Shafali Verma, the opening batter in the Indian women's cricket team, had to don batting pads much earlier than what she would have ideally preferred as her team had been asked to bat first after losing the flip of the coin at the India women vs England women, 2nd ODI, on 21 September 2022.
At stake was not only a series win, but a historic one – something her team had not been able to achieve since 1999. On offer was a promising pacer with a hint of swing, and a menacing English atmosphere far away from the comforts of home.
For any anachronistic cricket purist, the ideal approach under such circumstances would be to show respect to the opposition and minimise risks. Yet, she raced down the track in only the third delivery to hit a four, and then struck another boundary in the very next delivery.
In the subsequent over, however, she found her stumps castled.
The 18-year-old Indian batting prodigy had no answers to a sublime in-swinger by a pacer 12 years older than her – Kate Cross. The conservationists highlighted the importance of experience, as portrayed by the wicket.
The new batter had made her ODI debut only a year ago. With one of the team’s more crucial batters departing much earlier than expected, the assumption was India would switch to a defensive approach, showing respect to the hosts.
But, lo and behold! In only the second delivery she was facing, she pierced the gap between two fielders like a second-to-none archer, scoring four runs. At the tender age of 21, besides her youthful exuberance, Yastika Bhatia showed she boasts of another prized ammunition in her arsenal – her audacity.
The style of Verma or Bhatia could be interpreted as standalone acts of valour by some, and recklessness by others. But on collective inspection, it becomes a status symbol, of how the new breed of cricketers in the Indian women’s team would want to be perceived.
Ditching disquiet respect for vehement rebellion, they want to ensure that be it against unfavourable conditions, be it against the team that has been crowned champions of the world four times, the ‘new India’ will always sport an all-inclusive attacking approach.
The Composition of Fearlessness
On Wednesday, 21 September, India women defeated England women in an ODI series in England for the first time in 1999. Over the last 23 years, the women in blue had toured England six times for bilateral series, and returned empty-handed on all of those occasions.
The current bunch of youngsters, however, is not well-versed with the non-affirmative. They repeated the incredible achievement of Chanderkanta Kaul’s team from 1999, and while both teams brought about revolutions, the modus operandi was significantly different.
There is a situational semblance uniting the two victories. Back in 1999, India had batted first and their opener, then a teenager, Mithali Raj, departed for a duck. To prevent a collapse, Anju Jain and Anjum Chopra inculcated a cautious approach.
Harmanpreet Kaur’s team of 2022, on the contrary, prefers courage more than caution. Even in the first ODI, India lost Shafali Varma in the second over. Chasing a meek total of 228, they could have easily played the long game, but as she did in the last match, Yastika Bhatia struck a boundary in her second delivery.
At a time when strike rates seem to have gained importance like never before, the new lot in the Indian women’s team after crafting their own template of fearlessness, and youth are playing an important part in it.
How Harmanpreet Kaur Is Drawing the Line
Both Harleen Deol, who was playing only her sixth ODI, and Pooja Vastrakar, who will celebrate her 23rd birthday a day after the 3rd ODI, took only three deliveries to hit their first boundary, despite coming to bat following the loss of a big wicket.
The identifier of this team is their careless temerity, but the phenomenal job of drawing the line between that and recklessness is being carried out by the inspirational leader, Harmanpreet Kaur.
Though she has had prior spells at captaincy, Kaur has played da Vinci to India’s renaissance ever since Mithali Raj’s retirement.
She has led the team in five ODI matches since then, and India not only emerged victorious on all five occasions, they also stayed true to their audacious brand of cricket. In the historic win against England, she remained not out on 143 from only 111 deliveries, accumulating runs at a strike rate of 128.83. 43 of those runs came from the last 11 deliveries themselves.
With her at the apex, this particular brand of cricket has been engulfing the youngsters via a trickle-down system. In a must-win game at the Commonwealth Games 2022, India found themselves at 92/4 at the end of 13 overs, with not much batting left. Not many would have raised questions had they lifted their feet from the accelerator, but Kaur’s girls went on to score 70 more runs in the next seven overs.
The team then went on to beat England in the semi-finals, and on being asked the clichéd ‘success of secret,’ Kaur said, “No one gave up. We've been working on this for a while. If you keep doing this, results will come at some point along the way, and I'm glad it is showing now.”
Certainly, the young Indian team of 2022 does not give up, not only because they are incredibly gifted in terms of commitment and dedication, but also because they know how to unwind. In a team known for their characteristic ebullience, the ‘perform-or-perish’ theory is not a weapon of intimidation anymore.
Smriti Mandhana could pair up with youngsters and groove to J Balvin and Skrillex’s ‘In da Ghetto,’ and also prove how she is the Samuel L Jackson of the ghetto in cricket.
Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma could sing their hearts out in the dressing room, and also ensure the best bowlers in the world dance to the tunes they compose with their willow.
The nation witnessed groundbreaking Indian women’s teams in the past, and will do so in the future. With each era comes its causative rebellion, and the cause now is moving away from the no-laughing-matter perspective and transitioning into a team that can become icons of carefree expression, both on and off the pitch.
Expression, that inspires hope.