SURAT: Almost a year ago, when she was dropped from India’s squad for the World T20, it seemed Shikha Pandey’s journey as a cricketer was over. The team had the young Pooja Vastrakar, Mansi Joshi and Arundhati Reddy to lead the pace attack after Jhulan Goswami’s retirement.
Fast forward one year, the team is looking up to the same 30-year-old, with five months to go for the next WT20. The break was a blessing in disguise for her. "I can’t control what others think, write or do,” Shikha said ahead of the T20I series against South Africa.
"I’ve been in a better headspace in terms of being at peace with who I’m. I still read but make an effort to not get carried away. Narrowing the focus to get rid of unwanted information has helped," she told TNIE.
With Pooja returning to the international stage after an injury lay-off, Mansi and Arundhati being works in progress, the onus will be on Shikha to deliver in Australia come February. “We have a series against West Indies before going to Australia. Concentrating on these series is important. The World Cup is huge, but there’s still time.”
For Shikha, consistency took a hit last year. She featured in only half of India’s engagements last year and took seven wickets in 10 matches. With a young bunch of pacers emerging, she was dropped for the first time since making T20I debut in 2014.
However, 2019 has been kind to her so far. The 50-over Challengers Trophy in January saw her lead India Red to the title. It was then that coach WV Raman suggested a few tweaks in her technique. "Raman sir pointed out a minor technical flaw that he saw during the Challengers. Correcting it worked wonders for me. He showed faith in my skills," said Shikha.
Shikha made a comeback in the T20Is series New Zealand in January but did not feature in a game. Then came her watershed moment. In the ODIs against England at home in February, she scalped eight wickets in three matches including a career-best 4/18. Though one may argue the formats are different, it was during this series that she showed signs of resurgence. "I believe one learns from failures. Being the same person off the field irrespective of my performance has always been my priority. It’s just that I have become a better player on the mental front," she said.
Working with the Indian Air Force has also played a vital role. An avid reader and occasional blogger, she does not shy away from speaking her mind, be it Serena Williams’ US Open controversy or UNESCO’s Literacy Day activities.
“I am a Squadron Leader. The pride of representing your country is a big motivation to work harder because I believe the work I put in during off-season will help me when I play tournaments later on. Books are also a great source of motivation.”
The 30-year-old will be expected to spearhead the pace attack in the upcoming World T20 if she remains relevant. If she carries her current form to Australia, India’s chances of winning a title they never have will receive a boost.