CHENNAI: ‘She is an important player and we need her for the next 4-5 years so that she can improve as a cricketer’ is what India skipper Harmanpreet Kaur had to say about all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar ahead of the Sri Lankan tour. It seems clear that the team management wants to manage Vastrakar’s workload so that the 22-year-old could contribute in all three departments for them.
Ever since she made a comeback to the Indian team in 2021, Vastrakar has been a vital member of the Indian squad, operating as the third seamer and an important lower middle-order batter. In their opening game in the World Cup against Pakistan, she put up a record 122-run stand for the seventh wicket with Sneh Rana to put India in position of command. She continued to impress with the ball as well, not just in limited overs, but also in the two Test matches India played last year.
In the ongoing ODI series against Sri Lanka, too, Vastrakar chipped in both the departments when India were in a spot of bother during the chase on Friday. She took two wickets with the ball before scoring an unbeaten 19-ball 21 to take the tourists home. Her role in the team seemed defined not just to those on the outside, but to her as well.
“I play as a bowling all-rounder, the third-seamer who also plays as a lower middle-order batter,” said the 22-year-old on Sunday. “I am working on these facets. Be it bowling or batting: I bowl after the powerplay or maybe a couple of overs in it, so I am working on my variations accordingly. Similarly in the lower-middle order, my focus is on finding a balance between playing the aggressor and rotating the strike with ones and twos,” she said.
Madhya Pradesh chief coach Chandrakant Pandit, who scripted the success story of the senior men in the recently concluded Ranji Trophy, has been working with their women’s and other age-group teams as well in the last couple of years. Having seen Vastrakar from close quarters since he took over, Pandit said the all-rounder is an outstanding player, who has a different calibre compared to her contemporaries.
At this point, the hundreds of camps Pandit had conducted with MPCA is no secret. He said that Vastrakar attended a number of camps whenever she was not on international duty. “The way we conducted the practice sessions, most of them were match simulations where she could understand exactly how she had to go about the shorter format and the one-day format,” Pandit told this daily.
One of the standout qualities of Vastrakar in the recent past has been the way she led her state team and India D in the domestic tournaments and the senior women’s one-day challengers. Pandit, who travelled with the MP women’s team for the senior T20 league, felt that the all-rounder is keen to learn and doesn’t shy away from taking bold calls on the field.
“What I have noticed is that she is eager to know the game and she has a lovely grasping ability. Certain tactics or strategies how to implement and how it helps. She is a good learner of the game. The way she has led the (MP) team, the field setting and how to control the game and those sort of things I was impressed because she was very bold in implementing,” he said.
Pandit also believes that given an opportunity to bat a bit higher in the shorter format, Vastrakar is capable of taking the game forward with the bat. “How the team wants to utilise her is important so I would leave it to the captain and coach,” he said before adding, “but I think, if it were me, I would bat at No 4 or after, especially in T20s. To increase the run rate, I think she needs to have enough overs. Take the case of Venkatesh Iyer. He used to bat for MP at No 6 and 7. But as he started opening, he could play the 20 overs, the rungetting ratio increased. Other players are also there, but if they could use her in that fashion, she is a sensible batter who is capable of moving the scoreboard at any given time.”
With the Commonwealth Games coming up and a T20 World Cup ahead, Vastrakar will have a key role to play for India in the coming year. And as Pandit said, she is a “full package” that the team management might have to handle with care to make the most of her all-round abilities.