Poonam Yadav Sweeps Wrong’uns of the Past to Emerge a Champion
Poonam Yadav has gone wicket-less just 12 times in her career, impressing against rivals across conditions.
The image from India’s historical and morale-boosting win over defending champions Australia in the Women’s T20 World Cup opener, ironically, was a visual that panned out after the game.
As Agra-born Poonam Yadav stood atop the podium to collect her Player of the Match award after a bewitching spell of 4 for 19 that helped her side over the line, the entire squad gathered around, no, not to listen to her talk about her performance but rather to fill the air with chants of “Poonam, Go Poonam.”
Conveying the childlike passion that every member in the Indian team had on seeing their own get interviewed by the great Ian Bishop after defeating the defending champions, the gesture also highlighted how the side rallied together.
Cheering each other through the highs and the lows, the Eves in Blue have formed a formidable unit, which was all too visible in Poonam’s post-match speech where she credited her mates for keeping her spirits intact when she was injured and missed the recent T20I tri-series.
“My physio and my teammates supported me a lot when I was injured. I am thankful to my teammates as it is not easy to come back after an injury.”
And why wouldn’t they have supported her. Undoubtedly the first name written on the Indian team sheet, the 28-year old has played a crucial role in her side’s triumphs in the past and was always expected to be a trump card in the ongoing World Cup.
A T20I average of 14.68 after 62 games is stunning for a bowler. She has gone wicket-less just 12 times in her career, impressing against different rivals across conditions.
The former world No 1 bowler in T20Is has led the bowling attack for her team in an age when pacers hold that role, and little has she disappointed, with her average falling to 11.20 in wins.
The diminutive cricketer is tough to face as her release point is just above the eye-line of the batters, which forces the opponents to misjudge the length most of the time.
She is so slow through the air — so very slow that Poonam missed getting a five-wicket haul after a delivery bounced twice to Ashleigh Gardner — that they often find themselves stumped off her if they are caught outside the crease.
If the batters are deep within, striking the ball perfectly gets tough, which is why most of the time they end up mistiming the hits as they look to connect the ball bowled near the body.
Against the Aussies, Poonam exhibited just how accurate she can be on a spongy wicket, as she created mayhem by varying her lengths and bamboozling the hosts with her wrong ‘uns.
She got Allysa Healy with a 63kmph that was floated up to beat the keeper.
Rachael Haynes, too, was deceived by the googly with the enticing flight from Poonam forcing her out of her crease. She bowled Elysse Perry with yet another googly and another flighted wrong ‘un signalled the end of Jess Jonassen.
When Poonam was asked to bowl in the ninth over, Australia were well placed at 67 for 2 chasing 133. Poonam’s dazzling spell changed the course of the game — and, who knows, even the tournament — in no time.
Battling Naysayers to Challenging the Best
As in most families in India, Poonam too was dissuaded from taking up cricket, with her gender, and her short frame (she stands at just over 5 feet) raising questions.
Her father, a retired army officer, warned her against continuing due to societal pressure, but as an eight-year old, Poonam ran away to practice with the boys.
Thus started her fight against the critics, and turning her short height into an advantage further displayed her stubbornness and her determination to fight against the odds.
Her tough childhood has moulded Poonam into a warhorse — a major reason why the leg-spinner, a rare commodity in women’s cricket, does not hesitate in facing the best with the nation’s expectations on her shoulders.
Despite having an economy rate of over seven and an average of 18.14 against Australia — her worst economy rate against any nation — the cricketer put her experience to good use in the tournament opener and refused to get swayed by the magnitude of the occasion.
In the past, Poonam had often been guilty of swaying from her strengths in pressure moments, but under the tutelage of former coach Ramesh Powar she learnt to back her game.
As the game was slipping away from India’s grasp on Friday, which would have put them in a must-win situation against the White Ferns later in the tournament, Poonam’s resilience, a trait imbibed right from her youth, came to the fore yet again.
From being shunned aside as a child when she voiced her dreams of playing cricket to now having the onus of fulfilling the aspirations of her young mates as a senior player, it has been an arduous journey.
As she stood atop the podium, with the team and the entire nation rooting for her, Poonam’s mind might have raced back to the days when she direly had desired support.
From then to now, from a young enthusiast to a world-beater, she has come a long way.
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