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It is an opportunity for young players to step up and perform: Mithali Raj

India team are all set to lock horns against England in a three-match ODI series at their home soil on Friday. Prior to the series, India ODI captain Mithali Raj expressed that the team is currently focussing on the points so that they could avoid the qualifiers ahead of the 2021 World Cup.

But India’s win over England wouldn’t be easy as the vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur has been ruled out of the series due to the ankle injury. However, captain Mithali Raj said that they are only thinking of the championship points right now to get direct qualification for the next 50-over World Cup.

“It’s a very important series for us, being number three right now in points table. Points are at stake and I definitely want the team to get a direct entry (into the next World Cup). It’s important to get as many points as possible from the series,” Mithali said in the pre-match conference.

Though England beat India several times on previous occasions, India have never lost to England at home. India won against England by 2-1 in Nagpur, last year. Mithali said that facing England without Harmanpreet Kaur will not be easy to win but the team have to play well.

“England are a formidable side, being the World Cup champions and they will come strongly at us. We should be playing a positive brand of cricket,” said Mithali Raj. “They’ve got their senior players back into the squad, and we are without one of our senior players. But this series will also show how we meet this challenge. It will reflect the depth of our team.”

While talking about Harmanpreet Kaur’s absence, Mithali said that she’s one of the main players but her absence will give the chance to the youngsters to come up and perform well.

“She is one of the main players in the team for a long time, but it is also an opportunity for young players in the team to rise up and use the opportunity to step up and perform,” said the India ODI captain.

“Harman is not there because of injury. I should emphasise that we, as a batting unit, should take the (added) responsibility and whoever gets the opportunity should play that role,” she further added.

As the rivalry between India and Pakistan is known to all, India might not get the chance to play against Pakistan in the ICC Women’s Championship series. While talking about this, Mithali Raj said that she was aware of the situation.

“It’s always been in our minds that we probably won’t play Pakistan, and that’s why, whatever matches we play against whoever, we should be going in by keeping in mind that we need those points,” she commented.

However, India had recently won the three-match ODI series against New Zealand by 2-1 and that will surely work as the confidence booster prior to the series against England. Though the conditions are different, the captain is hopeful of a series win.

“It was our first win on the New Zealand soil, so it feels great to win a series there, but to come home and play England is completely different,” said Mithali. “The conditions are different. We’ll take a lot of positives and confidence from that series win, but our preparation and strategy differs from what it was in New Zealand.”

Spinners did a wonderful job in the recently concluded series against White Ferns. Mithali expected that the spinners would play the key role although because of the early morning starts, medium pacers will get some moisture on the pitch and they could utilize that.

“A little bit of moisture will be there because most of the matches in India start at 9 am. But as the days progress it (wicket) will ease out. (Veteran pace bowler) Jhulan (Goswami) had done very well in New Zealand, supported by Shikha (Pandey) and Mansi (Joshi),” Mithali expressed.

“I think spin will be the main factor for all the matches we play at home and that’s one of the reasons why we produce the best spinners. If there is moisture the fast bowlers will come into play and in the second innings there will be some slow turn,” added Mithali. “In New Zealand, they (Indian spinners) did very well and considering the slowness of the wickets, I hope they will do well in these conditions.”

However, both the openers Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues have been in a formidable form since the last year. As they both have been setting the winning foundation for the team, the middle-order have not been tested yet.

“Jemimah (Rodrigues) and Smriti (Mandhana) gave us great starts in New Zealand and the middle order was not tested that much,” explained Mithali.

Prior to the series, the speculations of her retirement from the shortest format of the game after the England series came into limelight, but she dismissed that, saying, “When it’s the right time, I’ll let you all know.”

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