Smriti Mandhana said the Indian team will be aiming for the gold medal in Birmingham as cricket returns to the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

In a virtual press conference ahead of the team’s departutre for the quadrennial event, the star opener said the team is prepared for the stiff competition they are likely to face.

After the year 1998, the sport is set to feature at the CWG for just the second time. Back then, only men’s teams competed in a 50-over format and this time only women’s teams will usher in the debut of T20 format in a multi-sport marquee event.

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India are placed in Group A along with Australia, Pakistan and Barbados, and will begin their campaign with a clash against the mighty Aussies on July 29.

“We have played them (Australia) in the openers in quite a lot of tournaments,” said Mandhana.

“In a T20 tournament, any team can beat any team. Every team is equal. I wouldn’t term Australia as a big team and make them feel good about that,” she added with a smile.

“Definitely in our head, Australia, Pakistan and Barbados matches are important. We will go as they come and will look to win all of them. We have plans ready for three teams and that’s the aim.”

India will be high on confidence heading to Birmingham, having won T20I and ODI series in Sri Lanka recently. Mandhana said that the Indian team is “definitely aiming for the gold medal.”

“We all have watched the Olympics and the CWG, when the Indian flag goes high and we hear the national anthem, we know the kind of feeling it evokes,” said Mandhana.

“Definitely we are aiming for the gold. I don’t think we will just look for a podium finish because when the flag goes higher, and the national anthem is played, that’s the best feeling you have. I literally got goosebumps when Neeraj Chopra got the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. We have an opportunity to be there and try to do that – of course not for the Olympics but for CWG. So, we all are really excited.”

Mandhana added: “It’s something very new for me and also the whole team, we never experienced a multi-sport event. Definitely looking forward to it and catching up with a few athletes at the games village and interacting about their training regimen. It would be a good experience for us.”

There are a total of eight teams that will be competing. England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa make up Group B, and the top two teams from each group will qualify for the semifinals.

“We are looking to win every match. Not one match and then think of what will happen. We have our plans ready for the three teams. We will try to win all the three matches,” said Mandhana.

“Luckily we have developed a lot of match-winners in T20 cricket. So even if two-three batters or bowlers click on that day, it would be our day. That’s one good thing that has happened over the years. We now have a lot of match winners in our team.”

The left-hander said another major positive is that the team now has multiple choices for the wicketkeeper’s slot.

“We have two-three people who can keep and bat, that’s something we really wanted. I think we are heading towards a good direction as far as competition for the spots in the team is concerned,” said Mandhana backing Yastika Bhatia to well but also sharing words of encouragement for Richa Ghosh who missed out on selection.

The players have recently had both skill camps and fitness camps based on their requirements, and Mandhana said she had a combination of the two after returning from Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka series was good learning experience for me, there were lot of things that I was working on personally that I could apply in matches in Sri Lanka, and have a lot of takeaways on what works for me and what doesn’t. Got to learn a lot about my own batting,” she added.

Mandhana also said the medical team of BCCI will provide an fitness update for the squad. She also spoke about the potential restart of zonal tournaments in domestic cricket being a good boost and how she enjoyed playing in it earlier in her career.

You can watch the full conference here.