Raman effect: how women's team turned into T20 force

Raman effect: how women's team turned into a formidable T20 side

India's captain Harmanpreet Kaur (L) and coach Woorkeri Raman (R) train in the nets ahead of the Twenty20 women's World Cup cricket final, in Melbourne on March 7, 2020. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO CO

When W V Raman, the former India batsman, took charge as the coach of the Senior Indian women's cricket team, it was a divided house with differences between star players out in the open. He had the tricky task of setting the house in order without ruffling feathers. With years of experience as a player, captain and coach of various State and IPL teams, Raman seamlessly tided over the phase, the results of which are evident today. From laggards in T20s not too long ago, India have become one of the best sides in the world in the shortest format today, their run to the T20 World Cup final attesting this rapid transformation. In this chat with DH, Raman discusses India's World Cup campaign, the future and challenges of this young but exciting unit. Excerpts.      

What was the most satisfying part of this campaign?

The important thing for a young side is they understood the importance of believing that each one of them needed to contribute if the team had to succeed. And if you look at the way the girls played, that was very evident. That's the kind of culture and belief that needs to come into the system. I think that's the biggest takeaway from this entire tour. 

Two of your finest batswomen, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana, endured a forgettable World Cup but how pleasing was it to see the team do so well despite their minimal contribution with the bat? 

It's unfortunate that those two didn't come off, but these things happen. If you look at this tour in its entirety (Tri-series and T20 World Cup), they both played a couple of good knocks in the tri-series but unfortunately some of that form didn't continue in the World Cup. But again, if you look at others stepping in, and the team doing as well as they did, it's a testimony to the fact that the mental block that used to prevail - 'unless the contributions came from most experienced people, it's not going to happen' - has been eradicated. The others fought till the end, it was a great thing to see that these little things which used to be bothersome in the past didn't exist in the set-up. The bowlers did phenomenally well to keep us in the game and win games. We won (defending) what seemingly looked like modest totals. This is important and that's what the team game is all about. One department doesn't fire, other department has to make up for it. And I think that was very heartening to see.         

In a space of less than a month, India lost two finals to Australia despite beating them in early phases of each tournament. What would you put pit down to, lack of big-match experience?

The very fact that we (successfully) defended in the very first game of the World Cup (against Australia) deserves appreciation. And we also beat them chasing top score (170 odd in tri-series). So, in T20 it can go any which way. Especially in the final what happened was for the first 30 minutes when nothing went your way, it was difficult to make a comeback. And the fact (Alyssa) Healy wasn't in her best form and whatever she did clicked for them and which is good; that's why she is one of the acclaimed performers anyway. These things happen, I don't think anybody should be sort of complaining about it. Let's face it, on that day they were a better side and they won.

When you embarked on this Down Under, did the girls believe they could be playing the final?

Unless they believed in themselves, the girls wouldn't have produced the kind of results they produced. I always believed that we had a good chance of winning the World Cup. Okay, that didn't happen but I believed that we had the ammunition - we had a good batting line-up, I thought our spinners were doing really well and they could really have a telling impact and our fielding has improved as well. All things considered I thought we did have the arsenal, and I repeatedly kept telling them that if you played to your potential, you could beat any opposition on any given day. I think all these small, small things make up the whole.

India were always a good one-day side, what did you have to change or instill to turn it into such a good T20 outfit? Smriti is on record saying you must be credited for this turnaround…

I told them two things. One is that in a T20 game, each one of them can be a match winner in a way - a couple good hits, a good play on the field and by which I mean a good catch or a run-out or a couple of wickets at the right time and they can be heroes overnight. That's what is required. I told the bowlers, 'you need to understand that the 15-20 runs that you scrap for and whichever way you get will be the winning runs. I also told them that in a T20 you don't need to have a team full of superstars. You need to have 11 people in the side thinking, 'yes, let me do my bit.' Nothing is small. For example, in the game against New Zealand Radha (Yadav) got 10 runs towards the end and she finished the innings with a six off the last ball. That in the end analysis proved very important. This is what I was repeatedly telling them, inculcate in them that T20 was all about everybody doing something or the other. Nothing will go waste. In a duration game, you can make a 100 and it may still go waste in the overall outcome but in a T20 game everything adds up.         

How much did it affect the fact that you didn’t have much game-time or practice due to rain for almost a week up to the final?

Without sounding it to be an excuse I would say it would had its implications, primarily because this is a very young side without much experience. If it was an experienced side, I would have said 'these things happen, they should have been prepared for it.' But this is a very young side with an average age of around 22, and it's also a side that is trying to get the hang of what the T20 format is. Based on all this, that could have also played a part (in the defeat) because it's not easy for people who are not highly experienced to switch on and switch off at will.

This is a very young team and it’s obviously very talented. What are the areas that you see need small to big improvements in order to be the best in the world?

I think along with whatever medium pacers that we have, we need to also try and bolster that department, try and identify three-four more options so that we will have a healthy pool of fast bowlers to pick from. The second thing is that they still need to sort of step up on their fitness. Yes, it's much better than what it was but now that they have understood what it is, they have worked hard and improving their fitness, they must start stepping it up. They have to raise the bar in terms of fitness, speed and agility. We are managing well in terms of being smart enough and in technical skills, but there comes a time, in T20 format, you need to develop that little bit speed and agility because the ability to stop the twos is very important. I am sure all these things will happen because these girls are very diligent.

When you took over as the coach, you had a lot on your plate before you could actually get down to business of coaching… How did you go about your job?

I never picked up the leftover plate, I picked up a new plate and then I decided what I needed to eat (laughs). That's how I went about my job and that made it easier. Because what didn't happen when I wasn't around, there is no point thinking about it or trying to find about it. It's just like when I get into the set-up, I need to see what needs to be done to help them get better, and that's what I did. It was very obvious for me from first couple of T20 series that (away in New Zealand and back home against England) that a fair bit of work was needed to be done in terms of skill development and fitness. That obviously we couldn't do during a series, or in between series. Then I said there is enough time to do during off-season, so we started doing that around mid-June. With passage of time, after going with those fitness camps and skill development, these girls also realised that it's really helping them on the field. Once you realise that you are whistling away to your session.

How different is it coaching a women’s team compared to men’s team? What are the challenges?

Primarily, I had to understand or realise that in terms of experience - they are a little bit on shorter side when compared to boys. For example, for a boy, if he has to come into the Indian side, he might have played six-seven seasons of good competitive cricket at various levels - U-19, 23, 'A' teams... But here (with girls) it's not the case which means that I couldn't take it for granted their perceptions and ability to handle things or work things out on their own. It's not going to be same as the boys. It was all on person-based thing, it had to be worked out. Because I had a group starting from a 15-year-old (Shafali Verma) to somebody who had played 10 years of international cricket like Harmanpreet (Kaur). I needed to work out whether 10th standard portions are suitable for X or eighth standard portions are suitable for Y or NDA portions for Z. In a male set-up you know, more or less, they are on-par give or take one or two (up and down). There is a huge gap (between players) in terms of exposure and experience with the girls.     

What’s your mantra of coaching?

You try to guide and empower. You only talk what's required to be spoken. Less is more as far as I am concerned because you are in an era where attention span is pretty short. But that's nobody's fault and then you also have to understand that even if all of us are being mature adults, if you are told 10 things at a time, what's it that we are really going to focus on. So, similarly it's all about saying what needs to be said in short burst and one thing at a time.

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