Away from the prying eyes of the media, the annual camp of 25 probables of India women’s cricket team commenced on Thursday (August 18) at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.
The cream of the senior Indian team, along with a bunch of freshers, who the selectors feel are in the reckoning, are sweating it out at the NCA facility with a nearly nine-hour schedule everyday. The big three – captain Mithali Raj, vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur and senior pacer Jhulan Goswami – are the only notable absentees in the squad picked for the month-long training camp before the yet-to-be-announced domestic and international season kicks off, around October.
The women overlooking the proceedings at the six-day-a-week camp are the head coach of the senior team Purnima Rau, Devieka Palshikaar, a former player and Rau’s deputy at the 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, and Suman Sharma, a veteran coach and former India A player. While Rau works with the batters, Palshikaar focuses on the fielding skills and Sharma is acting as the bowling coach for this squad.
Physiotherapist Prachi Lotlikar and Strength and Conditioning coach (SnC) Abhilasha Sharma join Tracy Fernandes and Kavita Pandya in their respective departments. Aarti Nalge, however, is the only video analyst with the team.
The Anurag Thakur-led regiment of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has done its fair bit in providing a major boost to the women’s game in the country. Though yet to be implemented, the board announced the addition of an under-23 national camp for the girls, earlier in June, to provide the upcoming talent with ample opportunities at age-group level before they step into the international arena. In the current set-up, those who catch the attention of the selectors at the under-19 category earn a direct entry to the senior camp.
Rau isn’t complaining though. The former India captain seemed visibly content with the influx of as many as eight new pacers – all between the ages of 18 and 19 – in the probables list.
“I am particularly very happy about this batch because there is a battery of pace bowlers that has come in,” Rau told Cricbuzz on the sidelines of the camp, on Tuesday (August 23). “I think we have about eight new pacers, apart from Shikha (Pandey) and Ninja (Niranjana Nagarajan). They are all 18-19 years of age. Pooja, Sukanya, Kavita Patil – they’re all very impressive.”
Catch them young is Rau’s mantra. And with ample amount of raw talent waiting on the sidelines, game skills, fitness, match awareness and mental conditioning are the primary areas being stressed on in the camp.
“We started from scratch,” national team’s physio Fernandes joins the conversation. “This time, the NCA has introduced a new format for screening. The previous format has basically been updated with few more tests, which helped us assess a lot more things.”
Taking a major step towards enhancing the overall fitness levels of its female stars, BCCI, for the first time, has made a bone density dexa scan mandatory for the women cricketers. This batch of 25 was subjected to detailed medical tests at the start of camp. “That’s a huge plus. It gives us the exact, accurate readings of bone mass, the fat percentage, water percentage etc. Only once you have this, you’ll have a clear idea of where to start and what needs to be worked on,” Fernandes noted.
“The whole point is to figure out muscular-skeletal imbalances. See, cricket is a very uni-directional sport, because of which the players develop different type of imbalances. Because of certain action – for everyone has a different action – or because of their fielding technique. So we have to check which payer is susceptible to what injury. Screening helped us with that.
“Apart from this, we also did a pre-participation evaluation, where we sent them to the hospital and got all their parameters tested. It was very comprehensive (analysis of the players’ bodies).”
Once the data was put together, the physios and SnCs teamed up to formulate stability and mobility sessions. Based on their findings, the remedial plans were chalked out for each individual.
A regular day at the camp starts with stability and mobility exercises. “If they have had a gym session or a skill session, everyone is a bit stiff the next day. So we start with mobility exercises – lots of stretching – bit of activation work basically. Once that is done, we follow the schedule set by the NCA,” Fernandes explains.
Special emphasis has been laid on mental strength as well. With a team of sports psychologists at their disposal, “there are few lectures thrown in, for apt planning and preparation,” Rau adds. “What I particularly like about this camp is that a lot more net sessions have been added and lot more games too.”
Unlike the previous camps, this batch is scheduled to play as many as four inter-squad games towards the later half. The solo two-day game will be played on September 1 and 2, while the three one-day games have been scheduled for September 6, 12 and 14 respectively.