all out in chase of 229.
But even in disappointment, Raj chose to focus on her team’s “special journey”. “Everybody was very nervous and I think that resulted in our defeat,” she said. “The girls are sad because they have given it their all. Its natural and it will take time. These girls have set the platform. They have opened a lot of channels for women’s cricket. They should be proud.
“As a captain I am very proud. I have seen the changes the girls have made. I’ve seen the transition. The team still looks very confident they will be a team that other teams will be looking out for. That’s what I’m proud of. We started off well. We had a few matches in which we were defeated and we came back stronger. Unlike 2005, this went to the end. The girls gave their best.”
Without taking any names, Raj said the middle and lower order had not been able to handle the pressure of the chase. Veda Krishnamurthy was out slogging, Sushma Verma was bowled playing a nervous sweep, Shikha Pandey was run out attempting a single that wasn’t on while Deepti Sharma, realizing the need to finish things off as she was running out of partners with India needing 11 with two wickets in hand, dragged a hoick to midwicket.
The slide undid some solid groundwork laid by Punam Raut, who top-scored with 86 during a 95-run stand with Harmanpreet Kaur, who made 51.
“The last four or five batters could not handle the pressure,” Raj said. “At one point, the game was in the balance. That is when we didn’t hold our nerve. Their bowling and fielding was really up.
“We messed it up in the end. It was a very brave innings from Punam. It’s about experience and how composed you are. The girls weren’t experienced enough to do it. But the way they have fought all along the tournament is very heartwarming. The Indian women’s team has a very bright future.”
Raj, who confirmed that this was her last World Cup game, hoped India’s performance would serve as the start of a giant leap for women’s cricket in India. “The response from the public is very positive. I’m sure BCCI is very proud of the team. When we lost the warm-up games, no one gave us the chance to reach the semi-finals,” she said. “When we lost to South Africa and Australia, no one thought we would get to the final. A team like that has come to the finals and given a good fight to the home team.
“The WBBL has given exposure to the two girls who have played [Smriti Mandhana and Kaur]. If more girls participate in such leagues, it will give them experience and help them to improve their own game. If you ask me they should have IPL because now is the right time to create that base. Women’s cricket is everywhere and they have put up a much better standard than the last World Cup.”