Mithali Raj has said that the acrimony that followed India's semi-final exit in the Women's World T20 is a thing of the past, even though she felt the episode did "hamper" the profile of the Indian women's team.
"I don't know how controversies help the profile of the sport because the profile of the sport depends on how the players perform," Raj, India's ODI captain, said on Sunday, before the team's departure for their first tour of New Zealand in 13 years. "[The controversy] did hamper women's cricket. I believe when a lot of non-cricketing things are spoken, it's not so good, but we are getting an opportunity where we can again perform and let people talk about the team's performance, and that will only enhance the profile of the sport.
"It's a fresh start. Coming into the new year, it's a fresh series. Yes, we've moved on. Right now, the focus is the New Zealand series. As a captain, and as a team, we understand the importance of the [ICC Women's Championship] points system and how important it is to gain those points and get into the 2021 World Cup, and we know where we stand right now on the table. This series is very crucial from that perspective."
Raj also said that she and Harmanpreet Kaur had left the bitterness that followed in the aftermath of the World T20 semi-final behind them.
"I think both of us have moved on from there," Raj said. "I think too much emphasis has been given to that controversy. It was last year; all of us should look forward to 2019.
"As the one-day captain, it is important for me to get the team together and important that we perform as a unit. Individual brilliance can win you a few matches, but if you have to win a series, you need every core member of your team to perform, and that performance has to complement the team's goal. That is definitely what I believe will get the team together again and that's what we're going to work on.
"At this level, every player understands what it takes to reach this level, and what it takes as a team to go on an overseas tour to aim to win the series, to gain those points. So, even though we might have differences of opinions, when we come down as players, we sit down as a team. It's always to the benefit of the team, and what works for the team is decided by everybody."
In the mud-slinging that ensued after the World T20, Raj had written to the BCCI about Ramesh Powar's supposedly high-handed methods as coach. Powar in turn alleged that Raj had threatened to retire from T20Is midway through the tournament. Raj denied the allegation, saying: "I never thought of quitting, because whatever has happened is off the field. I believe whenever I take that decision, it probably will be because of my own reasoning about my own game."
During the World T20, Raj had said, "I believe that now the team is settling, so it could probably be the last World Cup for me, the World T20 format". But on Sunday, she said she hadn't made any definite plans about her future.
"I will take a series at a time. I don't know where I would be in two-three months from now, so I can't really predict whether I will be part of the 2020 World Cup," she said. "For me, at this juncture, this New Zealand tour is as important, very important in fact, [as to] how it goes for me and for the team, so I am only looking forward to this tour as of now. I can't predict or comment on how it's going to go in the future. That's something I've never planned; it's always been with the flow."
Since April 2017, three India women's coaches - Purnima Rau, Tushar Arothe and Powar - have been ousted controversially. Raj felt that with the appointment of former India opener WV Raman, the team had hit upon the right person for the job. Raman's coaching credentials include stints with Ranji Trophy and IPL sides, besides a long tenure at the National Cricket Academy.
"I've not trained under him [Raman], but have met him a couple of times," Raj said. "If you see his credentials, his experience and expertise, he's played and coached various teams at various levels. There's no expectations as such when you have credentials like that. You are only positive that the coach will make a big difference to the team."
On the cricketing front, one of the challenges that Raj will be faced with in New Zealand is lack of experience. India's last tour of New Zealand was in 2006-07, and the only players with prior experience of playing in the country are Jhulan Goswami (only part of the ODI squad) and Raj herself. That apart, India's results have been up and down in ODIs. After reaching the World Cup final in 2017, they won the ODI series in South Africa, and then lost comprehensively at home against Australia in March 2018. That was followed by a 2-1 series win against England in April, before they failed to secure a clean sweep in a three-match away series against a lower-ranked Sri Lanka side in September.
"The home series against Australia hasn't gone well for us. We hadn't won a point there," Raj said. "So this series is very important, if we can get those six points... Having lost the last game against Sri Lanka also, we lost out on those two points... Playing any side in their home conditions will have its challenges. Yes, Jhulu and I have toured last in 2006, but, over the years, I'm sure New Zealand has also changed."