Indian women's cricket team
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Cricket

How the Indian women’s cricket team succeeded

Head coach Tushar Arothe talks about how tailor-made schedules by his support staff helped the Indian women’s cricket team reach the finals of the 2017 edition of the ICC Women’s World Cup.
Written by Red Bull Staff
10 min readPublished on
When the Indian women’s cricket team departed for the World Cup in England, only the family members of a few players went to see them off at the international airport in Mumbai.
With the team labelled as minnows heading into the tournament, only a handful of media persons turned up for the customary pre-departure press conference with skipper Mithali Raj. At the time, the lack of enthusiasm on the part of those not directly associated with the team seemed justified since India had exited in the group stages when hosting the last World Cup in 2013.
It isn’t like Mithali would have expected a packed house for every media conference — like it is for the men’s team captain Virat Kohli, every single time he speaks — but she would have expected a decent turnout from the Indian media before the national team left for the World Cup in June.
In an attempt to build the team's morale, coach Tushar Arothe called for an impromptu team meeting before their departure.
Anxiously, the team members and support staff members reported for the meeting. The players wanted to know why the coach, who was heading into just his second tournament with the team, wanted to meet everyone at such short notice.
As everyone gathered, Arothe asked the skipper just one simple question to begin proceedings.
“Why are we going to England?”
The reply he was hoping for was what he received.
“To win the World Cup.”
That was it, the meeting ended.
“I wanted to make the players realise that we were not going to England to just participate in the World Cup. We were going there to win the World Cup. I wanted to see that winning attitude in the players. I wanted to make them believe in themselves,” says Arothe.
Tushar Arothe (fourth from left) with the team
Tushar Arothe (fourth from left) with the team
Confidence was a fundamental aspect of the Indian women’s team surpassing all expectations and reaching the final of the World Cup, where they lost by just nine runs to hosts England on the 23rd of July.
While the team heading into the World Cup had received little in the form of credit or recognition, the players personally entered the tournament with high spirits after a thumping series victory in South Africa where Arothe first took over as coach. This was Arothe’s second stint with the Indian women’s cricket team, the first being from 2009 to 2012. Arothe also coached the Baroda state women’s cricket team previously.
“Since I had a stint with the Indian women’s team in the past, I knew most of the players. I was aware how they had performed. They also knew my style of functioning. It was not that I was venturing into completely unknown territory,” explains Arothe, who has also coached the Baroda state Ranji Trophy team.

Change in training schedules

"All the players are thorough professionals," says Arothe. "I don’t make the girls feel different than the men’s team while I am coaching. I coach the girls with the same intensity as I train the boys,” he says matter-of-factly.
When Arothe first took over as the Indian team’s coach in South Africa, he brought a definitive change in the way the girls practised. From a schedule that had just one practice session lasting from 8am to 4pm, Arothe arranged to have training split into two halves - the first session in the morning, and the second in the afternoon. However, the change in training schedule seemed to be taking a toll on some of the players.
Players resented the training methods initially
Players resented the training methods initially
Although the girls did not complain about it, Arothe got a whiff of their discontent. “I know a lot of girls were not happy with the way I conducted the training sessions. I would be tough on them. I wouldn’t allow them to relax. I know some of them amongst themselves also said that this is a ‘Hitler camp’. But once the players started seeing the drastic change in their performances and results, they started to enjoy it,” explains Arothe with pride.
The coach kept things as simple as possible for the team members and the support staff. “Our main objective was to keep a healthy team environment. We didn’t want any room for animosity and fear. I told the support staff members to be on their toes whenever the players needed us because we were there for them. During the South Africa tour, we discussed our roles and made it clear what was expected from each one of them,” says Arothe.
The month-long World Cup in England was always going to be a daunting task. Keeping players fresh and fighting fatigue was one of the biggest challenges for the Team India support staff members.

Mandatory team dinners and book clubs

When the team reached England, the first thing the coach ensured was that the players had available their preferred food.
Arothe, who played quite a lot of his cricket in England for local leagues, used his entire social network to help provide the players with good, healthy Indian food. “Since I went quite often to England, I knew a lot of Indian people. I almost rang all of them to help us in arranging for the food,” he says.
The team manager Trupti Bhattacharya too delivered a yeoman service to the team members. “She would go to every room to take the food orders from the players. I know that at times, she paid the bills from her own pocket when the players would be sometimes short on cash,” says Arothe.
During the World Cup campaign, Arothe ensured clear communication between all the support staff members and the players. He wanted everyone to be on the same page. He made it a norm to have a meeting with his support staff members every day so that everyone was updated on players’ fitness, injuries and progress. To develop team bonding, Arothe ensured a mandatory team dinner on the eve of every World Cup match.
In high-pressure international games, winning the battle is as much a mental effort as it is physical. To keep the players in a positive frame of mind, Arothe came up with a unique idea. Along with fielding coach Biju George, Arothe ventured out on the streets of London to buy books which could inspire the players.
“We bought books of Swami Vivekanand, Martin Luther King and Madonna. We also got some autobiographies of sportspersons. The idea was to keep their minds occupied. Mithali is an avid reader. The players would share the books amongst themselves,” says Arothe.
In their free time, the support staff members would gather motivational and inspirational videos for players which could act as an additional booster. “We would make five to seven minute videos, short and crisp. Everyone would collect the material from the internet, and our video analyst would then compile it for us. It was quite effective as not everyone would like to watch a film for the whole duration. We also showed them a motivational speech by Rahul Dravid. We made them watch videos of some great innings from the legendary Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar,” says Arothe.
It wasn’t just serious stuff that the support staff members were interested in showing to the players. They also compiled a lot of videos which would get the players laughing regularly. “The basic idea was to make them feel lighter mentally and find ways to inspire them through other means,” explains Arothe.
Mithali Raj was often spotted reading during games
Mithali Raj was often spotted reading during games

No stress while playing

One of the characteristics of Arothe’s style of coaching is that he does not discourage the batters from trying any shots. During the World Cup, Veda Krishnamurthy played a rash shot in the final to gift her wicket and the World Cup to England. She later told the coach that she would not play the sweep shot ever again because it cost her wicket on a couple of occasions during the tournament.
However, Arothe advised her to continue playing the shot. “There was nothing wrong in the way she played the sweep shot. So there was no question of discouraging her from playing it. All I told her was to not apply it in the initial part of the innings. First, gather some confidence before applying the sweep shot. She used it to great effect in the tournament,” he says.
In team meetings, Arothe ensured that it was not just the captain who would always do the talking. He would be keen to make new players share their experiences and views.
Arothe’s biggest challenge though was when the Indian team beat six-time champions Australia to progress to the final. Except for Mithali and Jhulan Goswami, the senior-most members, the entire team was new to the Lord’s Cricket Ground. It was surreal. The excitement to be at the Mecca of Cricket was the biggest cricketing moment for most of the team members. Even a veteran like Goswami could not hold back her excitement as she plucked some grass of the hallowed Lord’s turf after the final.
The excitement reached its crescendo when the players passed by the stadium two days before the final. “They were just crazy (excited) to be in the final and play at Lord’s,” says Arothe, who had a tough time making the players realise that the team had just reached the final, and not won the World Cup yet.
"Don’t get excited about playing at Lord’s in the big World Cup final"; easier said than done. As soon as the team reached the final, Arothe’s first instruction to the players was to avoid all media. “I told them not to think about the final. It was just another game for us which we had to win. I told them not to worry about losing. The first thing I wanted them to do was block all media. I told the players to not read newspapers, websites or social media till the final. We were aware the atmosphere would be overwhelming. The players were never used to such high expectations ever in their career. They have never played in front of such a packed stadium. I was worried how the players would handle all this. I didn’t want the players to take extra pressure by reading all that was appearing in the media,” the coach says.
The World Cup final was going to be no mean feat for Team India. They had embarked on a journey where there were not many backers. New initiatives for the women cricketers — like central contracts, a one-time benefit scheme, and upgrades from economy to first-class travel — had found many critics within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Failure at the World Cup would have led to several questions being raised about the facilities extended by the BCCI towards women’s cricket. But a favourable result would change the face of women’s cricket in India.
They lost the final despite coming within touching distance, but in the process won millions of hearts and admirers. Job done.
Poonam Raut scored 381 runs in nine games
Poonam Raut scored 381 runs in nine games
The Mumbai international airport, which wore a deserted look when they departed for the World Cup, was buzzing with fans and supporters upon the team's return. The following day, close to a hundred media persons turned up looking for exclusive quotes from Mithali’s team members.
Before the players departed for their respective homes, the coach again called for a meeting. This time there were only hugs, handshakes and overwhelming emotions.