Indian captain Mithali Raj said on Saturday in Christchurch that youngsters like Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh have shown that they have the ability to compete at the highest level over the team’s recent assignments and confirmed that Harmanpreet Kaur will be the vice captain of the squad at the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup starting in a week.

Deepti Sharma was made India’s vice captain for the last two One-Day Internationals against World Cup hosts New Zealand in the lead-up to the tournament. Harmanpreet did not play in the fourth ODI and it was evidently a decision to rest the star batter who has not been in the best of form for the national side. But Harmanpreet returned for the final match and played a fantastic innings as India finished the series with a win.

Mithali, speaking at the captain’s press conference ahead of the tournament, confirmed that Harmanpreet will remain her deputy as per the original squad announced. The veteran batter also spoke about the learnings from the series against South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand in the past year.

Excerpts from the press conference:

What have been the biggest gains for India from the four tough assignments in the last year?

The talent that we’ve got in the last year, we’ve tried some young talent in the squad, and most of them have shown that they have the ability to play at this level like Richa (Ghosh), Shafali (Verma) who made her debut. We have Meghna Singh in the seamers, Pooja Vastrakar... they all have been given good game time and those series have really helped them and me as a captain to find out where they fit in into the composition of the team.

As far as me, personally, I am happy with the way that I’ve been scoring runs, and I would love to continue the form into the World Cup.

Rewind back to 2000 a little bit, your first World Cup. What are your memories as a youngster and following on, have you had any conversations with the younger players who are playing their first World Cup?

You are asking me to rewind quite a bit, not little bit (laughs). I don’t remember much to be very honest. But it was my first World Cup, I do remember having the pressure of performing. But as a young kid you don’t carry the baggage which an experienced player carries. The young talent in the side today, I tell them that you don’t have the experience of the past World Cups, so it’s a clean slate for you, all you have to do is enjoy the big stage.

I did have a word with Yastika (Bhatia) the other day, I took her out for a coffee and we’ve spoken quite a bit, a chatty kid and asked me a lot of questions... the only advice I would give the young players is enjoy the big stage because if you pile up the pressure you may not be playing the best that the team and you would want to do in the World Cup

Core retained from the 2017 World Cup but a lot has changed in the way the game is played since. What have been the changes behind the scenes?

Yes, we do have an experienced core group from last edition. Most of them, even the young players who recently got into the side, had the opportunity of playing in [T20] leagues. That gives them exposure other than bilateral series. When you go into big events, you depend on experience not just young players. Having both together is a good mix. Experience and the younger lot who get in the freshness to the team also have a very different approach. If you had seen in Australia and New Zealand, the batting department has come good and the bowlers took a little bit of time, it’s not easy to find rhythm when you come off a long quarantine. We also didn’t have a camp in India because of the rising cases of Covid-19 at that point. The last two series were important to find players and work on the areas we wanted to focus for the World Cup.

What are you looking for from the warm-up matches?

I definitely know my playing composition for the first couple of games and I look forward to giving game time to all the core players during the warm-up and also to those players who I think will get opportunity at some point in the World Cup.

Thoughts on ICC playing conditions for going ahead with nine players.

I wouldn’t want to give it much thought as I would want my full strength to play but considering the current situation, if at all the situation arises it gives us an opportunity to get a game because every team prepared very hard, it was postponed by a year so it is important to get the event going.

On vice captaincy.

Deepti being picked as the vice-captain for the last two ODIs was the choice of the selectors and the BCCI. The squad was already announced for the tournament, Harmanpreet is the vice-captain for the World Cup.

Takeaways from the series versus NZ and how important it was to finish with a win.

The win [in the final game] is important for any team which is getting into a big event,” she said. “The takeaway definitely is how the batting unit has turned out in each game. The bowling unit took a bit of time. The spinners that we bank on, they do also understand these wickets are batting friendly and they need to tighten up line and length and bowl consistently. We definitely also look to put more effort on fielding, it is an area we are consistently working on.

Mithali Raj also spoke about the importance of peaking at the right time and the difference of a tournament format and bilateral series:

India will begin their World Cup campaign against Pakistan on March 6. The warmup matches are against South Africa (27 Feb, 0130 am) and West Indies (01 Mar, 0130 am).

You can watch the press conference here.