It’s the famous Long Room at Lord’s – the hallowed walls of cricketing folklore. Everyone who is anyone has walked through those steps from the dressing room, cheered on by the members of the MCC, on to the lush green outfield at the most iconic cricket stadium in the world. A day before the ICC Women’s World Cup final, Indian captain recalls the day she was there, in 1999. Not as a player but as “a tourist” in her debut tour – India didn’t play a game there then. She recounts how excited she was just to be there, excitedly taking photos, like most of her teammates have been doing over the past day.

On Sunday, Mithali Raj will get to walk through the same room and out on the field as India’s captain. “Never imagined I will lead my country in a World Cup final back in 1999,” she tells former Australian cricketer Mel Jones. But well, here we are.

Yet, when Raj came to talk to the press on July 12 after a heavy defeat against Australia in a league game, this moment looked far away, nigh improbable. Going by her reflective tone and choice of words – ‘if it’s a high pressure game, we have faltered in the past’ – India achieving their first aim of reaching the semi-final seemed difficult.

And then came the turning point against New Zealand – a thumping 186-run win that made Raj proud of how the team responded to two morale-sapping defeats.

“In the earlier editions, we’ve seen one bad day and then we’ve never made a comeback into the tournament. I’m extremely happy that the girls made a comeback. I think this is a new India team,” Raj had said.

A new India team. A team that stood up when the chips were down. A team that rallied behind two senior professionals, two stalwarts playing their final World Cup. A team that turned their tournament around with an aggressive brand of cricket that’s not been historically associated with India.

Should we be surprised though?

“This is completely on expected lines, India reaching the final has not surprised me at all,” says former head coach Purnima Rau, who was in-charge of the team up until the recent Quadrangular series in South Africa in April. “The lead up to this tournament was brilliant for the team, in terms of the results and the performances. In fact, starting from 2014 this team has been consistently good. It was only a matter of time before that became evident to the world,” Rau says, in a telephonic conversation with The Field.

Starting 2014, this Indian team has won 30 of the 41 ODIs they have played in. The record is even better in the last two years, with 23 wins out of 28 matches. While the world, and rest of the nation, is waking up to how good this Indian team is, Rau’s assured tone conveys that for those in-the-know, something extra-ordinary was just around the corner.

“In the series against New Zealand in 2015, the team was trailing 1-2 after 3 ODIs at home. The last two matches were must-win. The team turned it around in style, winning the series 3-2. Take the T20 series win against Australia in Australia. It was historic. The performance in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, the Quadrangular series. Every tournament was an indication that the team was capable of delivering when it matters,” says Rau.

While Raj’s post-match comments after the Australia defeat seemed deflating then, it has clearly been a rallying call for the team, and just as they have done in recent past, they responded in style. Rau says that the final-over win against South Africa in the World Cup qualifiers was the epitome of this team’s tenacity.

“For everyone going gaga over Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171* against Australia, if they had seen the way she won the match for us in the last over, with 8 runs to get off 2 balls, and just one wicket remaining – they would have been less surprised with her innings against Australia. That blistering innings was just a sample of what she is capable of, when she gets going,” Rau adds.

While this team’s talent is evident, the stand-out feature of their performances in this World Cup has been the team’s resilience.

“Over the past few years, I have seen character in this team. I have seen their determination to succeed with their backs against the wall, the tenacity to bounce back from tough situations. When they walk out tomorrow at Lord’s, there will be 11 girls on the field, but the effort they will put in will be that of 22. That’s how this team is. They deserve all the plaudits coming their way, because they have shown the fighting spirit worthy of champions,” Rau says.

Indeed, to dominate New Zealand in a must-win league match and then to defeat the all-conquering Australian side in the semi-finals, is no mean achievement. With the world watching, the interest increasing with every match and set to hit the crescendo on Sunday, this group of ladies have already shown that they belong among the best in the world and are not plucky underdogs, who have sneaked past better teams.

Win or lose in the final, the cricket fans in the country must now know that Mithali Raj’s band of sisters are champions in their own right.

“Of course, the result of the final won’t diminish what these girls have achieved,” says Rau, before adding that, as an idealist, she firmly expects her former wards to win the match. Her confidence in the result apart, what Rau says after that leaves the biggest impact – the perfect closing remark.

“The best is yet to come for women’s cricket in India. Mark my words, this team will go places in the next few years.”