ICC Women’s World Cup 2017: Diminutive Poonam Yadav's spunk will be critical for India's ambitions

Snehal Pradhan, Jun, 22 2017

‘Athletes wear pain in practice in search of perfection’, wrote Rohit Brijnath in 2016. I’d like to add to that; we also wear bruises. And cuts. And the odd scar.

These bruises almost cut short Poonam Yadav’s cricketing journey when she was 10 years old. She might never have captained Uttar Pradesh. She might never have been offered a job in the Railways. And she might never have played for India.

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Fearless is how Raghuveer Singh Yadav describes his youngest daughter. “From an early age she would play all manner of sports. She was never afraid of getting hurt like the other girls were.” Poonam’s height — or more accurately, the lack of it (she stands just under five feet tall) — held her back from succeeding at other sports, but it has proven to be her USP in cricket.

File image of Poonam Yadav. Image courtesy: BCCI

File image of Poonam Yadav. Image courtesy: BCCI

Hailing from Agra, leg spinner Yadav’s specialty is the flight she gives the ball. The ball’s arc is accentuated by her low release point; the upward trajectory she sends it on is an uncommon sight in international cricket, where taller bowlers generally dart the ball onto the pitch. “As a short girl, she has no option but to give the ball loop to ensure it reaches the batter,” said her coach Manoj Singh Khushwah.

Jeremy Snape can keep his ‘moon balls’. Yadav’s deliveries have atmospheric qualities of their own. Like artillery in super slow motion. This weapon brought her a debut for India in 2013.

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It’s not just how high Yadav’s deliveries go, it’s also how they descend and what they do. Yadav applies a lot of revolutions on the ball, giving her appreciable dip and turn. It has accounted for many a shocked batter; applying the traditional advice of using their feet if the ball is above their eye line, they find that they are nowhere near the pitch of the ball. Against right handers, 30% of her wickets in ODIs, and 20% in T20Is, come from stumpings.

Yadav has played more in T20 cricket than ODIs for India, precisely because of her passive-aggressive ball speeds. In a format where the batters must go hard at the ball more often than not, Yadav’s lack of pace, turn, and variations make hitting her consistently a challenge. She exploited the unfamiliarity that she brought to the table fully in the WT20 in 2014, when she picked up eight wickets in India’s five games and became the only Indian to make it to the Team of the Tournament.

But all this was only possible thanks to her father’s open-mindedness, and a legend’s intervention.

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Raghuveer Singh Yadav, now retired, worked in the education board in the Indian Army.  Thanks partly to his army background, he believed in allowing his children to pursue their offbeat interests. “I never stopped her. We should encourage kids to do what they are good at doing,” he said. At the same time, the father in him was concerned with the odd bruise the young Poonam picked up at training, which she would do her best to hide from her father’s gaze.

When Yadav was 10 years old, she came home with her umpteenth bruise after an evening spent playing cricket. Her father, who had been bottling up his concern, finally let it spill over. “I told her, you get hurt too many times, and that she should not play cricket any more. She was inconsolable, and pleaded with me to let her play.”

At Poonam’s request, the Yadavs were then visited by Hemlata Kala, formerly one of India’s most successful batters, under whom Poonam was training. “Hemlata told me that this girl has a lot of skill, and she guaranteed that Poonam would play for India,” remembers Raghuveer Singh. “After that, I never tried to stop her again.”

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After starting her international career primarily as a T20 bowler, Yadav has been a more regular member of the ODI team. She played just three ODIs in 2016, but has played in seven already in the first five months of this year. Leading up to the World Cup, she has had to adapt to the less manic nature of the ODI game, where she has to build pressure, rather than let the scoreboard do it for her.

Her biggest challenge in this tournament though, will be against teams whose batters have better plans than just using their feet. With batters from teams like England and New Zealand adept at sweeps and scoops, Yadav must find ways to counter those advances.

Success in this tournament will go a long way in furthering Yadav’s credentials in the 50-over format. More so, it will prove the old adage: that it’s only the size of your heart that matters.

 

Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the tutorial series ‘Cricket How To’ on YouTube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan

Published Date: Jun 22, 2017 | Updated Date: Jun 22, 2017



Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4493 125
2 South Africa 3395 110
3 England 4097 105
4 Australia 3087 100
5 New Zealand 3114 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 South Africa 5957 119
2 Australia 5505 117
3 India 4579 114
4 England 5645 113
5 New Zealand 5123 111
Rank Team Points Rating
1 New Zealand 1625 125
2 England 1962 123
3 Pakistan 2417 121
4 West Indies 2222 117
5 India 2183 115