India launched its preparations for ICC Women's World Cup 2009 in style by winning the Women's Asia Cup for the fourth successive time in Sri Lanka on Sunday. They defeated Sri Lanka by 177 runs in the final in Kurunegala and extended their winning streak in the history of the tournament to 22 matches.
Such was the dominance of the second-ranked team in the world that during the competition India won most of its matches without even breaking sweat.
Captain Mithali Raj was no doubt ecstatic: "I am delighted with my team's performance in the tournament. It was a nice start to what is going to be a tough season for us.
"We tried new players and experimented with different combinations during the competition. I am glad that everything worked well for us and we maintained a high level of consistency which was the perfect icing on the cake."
India unleashed four newcomers in the tournament -- top-order batter Priyanka Roy, fast bowler Snehal Pradhan, left-arm spinner Gouher Sultana and wicketkeeper-batter Anagha Deshpande. It also included left-arm spinner Neetu David, who took 11 wickets in the tournament, and batter Asha Rawat, who was declared player of the final for her knock of 97.
Explaining the reasons for including new faces while also recalling two experienced players, Mithali said the tour was planned keeping in mind Australian conditions.
"We wanted to provide the right platform for the youngsters to show their talent and Sri Lanka was the best place because of the similarities in the Asian sub-continent conditions which made it relatively easy for the new players to show their skills.
"I am happy to say that we have a good pool of players with whom we will work over the next nine months not only to give them the required experience but also to find the combination which will help us in Australia.
"We know that the World Cup will be staged in conditions that will be friendlier to the fast bowlers, and that's precisely why we gave more opportunities to the fast bowlers without relying heavily on the spinners."
The 25-year-old, who was also the captain of the India team that lost the 2005 World Cup final to Australia by 98 runs at the Centurion, believed her team was capable of pushing Australia.
"I think we are a good enough team to challenge Australia and give a tough time to the world champion.
"The World Cup is still nine months away and every team will try to improve its performance. As I see things, our chances in the tournament will depend on how good we prepare according to Australian conditions and how quickly we adapt to those conditions.
"We will have to be careful in our preparations as they will vary from tour to tour. Our next assignment is in England and the conditions in England are different as compared to Sri Lanka or Australia.
"But the basics remain unchanged and the bottom line is that we have to train and work hard in every single match we play in the lead-up to the World Cup. We have a talented pool of players and over the next nine months I would like to see improvement in fielding and match planning," she added.
During the course of the Asia Cup, Mithali and fast bowler Jhulan Goswami achieved personal milestones.
When Mithali reached 62 during her knock of 66 in the final, she became the first Indian and fifth overall in the history of women's cricket to complete 3,000 ODI runs. She joined the Australian duo of Belinda Clark (4,844) and Karen Rolton (4,261), New Zealand's Debbie Hockley (4,064) and England's Charlotte Edwards (3,304)
Jhulan, who won the ICC Women's Player of the Year Award at the ICC Awards in Johannesburg last year, became the second India bowler and fourth after Australia's Cathryn Fitzpatrick (180), team-mate Neetu David (141) and Clare Taylor of England (102) to take 100 ODI wickets.
Commenting on her own achievement, a humble Mithali said: "I consider it as a great honour and privilege to be bracketed with some of the biggest and most respected names in women's cricket.
"I didn't give it a thought while I was batting in the final as my focus was on collecting as many runs as possible in the final overs until I got a message from the dressing room that I was close to the 3,000-mark. To be in the top five leading run-getters' list is a big honour and I hope to score many more runs for India," said Mithali.
In the lead-up to the final of the tournament, that was played on a double league format, India defeated Bangladesh by 182 runs and five wickets, Pakistan by 182 runs and 207 runs and Sri Lanka by 29 runs and eight wickets.
India's supreme performance in Sri Lanka highlights it as one of the teams to watch out for at the ICC Women's World Cup that will be staged in Sydney, Australia, in March next year.
Besides India, defending champions Australia, New Zealand, England, West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will take part in the event that will be the first to be played under the auspices of the ICC since its merger with the International Women's Cricket Council (IWCC) in 2005.
Bangladesh may not have reached the final but it secured its first victory against a Full Member when it defeated Pakistan by four wickets. Captain Salma Khatun was the star performer of the match when she scored an unbeaten 53 as Bangladesh achieved the 135-run target with little over five overs to spare.
Pakistan won the return match against Bangladesh by 38 runs to end its 12-match losing streak in the history of the tournament. Javeria Khan stole the limelight with figures of 8.1-4-8-6.
Sri Lanka won all its matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh but failed to break India's stranglehold in the three clashes.