Cricket: Deepti Sharma’s journey from Agra to Lord’s
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As India fell from 191 for three wickets to 218 for eight while chasing 229 runs against England in Sunday’s World Cup final at Lord’s, Shubhlakshmi Sharma didn’t lose hope.
The cricketer from Jharkhand, commenting on television from a studio in Delhi, kept insisting that as long as Deepti Sharma was batting, victory wasn’t out of the question. However, Deepti’s cameo (14 runs off 12 balls) in the lower order was not enough—England beat India by nine runs.
“I wish they had opened with her. Her cool approach was needed at the top of the order,” said Shubhlakshmi, who has shared a dressing room with Deepti in the past.
It speaks volumes of Deepti’s rise in international cricket that even her (senior) contemporaries have now started expecting mighty things from the 19-year-old.
If Harmanpreet Kaur’s unbeaten 171 against Australia in the semi-final last week or Mithali Raj’s outstanding form with the bat (she was the second highest scorer of the tournament, with 409 runs) were the highlights of this World Cup, the find of the tournament has been Deepti Sharma.
The left-hand batswoman was the fifth highest scorer from India (216 runs from nine matches, with two half-centuries). She was also the most successful Indian bowler (12 wickets)—Deepti was among the top three (with two other players) bowlers of the World Cup.
“What a talent Deepti Sharma is! Best fielder in the side & can walk into the team as a pure bowler & a pure batter too,” tweeted Sanjay Manjrekar, a former India player and one of the broadcast commentators.
“She has improved incredibly in such a short time. From a promising Under-19 player to the backbone of the current team, this has been a phenomenal growth,” said Shubhlakshmi, who has represented India in 29 international games across formats.
Deepti was the youngest Indian in One Day Internationals (ODIs), debuting at the age of 17 (against South Africa in November 2014). Even before this World Cup, she wasn’t an unfamiliar name for those who follow women’s cricket.
Just a few months ago, she scored 188 (this was the second highest ever individual innings in an ODI after Belinda Clark’s 229 in 1997) against Ireland in South Africa (in a quadrangular ODI tournament).
Along the way, she had a world record partnership of 320 runs with Poonam Raut (who scored 109 in that match in South Africa).
Though a great fan of Australian captain Meg Lanning, Deepti is also a great admirer of Indian cricketer Suresh Raina. “I was pleasantly surprised to know that I am one of his favourite female players (along with captain Mithali Raj). Someone had told me that Raina has said this on Twitter. Although I have never met him, I would like to interact with him and other male cricketers to discuss my game,” Deepti said on the phone ahead of Sunday’s final.
Like her idol, the right-arm off-spinner too doesn’t mind batting anywhere in the order. So far, she has batted in positions ranging from Nos.1-8.
“I follow men’s cricket deeply. I try to learn a lot from watching them. I want to bowl like (Ravichandran) Ashwin. His carom bowl has caught my attention,” said the Agra-based cricketer.
“She is doing exceptionally well. She is a hard-working girl and because of her talent and persistence, she has become one of our important bowlers,” added her teammate Harmanpreet Kaur, ahead of the final.
If Ajit Tendulkar devoted his career and life to his younger brother Sachin, Deepti too has a supportive brother in Sumit. As a medium pacer, Sumit represented Uttar Pradesh in the Under-19 Vinoo Mankad and Under-23 CK Nayudu Trophy.
Deepti’s parents always encouraged their daughter to pursue her passion for cricket. She would accompany her brother for net sessions at the Eklavya Sports Stadium in her home-town Agra. One evening, Deepti’s “natural” throw caught the eye of a former India player, Hemlata Kala, who is currently the chief selector for the women’s cricket team. Kala was also instrumental in Deepti moving from medium pace to off-spin.
Sumit was so confident of his sister’s success that he left his job in a private firm in Ghaziabad after completing his master’s in business administration in 2013.
“You can’t achieve anything without your family’s support. I was lucky that my family never discriminated between boys and girls,” said Deepti.
Sumit wanted her to have the best practice facilities in Agra, so, earlier this year, he teamed up with her childhood coach Vipin Awasthi to start a cricket academy. In six months, close to 100 boys and girls have started practising at the academy. This too is helping Deepti, quite apart from the fact that it’s encouraging talent from neighbourhood areas, says Sumit.
Like millions of Indian fans, Deepti and her family are disappointed that the team did not win the World Cup. But they believe the experience will only help her become a better player.
“She reminds me of my early days with the Indian team. I have no doubt that she is going to be a star for the future,” said Harmanpreet.
“I am sure every child in Agra will now recognize me. However, I am not going to rest on my laurels as I have to work harder and get better. After all, the dream of winning a World Cup is still unfulfilled,” said Deepti.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide. He tweets @ vimalwa.