Women's World Cup 2022: Pooja Vastrakar, Team India's potential X-factor

Having made her List-A debut in 2013, the lanky Madhya Pradesh all-rounder rose through the ranks rapidly in the next few years.

Published: 02nd March 2022 01:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2022 01:39 AM   |  A+A-

India's fast bowling allrounder Pooja Vastrakar, left, with Mithali Raj

India's fast bowling allrounder Pooja Vastrakar, left, with Mithali Raj (Photo | BCCI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Irrespective of whether it's men's or women's cricket, India's search for fast bowling all-rounders is a never-ending story. And, since the exit of Rumeli Dhar, India's struggle to find a multi-dimensional player to fill that hole – one who can bat, bowl and field has continued. At least, until Pooja Vastrakar broke into the scene in the late-2010s.

Having made her List-A debut in 2013, the lanky Madhya Pradesh all-rounder rose through the ranks rapidly in the next few years. However, her road to the top wasn't a featherbed. Like many Indian pacers, she suffered from a series of injuries before her international career even began.

First, there was a lower back injury in 2016, followed by a major knee injury that required surgery the following year, and then, when her international call-up finally came in 2018, the celebration was cut short with another ACL tear. Back in the squad in 2019, Vastrakar largely warmed the bench through the 2020 T20 World Cup. Finally, a grade-two tear in hamstring injury followed the Covid-19 pandemic meant that Vastrakar did not get a long enough rope to establish herself in the side.

Reflecting on the all-rounder's stop-start career so far, former India head coach WV Raman recently said that during his tenure, Vastrakar's body was often her worst enemy. "She never fully recovered. There was no question about talent. She is very athletic, perhaps the fastest in the setup and can tonk the ball quite a bit," he added.

However — at only 21 — Vastrakar was determined to turn the tide come 2021. She was picked for the England tour; handed her Test debut, but this time, the team management was mindful of her workload. She bowled just 14 overs in the Test match, showing much promise; but it was clear there was still work to be done. Ahead of India's tour to Australia, India had a preparatory camp in Bangalore where head coach Ramesh Powar focussed on the pacers. "Whatever we have, Meghna (Singh) or Pooja (Vastrakar), we are not just focussing on Meghna, there is Pooja, who is an all-rounder, and we are looking forward to her skillset," he said before leaving for Australia.

That work paid immediate dividends Down Under. She bowled 27 overs in the pink-ball Test, taking four wickets, and almost completed her quota of overs in two ODIs. More importantly, she was making an impact: 8 wickets in the series across formats and some handy lower-order contributions too. There was a significant improvement from how she bowled in England.

"I wasn't able to translate my plans from nets to the match. With Powar sir, I worked on my load up and extended my right arm a little bit because of my front-arm action, and it has helped a lot," she said.
Through the tour, Vastrakar had almost nailed her spot down as a useful third seamer who could add power in the lower order, but to cement her spot in the XI, she'd need to level up. In the domestic season that followed, she did exactly that, smashing 261 runs in 6 innings in senior one-day and 161 in 4 in the Challengers, leading India D to the final. More than her performances, her leadership skills stood out.  

In the New Zealand tour ahead of the World Cup, she was at her best, making an impact with the new ball and in the middle overs. "I worked hard on my new-ball bowling after the England and Australia tour during the off-season. Tried to take inputs from seniors worked in the net and focus on the areas I want to bowl," she said.

This time, too, India did not play her in all matches, with a long road ahead in the World Cup. And in the second warm-up match against West Indies on Tuesday, Vastrakar took wickets in the power play, came back to dismiss two set batters in the middle overs, finishing with three for 21 in seven overs.

In a tournament where India will face seven different teams, there will be instances where they will need that extra firepower down the order to make an impact in all three departments. And with Vastrakar peaking at the right time, she could be the X-factor India are looking for.

Brief Scores: India 258 all out in 50 overs (Mandhana 66, Deepti 51; Fraser 2/24) bt West Indies 177/9 in 50 overs (Campbelle 63; Vastrakar 3/21).



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