Although Team India lost their chance of winning their maiden ICC Women's World Cup title by a whisker, skipper Mithali Raj believes that it is the beginning of good times for women's cricket in the country.
The Indian team got a rousing reception upon their arrival at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Wednesday following their memorable campaign in the prestigious 50-over tournament in England.
The Women in Blue performed exceedingly well throughout the tournament before ending up as runner-ups by going down by nine runs at the hands of England in the summit showdown at Lord's on July 23.
Reflecting on their reception, Mithali said it is the first of its kind for the entire team before admitting that coming under the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had made a huge difference to the women's cricket.
"Obviously, it is quite overwhelming to see such kind of reception. It is first of its kind for all of us. We got not exactly similar but a little lesser in 2005 because then we were not under the BCCI. At that time I was wondering, had we would have been under BCCI, what kind of reaction we would have got? What kind of feedback we would get back home? Today, I actually feel it is just a huge thing back home. I am sure the girls would have enjoyed being received like that. It is just the beginning of good times of women's cricket," Mithali said.
"Coming under the BCCI has made a huge difference to women's cricket. I always believe that the more matches are televised; you can always attract more viewership and more people to follow women's cricket. And the way the girls have played, not just the Indian team but the others team who put up very good standard of cricket throughout the World Cup, it has actually given impetus to women's cricket globally," she added.
When quizzed if it is the right time for the women's Indian Premier League (IPL), the 34-year-old said that the way the entire team had performed throughout the tournament, the presence of such kind of league would only help in improving the standard of women's cricket.
"After going through the World Cup and the way women's cricket have responded and improved the standard, they are taking it to different level, scoring more than 300 + . Every team has got a century. It is probably because of the leagues in Australia and England. Even our couple of players have improved their standard and they have really performed really well for a country. So, I am sure if something in that format, in that perspective is started in India, it will only help even the domestic players in terms of exposure," she said.
However, the Indian skipper said that it is entirely up to the BCCI to decide whether they want to organise the league.
"But again it is up to the board for organising the league. As a player, I feel even the domestic players, if exposed to good cricket environment and interact with good international player, will benefit," she added.
For inspiring the Indian team only to their second finals, first in 12 years, the Hyderabadi was also named the captain of the ICC Women's World Cup 2017 team. Harmanpreet Kaur and Deepti Sharma were the other two to be named in the side.
Mithali was selected as captain after she led her side by example by scoring 409 runs in the 30-day tournament.
Raj was at her best in a virtual quarter-final against New Zealand in Derby when she scored 109 to steer her side to 186-run victory. In the semi-final against Australia, the number-two ranked batter in the world scored 36, while in the final against England, she scored 17 before being run-out.
Reflecting on the same, the 36-year-old said, "Being named the captain of ICC team XI is privilege. I didn't expect it. But I would have preferred to be a winning captain. Unfortunately that didn't happen. But the way team has done, I can proudly say that I have led the team well. All credit to the team because the way the girls have responded to the challenges, the way I have asked them to perform and motivated them."
Commenting on the most memorable moment throughout the tournament, Mithali said that it has to be his side's 35-run win against England in the opening match, as it helped a lot in making the Indian team believe that they could beat the hosts.
"The most important moment for us as a team to realise was the England game. Beating the hosts in the first game. Winning the opening game of the campaign was really a big boost for the girls. They realised that they are capable of beating the hosts who are the second top in the rankings and one of the top most teams in the women's cricket."
"Since then the girls believed that they could turn the things around. Yes, it was a little difficult when we lost in South Africa and Australia, but again it is bound to happen when you have a long tournament. I think it is important when you are aiming for the top four. We have to make comebacks. The girls had really turned things around against New Zealand and Australia and making it to the finals," she explained.