India’s One-Day International captain Mithali Raj has said that the Board of Control for Cricket in India “did its best” to fit in the four-match Women’s T20 Challenge tournament in the time of a pandemic, reported PTI.

Mithali said, while she understood the frustration of foreign internationals on overlapping of T20 Challenge and Women’s Big Bash League, the situation with coronavirus meant the BCCI’s decision was understandable.

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A host of international players, led by Australian star player Alyssa Healy, questioned the timing of the exhibition games during IPL as it is clashing with the WBBL. The BCCI was also criticised for not going ahead with the women’s tour of England in September.

The WBBL is scheduled from October 17 to November 29 while T20 Challenge games in Dubai will be held during the playoff week of IPL 2020 (tentatively November 1-10).

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Asked about her thoughts on the debate, Mithali said: “People tend to judge quickly. The BCCI president (Sourav Ganguly), secretary (Jay Shah) and IPL GC chief (Brijesh Patel) have been very encouraging towards women’s cricket.

“I personally thought we may not even get to play the Challenger trophy (domestic event) because even the men’s IPL was in doubt but these games are most welcome,” Mithali told PTI.

On comments of top internationals like Healy, Suzie Bates, Rachel Haynes expressing their displeasure, the Indian legend tried putting things into perspective.

“I know a lot of people (foreign players) have questioned the timing of it but these are not normal circumstances. Normally, the IPL happens in April-May and doesn’t collide with WBBL (in Australia).

“But these are unusual circumstances, the window (tentatively November first week) was a short one and the BCCI did the best it could.”

The announcement by BCCI last week ended uncertainty for the Indian players whose 2021 World Cup preparations have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The team has not played since the T20 World Cup final in March.

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“It (their frustration) is understandable. They (foreign players) also want to be part of the event. I too want the best players in the league.

“But the situation is not normal. Right now, there is hardly any sporting activity in India and to have the matches before the men’s IPL, it would require players to be in match mode. We are yet to start training.

“My own state has just allowed the opening of gyms. So for me to get match ready will take time. The BCCI has given us that window and we will have to work around it this year,” said Mithali, who is the all-time leading run-getter in ODIs.

“They did not have to change the calendar (in Australia for WBBL) but we needed to owing to the pandemic. The IPL could not be organised in April-May.

“Even if we were to shift the Women’s Challenge to September, the girls would not be ready. Australia and New Zealand players have had more time than us to start their preparations for the season. Nobody understands this but are quick to judge.”

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With the World Cup not far away, Mithali feels the games in the UAE will also give the domestic players a much needed opportunity.

It seemed the pullout from the England tour would severely hamper India’s World Cup preparations but Mithali said the team is likely to play four series before the showpiece event (against South Africa, West Indies, Australia and New Zealand subject to the Covid-19 situation at that time).

Mithali last played for India in November last year against the West Indies.

“More than the T20 Challenge games, I am relieved to have some cricket starting. That gives hope to other players to look forward to training and plan the season and not be in that uncertain mode.

“We have four series scheduled before the World Cup but we are yet to get the dates. When the England tour got cancelled, players faced a lot of uncertainty and if there is nothing ahead you don’t know what to prepare for. So the news of staging the IPL games is much needed.”

Mithali has been following a customised fitness plan at home for the past three months and has now started with high intensity training after the government allowed access to sports complex.

“For starters, from what I heard we are going to have a camp sometime in September-October. That should help the team to re-group and assess themselves and accordingly plan ahead for the coming series.”

Having reached the final in 2017, India will be one of the favourites in 2021 as they search for an elusive ICC trophy. Asked if the forced break due to the pandemic has changed her mind about her future, Mithali added: “My plans at the moment are only concentrated on the ODI World Cup.”

Like Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur, former India captain Shanta Rangaswamy defended the BCCI’s decision earlier too.

“Those who were predicting doomsday for women’s cricket, I want to say to them BCCI is interested in promoting women’s cricket and I would like to thank Brijesh Patel (IPL Chairman) and the BCCI president and secretary for making this possible in these tough times,” Shantha had told PTI earlier.

Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the BCCI had announced that the Women’s T20 Challenge will have four teams, one more than last year.

“It was supposed to be a four-team event this year but the venue change has made the task much tougher. I am happy that it is happening and hopefully it will lead to a franchise-based tournament like the IPL in the near future,” she said.

Another former captain Anjum Chopra had also said that the BCCI had a plan for women’s cricket but wanted the board to communicate its ideas more specifically.

“It’s not that the BCCI is not thinking about women’s cricket. I only think they need to be more specific in communication about women’s cricket,” Chopra told PTI.

“I firmly believe that they must be thinking about women’s cricket but the communication all this while has been very specific to men’s cricket.”

(With PTI inputs)