What were you doing when you were 19? Debating which master’s course to pursue? Worried about pleasing the college placement committee? Or simply bunking classes and chasing the opposite gender (or same, if you prefer)?
When Rafael Nadal was 19, he had started to etch out La Decima. When Saina Nehwal was 19, she was a World Junior Champion. And Deepti Sharma, at 19, is not just representing her country, but breaking world records while she’s at it.
Deepti is now a joint holder of the record for the highest partnership in women’s cricket history. She and Punam Raut put on 320 in a monolithic opening stand against Ireland in May, the first ever 300-partnership in the history of the game. Her score of 188 off just 160 balls sits second on the list of highest-ever individual scores, behind Belinda Clark’s 229. And it was only her maiden ODI century.
Deepti was just nine when she accompanied her older brother for his training sessions to the ground in their native Agra. It was a regular ritual; she would sit by the sidelines and watch him practice. On one fateful day, a ball rolled towards her from the nets where the women’s team was practicing. Deepti picked it up and threw it back, hitting the stumps no less. She was asked to report for practice from the next day.
She quickly made an impression on the domestic circuit, and was a regular part of the senior side when she was still young enough to play U-16s. Her off spin stood out in an Uttar Pradesh squad filled with bowlers who spun the ball the other way, and she was dependable at the top of the order, where she batted left-handed. Shortly after her 17th birthday, she was handed a national debut against South Africa, where she was trusted to bowl her full quota of overs and picked up two wickets in the series decider. By representing the country, she justified the sacrifices her brother had made; Sumit Sharma gave up a job that took him out of Agra, and moved back just so he could help her practice.
Her moment of belonging came the next year though. In yet another deciding game, with a series against New Zealand locked 2-2, Deepti was sent in at number three in a tricky chase of 118, and mixed discretion with abandon to score a nerveless and unbeaten 44. She used her feet against the Kiwi spinners, unafraid to go aerial when the opportunity presented itself. It was hard to believe she was just a teenager playing her fourth ODI, but perhaps that is precisely why she could do it.
Her bowling has not lagged far behind either. In 2016, she took six for 20 against the visiting Sri Lankans, and consistent performances have seen her hold down a place as the only frontline off spinner in the Indian squad for the World Cup.
Deepti has also cemented herself at the top of the Indian line up with strong performances in India’s last two tournaments. In the ICC World Cup Qualifiers, and the quadrangular in South Africa she topped the run-scoring charts by considerable margins, usurping a spot usually occupied by a certain Mithali Raj.
Raj herself is effervescent in praise for the youngest player in the team. In a video on the BCCI website, she said, “I’ve not seen a player so far who is so talented. As a captain, when I saw her on debut, I was impressed with her batting. I realised that she will definitely make an impact at international level.”
The innings that impressed Raj the most was not the record-breaking 188, but the knock Deepti played in the next game. While the 188 came against a hapless Ireland, ranked 10th in the world, India played South Africa next, and were set a target of 270.Deepti scored a measured run-a-ball 71 — against one of the best new-ball attacks in world cricket — and kept India on course for most of the game. Although India fell eight runs short, Raj said that for her, the knock ‘transformed’ Deepti. “I can now say that Deepti is a confident opener.”
Former India spinner Neetu David went a step further when talking about Deepti.
“I think Deepti will break Mithali’s records”, she said without hesitation. “She is a perfect all rounder; her batting and bowling is very good, her fielding is amazing, and she’s just 19, so she has a long career. She can definitely break Mithali’s records.”
The parallels are there; Raj was 19 when she score 214 in a Test match, at the time a world record. Now at 19, Deepti has added some of her own ink to the record books.
Leading up to her first World Cup, in a land where many an opening batter has been buried, Deepti will need to feed off the confidence of her journey, especially the pointy end. There is no better time to peak than before a World Cup, although with her whole career ahead of her, she may well redefine the word ‘peak’ by the time she’s done.