Cricket

Women's World T20 2018: In Taniya Bhatia, Indian team has a combination of power-hitter and pure grafter

  • Ananya Upendran
  • November 2nd, 2018
  • 18:19:55 IST

Taniya Bhatia is a bundle of contradictions. You will often find her walking around, or seated in a corner alone, lost in her thoughts, yet she seems to notice everything. While her facial expressions are hard to read, there is something about her eyes that draw you in…. they have an unmistakable twinkle— a mischievous glint, even.

Bhatia has a dry sense of humour, but chooses to keep it locked away for special occasions. She is quiet, but when she is around, laughter is never far away. She can be chirpy without being loud; and despite her shyness, she exudes confidence.

But the contradictions don’t stop there! For all cricketing purposes, Bhatia is a wicket-keeper— and a quiet one at that.

***

Tania Bhatia. AFP

File image of Taniya Bhatia. AFP

My first memory of Bhatia is from four years ago, when we were both playing some selection matches ahead of India’s tour of England in Alur. Since Karuna Jain was the senior 'keeper' in the team, Bhatia spent most of those two weeks on the bench, but she remained upbeat throughout. When the chance finally did come her way, Bhatia showed glimpses of her potential— she smashed a boundary over mid on, followed it up with a powerful cut through point, and kept admirably in slightly difficult conditions. Even back then, she was so incredibly self-assured, it was hard to believe that she was only 15.

A little less than a year later, Bhatia and I crossed paths again. She was part of the Under-19 India Green team in the 2015 Challenger Trophy in Mysore— keeping wicket and batting at No 6. The baby-faced girl from Chandigarh went on to score a stroke-filled half century against Harmanpreet Kaur’s India Blue, and earned herself a place in the India A squad that was to face New Zealand in June. Bhatia was clearly on the rise, but something felt amiss— the twinkle in her eye didn’t seem as bright.

The higher the peak, the greater the fall, it is said, and for Bhatia, the fall was tough. Soon after she had climbed into national reckoning, she faced a major loss of form at 17. "If you fall down at a time when you're expecting your career graph to only climb upwards, it becomes very difficult to cope with at that young age,” she told Cricbuzz. “I almost quit cricket altogether.”

Bhatia’s family are a huge source of support for her, and it was they who helped dig the teenager out of the little hole she had climbed into. She put in the hard yards, and slowly fought her way back into the spotlight.

In 2017, soon after India’s incredible World Cup campaign in England, there was a training camp at the National Cricket Academy. Bhatia was one of the wicket-keepers in the group of 24. She was much fitter than she had been when I first saw her, had toned down her overly aggressive ways with the bat, and was ‘keeping like a dream. She was just as quiet— possibly a little more than before— but there was an air of confidence about her. The twinkle in her eye was back… and it was accompanied by a fierce sense of determination.

Impressive performances for India A and India Blue in the Challenger Trophy saw Bhatia’s dream of representing the country finally come true— she was called up for the tour of South Africa in February 2018, where she made her T20I debut.

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Since the retirement of Anju Jain in 2005, India have been desperately searching for someone to fill the gaping hole left by her absence. Till the end of 2017, they had tried nine different players. For a while the selectors tried to pick the best batter who could ‘keep, so they juggled around with the likes of Arundhati Kirkire, Karuna Jain, Anagha Deshpande and Sulakshana Naik— all of whom bat in the top or middle order. Every time it looked as though they had sealed their position, form seemed to desert them. When that didn’t work, the selectors chose whom they thought was purely the best stumper: Samantha Lobatto, Sunitha Anand, Sushma Verma, R Kalpana and Nuzhat Parween. These players languished in the lower order— sometimes even batting as low as No 10 or 11. Of the lot, Verma was given the longest run, and after her performances in the World Cup, India may have thought the hole was finally filled, but inconsistency with the bat meant that her place was almost always under the scanner. Finally, it seems lucky No 10, Bhatia, has given the selectors a long term option.

Bhatia is thought to be one of the best wicket-keepers in India. Her movements are fluid, and the ball literally melts into her gloves. She has quick hands, anticipates beautifully, and dives around as if attached to strings. As is the case with all good 'keepers', Bhatia is so good, that she is barely noticed.

The right-hander, who bats in the top order for Punjab, has widely been acknowledged as one of the most talented batters in her age-group. In the domestic circuit, where most players are either purely grafters or power hitters, Bhatia’s ability to do both, sets her apart. She combines aggressive strokeplay with soft hands and deft touches that allow her to get off strike— characteristics that make her hard to set a field for.

Through her short international career, Bhatia has shown the ability to read the play very well and force opposition bowlers to dance to her tune. Much like her teammate Hemalatha Dayalan, Bhatia too showed why she is rated so highly in her very first ODI innings.

Walking in to bat with her team in strife at 66 for 4 in the second ODI against Sri Lanka in Galle, the 20-year old calmly collected a 66-ball 68 and propelled India to a total of 219. She cut and swept her way through the innings, and when the Sri Lankans started pitching the ball in her half, she simply ran down the track and pummelled them straight, forcing them to shorten the length so she could unveil her cut shot. She played the way she always plays in domestic cricket— backed her strengths and stuck to a very simple plan: go after anything in your area. Not only did the innings showcase Bhatia’s raw talent with the bat, but it also gave a sneak peak into her mind— the girl clearly has ‘batting smarts’.

Bhatia backed up that entertaining innings with two brilliant catches with the gloves— dismissals that eventually proved to be match-winning.

***

Interestingly, India have chosen to travel to the West Indies with only one ‘keeper in the squad. That they trust Bhatia so much is testament to the amount she has impressed the team management since her international debut earlier this year. She has shown a willingness to learn — both with bat and gloves— and has taken every chance that has come her way. After a few initial disappointments with the bat in the T20I format, she has found a way to score runs. Instead of resorting to the wild swipes that led to her downfall, Bhatia has chosen to stick to a method that has worked for her in domestic cricket.

Yet another member of India’s squad who will be playing her first World Cup, Bhatia, the fist woman from Chandigarh to represent India, will step into the ring with a lot of expectations on her shoulders. Although it is early days in her career, many are of the opinion that India may have finally plugged the hole left by Jain 13 years ago. The stage is set for the right-hander to prove they have, and my guess is that she will do it with a bit of flair, and that old twinkle in her eye!

Updated Date: November 02, 2018 18:19:55 IST

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