Saturday, February 22, 2020

Poonam and Shafali: Beauty and the Beast

"Poonam has become a favourite adjective in the skippers' dictionary. Whenever a match is in a fix, skippers call Poonam to address it. And, she has always used her weapons with sheer flair and twisted games in favour of her team," said Reema Malhotra, former India leg-spinner and now a commentator about Poonam Yadav the 28 year old Indian Leg Spinner.
Yes, she indeed repeated her act once again today when Alyssa Healey was running away with the match with her team at 67/2, chasing 133 for a win in the India Vs Australia T20WC group match. Beginning with the scalp of Alyssa Healey, Poonam turned the match head over heels in a matter of next 7 overs. Though women's Cricket cannot match the men's game in terms of power, dynamics and skill, the artistry of players like Poonam makes it worth watching. She was giving unbelievable flight to the ball, ball after ball. Some of her leg breaks went up in the air, stood there for some time as if reluctant to come down and then left the batters bamboozled on the descent.
The Googly has become the most dreaded weapon in her armory, especially because she is more consistent with the Googly than her stock leg spinning balls. Poonam now is India's highest wicket taker in T20 Internationals and was decorated with Arjuna Award in 2019. Sidelined by injury for most part of India's preparations for the 2020 T20WC, Poonam had ceded her place to the relentlessly consistent Radha Yadav. But the Team management decided to rope in Poonam for the X-Factor or should we call it Y-Factor ? If not for Keeper Tania Bhatia missing a tough catch, Poonam could have had a Hat trick today. This incidentally is the third time she's missed a Hat trick.

A genial, ever smiling Poonam is a calming effect on her teammates. She is always helpful with her inputs for the Captains. She was Mithali Raj's favorite and she is Harman's favorite too. India's fortunes in this World Cup depend a lot on Poonam's ability to bamboozle opponents in the middle overs.
India's batting order is arguably the most exciting in this Championship. Smriti Mandana and Jemima Rodriguez followed by Harman, Veda and Deepti in the top half is a pretty awesome lineup with good mix of experience and youth. What happens when a 16 year old precocious kid walks in to open and tonks the ball around like some of the men do ? Well, Shafali Verma celebrated her sweet 16th birthday less than a month ago. She is stocky, strong and sensational. In 2019, at 15 years and 285 days, she broke the record for youngest Indian to score an international 50. That was a 30 year old record owned by a certain Sachin Tendulkar.
If anyone has doubts as to why the Australian Coach is in awe of this Rohtak girl, they ought to watch her innings today. A short Sehwagish cameo of 29 from 15 balls with 5 boundaries and a six. On a pitch where only 3 others managed to score at more than 100 strike rate, Shafali was striking at 193. Only Alyssa Healey managed 145 on this pedestrian pitch. After 15 matches Shafali averages 25 with two half centuries. But a whopping strike rate of 144 makes her the tornado in women's Cricket.
Her best hasn't even begun and she is already intimidating. Coming from Haryana, the land that manufactures Wrestling Superstars, Shafali seems to have wandered out of the Akhara into the Cricket stadium. But her approach isn't much different from that of a wrestler. She just hits the daylights out of the ball. That effortless six over extra-cover stands testimony to an extraordinary talent and also a warning to bowlers all over in the coming years.
Like the Men's team, Indian women's Cricket team too is getting better and better. If Poonam embodies the beauty of the art of Leg Spin and Googly, little big Shafali is the beast out there, the destroyer. Poonam and Shafali are two among a bunch of extremely talented girls going out there with passion to excel for their team. They deserve our support. They deserve our eyeballs when they play and our cheers and love.

Govind Raj Shenoy for DieHard Cricket Fans

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