The last time Indian women’s team went to South Africa, they came back as champions in the Quadrangular series involving Ireland and Zimbabwe back in May 2017.

However, they also lost to the same South African unit at the World Cup in July by 115 runs.

Come February, they will be playing Dane van Niekerk and team again, this time as part of the second ICC Women’s ODI championship. This will be their first international match in over six months, as the World Cup runners-up haven’t played any international cricket since the final on July 23.

Captain Mithali Raj chose to look at the positive side of this long break as she addressed the media at the pre-departure in Mumbai on Wednesday.

“Before the World Cup, we were busy with the Qualifiers and the Quadrangular series and the preparation for the World Cup, so it’s been a long season for us. And after the World Cup, it was important for girls to recover, we had few injuries,” she told the media.

But she also accepted that this long break would be like a new beginning for the team. Read: the team is going without much momentum, despite the strong domestic performances and training camps.

“Ideally, we as a team would have preferred to continue the momentum. But when you have injuries, it is also important that after a long season, you need to have recovery time and get back your fitness levels, to look forward to your future tournaments.

“So it is both ways. In a way it is good because all players are fit, we have been playing the domestic matches and we had enough time to prepare for the series. It’s again a beginning for us. We need to start afresh. We have two more series lined up for us after this tour. But looking forwards it is always good to start the year on a fresh tour,” she added.

Starting a packed season

This tour starts a packed, crucial season for Raj and Co, including back-to-back series against Australia and England at home. India will need to gather enough points in the bilateral series as part of the ODI Championship to qualify directly for the 2021 World Cup.

“It’s a very important tour. It’s not going to be easy because we’ve played South Africa before. They are a very good side; you’ve seen in the World Cup, they almost made it to finals, so it’s going to be very competitive cricket and it will test each and every player and the team as well. It’s important that the girls are confident that they’re prepared well for the series,” the captain asserted.

But Raj was also confident that the team was in the right space physically and mentally as they head out for their limited overs tour.

“The younger girls have been in the match mould because they’ve been playing domestic, and we had a week’s preparatory camp here (in Mumbai). A couple of them (Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy) are coming from the Women’s Big Bash League, so pretty much everybody is into the mode of playing matches. The girls have worked really hard on their fitness and if you see them, they look agile and fit,” the 35-year-old said.

The squad has most of India’s team from the World Cup and features three uncapped teenagers – Jemimah Rodrigues, Pooja Vastrakar and Taniya Bhatia – who were impressive in the domestic season.

Going early to prepare

The fact that the team is headed to South Africa early and will get 10 days to acclimatise to the conditions didn’t escape anyone’s attention. While this is not new – Raj reminded that the team had gone early to practice both for Quadrangular Series as well as the World Cup in England – it is noteworthy because it’s been a question plaguing the men’s team.

Unsurprisingly, there were several questions asked about or around the ongoing South Africa tour of Virat Kohli and Co. Most of them were well left, but the answer to this was one with a straight bat.

“It helps because we try and organise practice games, get used to the bounce, because normally you don’t get to see that bounce in subcontinental wickets and the lateral movement which we are probably expecting, because this time we are playing with two new balls. This is our first international tournament where we will be playing with two new balls. So it is important, we go early so that we get used to these conditions,” she replied.

The tour will also kick start a preparation for the World T20 which will be held in November in the West Indies. India last played the shortest format of the game back in December 2016 when they beat Pakistan to lift the Asia Cup.

“I think you know now it is [the ODI series] a start, a preparation for the T20 World Cup. Yes, it’s been a while playing T20 format but we as an Indian team are looking forward to the T20 games and we as a team need to work really hard in this format,” Raj said.

India will play a warm-up match before a three-match ODI series, which starts at Kimberly on February 5, followed by a five-match T20 series beginning on February 13 at Potchefstroom. Three of the T20Is will be double headers with the men’s team and Harmanpreet will lead the team in the shortest format.