CHENNAI: India were reeling at 114 for six. Against Pakistan. In a World Cup match. Normally, this would set off the panic button amongst fans, but this team has seen this movie before. In fact, in their previous outing against Pakistan in 2017, India were down to 111 for six, from where they went on to add another 58 runs to their tally before bundling out Pakistan for 74.
If it was Sushma Verma, who rose to the occasion back then, on Sunday, the onus was on Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana. The two all-rounders, who had grabbed every opportunity that came their way in the last 12 months. And, there couldn’t be a pair who has had more contrasting journeys to the top and while having so much in common.
Both broke into the Indian team as teenage prodigies before slipping through the system. While Vastrakar struggled with multiple injuries from 2018 to 2021, Rana, who now plays for Railways, had to toil in the domestic circuit, performing consistently for over the last few years before eventually making a comeback during the England tour.
With 17 overs to go, them being the last recognised batting pair, Rana held one end early in the stand as Vastrakar took on the spinners, Nida Dar and Anam Amin, who had troubled the top-order. That they gave Vastrakar width outside off-stump, which she pounced on, did not help Pakistan’s cause. Gaining confidence from that, she did not spare even the pacers Diana Baig and Fatima Sana, cruising to a 48-ball fifty.
While Bismah Maroof’s team was taken aback by the unexpected counterattack, Rana wasn’t one bit surprised, watching from the other end. In fact, just a few months ago, in December, she was on the receiving end of a Vastrakar-onslaught in the Senior Women’s Challengers. The India D skipper smashed a 96 in the league game against Rana’s India A, but was run out early in the final, something she remembered vividly.
“I have known Pooja for a long time and she is very good at rotating the strike. In domestic cricket, when she was playing against me, to be honest, I was thinking that if she continues to play like this, she will win the final match as well. Luckily, that was our day and we grabbed the victory,” said Rana after the match.
Playing against each other frequently in the domestic circuit over the last few years meant that the pair knew each other's game in and out, which worked out perfectly for India as they went to record the best seventh wicket stand (122) in ODI history.
The most important trait on Sunday, however, was how the duo hardly played any dot balls, building a partnership with singles and doubles — something Rana had shown in the limited chances she had got so far. Known for her cheekiness with the bat, Rana made the most of the lines and lengths Pakistan offered her, scoring one-third of her runs behind square on either side. From 21-ball ten at one point, she brought in the late cut, guide-through-third man; the sweeps and scoops also came into picture as the all-rounder manipulated the field and scored without any sort of discomfort.
After spending the last few years outside the national setup, especially missing the 2017 ODI and three T20 World Cups, on Sunday Rana was living her dream. And, she could not have delivered a better performance on her World Cup debut.
“It was my dream to represent my country as part of the World Cup team. Yes, finally this moment came in my life. And if you perform when your team needs it then it becomes a more valuable moment. So, I am feeling very satisfied today.” she said.
While Vastrakar (67) got out in the penultimate over, Rana finished with an unbeaten 53 off 48 balls, taking India to 244 for seven. From thereon, it was just a formality as the bowlers handed them a comfortable 107-run win.
Pakistan prepared for the Indian top-order strategically and even executed it well, but Rana and Vastrakar came out of the syllabus, showing what they are capable of at the biggest stage. And it would be fair to say that this is just the beginning as we are going to see a lot of them through the course of this World Cup.