CHENNAI: When Yastika Bhatia was picked ahead of Jemimah Rodrigues — back after a successful stint at The Hundred — in the first ODI of the multi-format series against Australia in September 2021, it took a lot of people by surprise. But not Rodrigues.
Having played a lot alongside Bhatia through age-group cricket for West Zone, she was more than happy for the southpaw despite her own disappointment. She said as much during her moving speech when Bhatia received her T20I cap later in that series.
Calling it a memorable day for her, Rodrigues said that she had known the 21-year-old for since her childhood. “The other day she’d scored her first fifty against Australia, I told Aru (Arundhati Reddy) or somebody that I was sitting out and I don’t know why, but I felt very proud as if I’ve mentored her all these years, but I didn’t. I felt very proud because I’ve seen her growing up, we’ve opened for West Zone almost whenever we played together, we’ve won so many matches together,” Rodrigues said in the video shared by her.
Although Bhatia might have taken an extra few years than Rodrigues before making it to the Indian team, she'd hit the ground running from the word go. She had an immediate impact at No 3, including a 69-ball 64 in the third ODI that India won.
With the World Cup around the corner and Rodrigues pushing for spot in the XI, the southpaw was kept on her toes, and had to perform in almost every opportunity she got in the lead up to the World Cup, whether it was domestic or international.
Although Baroda did not make it to the knockouts, Bhatia made 225 runs at 75.00 while striking at 98.25 in the Senior Women’s One-day tournament after the Australia tour. Continuing her good form in the Challengers that followed, she played a vital role in India A winning the title, including a match-winning 86 in the final against India D.
While Bhatia was making her mark at No 3, a different challenge awaited her in the World Cup. With Shafali Verma struggling for form, the 21-year-old was pushed to the top to open the batting, something she hadn’t done a lot in the Baroda senior side, alongside Smriti Mandhana.
The duo struggled against New Zealand, but ahead of their next clash versus West Indies, she had a specific job to do — take the attack to the bowlers; a role that's not necessarily natural to her. However, she did exactly that, smashing 31 runs from 21 balls.
Against Australia, she was pushed back to No 3, and delivered a crucial half-century after the early collapse. She maneuvered the ball around, picked up the occasional boundary, while building a partnership with Mithali Raj and taking the team to a commanding position. Bhatia continued her good form in a must-win clash against Bangladesh with yet another fifty, anchoring the innings through the middle-overs.
That’s how she sees herself, too. Someone who can hold the batting together and play the long innings – a Mithali Raj kind of player. “I like to bat with them (Mandhana and Verma), they are attacking, I like to anchor the innings. So, it fits very well,” she said during the mid-innings break.
It is not just her batting that stands out. Bhatia’s clarity about the game shows when she speaks, and more importantly, the way she acknowledges and expresses her thoughts about the issues, whether it's personal or the team, if there are any stand out. And it has earned accolades not just from the senior players in the side, but also the vast cricketing fraternity.
Former India international Vanitha VR was full of praise for the top-order batter. “You look at someone like Yastika and the way she has adapted to different positions and delivered in every chance she’s got, that is the kind of players India would need going forward,” she told this daily.
While it seems like India might have multiple anchors in the middle-order at the moment, Bhatia is one for the future. Every time she is thrown into deep and different situations, more often than not, Bhatia has come out on top. She’s made sure it would be hard for any captain and team management to drop her.
Going back to Rodrigues' video on the southpaw’s T20I debut, the Mumbai star had said, “for every single girl watching you, that’s an inspiration because those who work hard and never give up their time will come and your time is now.”
It would not be far-fetched to say that Bhatia has made the most of her time in international cricket so far and that she is here to stay.