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Indian Women Cricket’s Silent Star, the Unglorified Punam Raut

Punam Raut mostly, constitutes a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’.

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There are some great moments in cricket that are further eclipsed by a greater moment. While the great moments are applauded, the greater ones outlast the seasons. We saw it during the 2011 World Cup final at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. Gautam Gambhir’s 97 was hurrayed, but MS Dhoni’s winning six stood the test of time.

A similar story can be told of Punam Raut, the 27-year-old who silently goes about doing her work, without grabbing the limelight. The right-hand batter, almost always, constitutes only a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’. Wrong timing, perhaps.

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ICC World Cup 2017

We all love pomp and show. We love colour, we love grace and we fall head over heels for glamour. And somehow, amid all the clamour, the bright radiating colours, we conveniently forget about substance, which is the crux of the matter.

Punam Raut mostly, constitutes a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’.
Punam Raut in action at the World Cup.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Punam Raut)

Punam Raut, who was the top-scorer for India with 86 runs in the World Cup final against England at Lord’s on Sunday, has been in the shadow of a Smriti Mandhana or/and Mithali Raj.

Make no mistake, we adore both Mandhana and Raj, but Raut has been a rock and it could be precisely because of this she has sunk easily under both Mithali and Smriti.

Raut finished the World Cup as India’s second highest scorer with 381 runs, behind Mithali Raj, who notched 409 runs.

Raut’s consistency has carried the mantle of propping up the batting line-up that has been habitually dependent on Raj. It can be recalled that when the captain and Mandhana, and practically the whole Indian team failed against Pakistani bowlers, it was Raut who stood up to the occasion with her gritty 72-ball 47.

Punam Raut mostly, constitutes a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’.
Punam Raut plays a shot during the World Cup match against Australia.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Punam Raut)

Unfortunately, for the unglorified opener, her 136-ball 106 against one of the best bowling attacks in women’s cricket, the mighty Australians, came on the day when Raj became the highest run-scorer in the history of ODI cricket.

During her attacking innings of 106 runs, Raut smashed 11 boundaries and troubled the bowlers. Raj on the other hand scored 69, smashing four boundaries and one six.

Unquestionably, Raj, who got to 6,000 runs in ODI cricket – which is no mean a feat – owned the limelight at the time. The media attention that followed Raj’s new coup, eventually camouflaged Raut’s century.

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India vs Ireland, Quadrangular Women's Series, 2017

Opening partners Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut created history by becoming the first pair to bring up a 300-run stand in ODI cricket. The two stitched together 320 against Ireland in a Quadrangular series that featured India, Zimbabwe, Ireland and hosts South Africa.

India scored 358/3 in the 50 overs at Potchefstroom and won the match by 249 runs. However, Punam’s mettlesome 109, which she scored before retiring hurt, was eclipsed by Deepti’s record-breaking 188, which is the highest ODI score by an Indian and the second highest in history.

Raut continually made her presence felt during the partnership, but Deepti’s 188 sent twitterati into a tizzy.

Punam Raut mostly, constitutes a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’.
Punam Raut and Deepti Sharma strung a partnership of 320 runs against Ireland.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Virender Sehwag)
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The Rise, Fall and Rise Again

That Raut, who made her ODI debut way back in March 2009, has played only 53 international one-dayers so far, proves that she been on the bench more than on the field.

Raut has spent a large part of her career on the sidelines due to derailment of her form, or a well-settled team. But every time she rode the comeback train, she proved her mettle, and that is what makes her special.

Raut was dropped from the team in 2012, for the tour of West Indies. However, she was recalled for the next tour of England where she failed to put up a substantial performance, which meant the opening slot was still not entirely hers.

However, with prolific performances in the 2012-13 domestic season, she was recalled once again, and also made it to the 2013 World Cup squad. Although she started the coveted tournament in style, smashing a 72 in the opening game, she couldn’t go beyond single digit scores in the remaining four games.

Since the end of World Cup 2013, to the start of quadrangular series 2017 in South Africa, when she finally stamped authority on the opening slot, she has been infrequent in the team.

During that period, she played only 13 ODIs and scored 255 runs, the highest being 80 against Bangladesh in April 2013. Due to the slump, she was also kept out of the World Cup Qualifiers earlier this year, which meant her chances in the World Cup squad were next to none.

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Punam Raut mostly, constitutes a fraction of a written piece, while the headlines belong to the ‘better performer’.
Punam Raut raises her bat after scoring a century against Australia.
(Photo: Reuters)

However, 2017 turned out to be similar to 2013 for Raut. After being excluded for the tour of West Indies and the World Cup qualifier, she forced herself back in the team after more than a year, for the Quadrangular series on the back of profuse domestic performances.

In the five games of that tournament, she scored 272 runs, which also included an unbeaten century and a half century. These performances helped her case to directly make it to the World Cup squad, where she has delivered consistent performances.

Being out of the national side makes you look at things from a different perspective. Every time I was dropped from the team, I chose to look within, not without. I looked at it as an opportunity to improve, as a challenge to take my game a notch higher and come back a better-oiled version of myself. You can say I thrive on challenges and that approach, in my opinion, has been one of the reasons I got picked for this side and, maybe, also for the World Cup.
Punam Raut told ESPNCricinfo

Amid the records and centuries, the unhonoured laureate has always slotted back in the background. But with the determination the ‘part-timer’ showed, to revive her international career, and deliver when it mattered the most, is a sign that even without Mithali Raj, Indian cricket can continue to blossom in the near future.

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(Umaima Saeed is a self-confessed introvert who binges on cricket and lets her writing do the talking.)

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