With Sushma's return to Indian dressing room, Himachal trio's dream comes true

The 30-year-old, Renuka and Harleen grew up together in the HPCA women's residential academy

Published: 15th January 2023 11:42 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th January 2023 11:42 PM   |  A+A-

Indian cricketers Sushma Verma, Harleen Deol and Renuka Singh Thakur. (File Photo)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Sushma Verma vividly remembers her time at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association's women's residential academy in Dharamsala. It is where she grew up, it is where she learnt everything about the sport she had fallen in love with under the watchful eyes of coach Pawan Sen. If not for the academy, she would not have taken up cricket. She says as much. It is the place where she spent years dreaming about playing for India someday. 

However, she did not dream about wearing the India jersey all alone by herself. There were others with her as well, especially two players — Renuka Singh Thakur, who now plays for Railways, and Harleen Deol, who shifted to the academy from Punjab at the age of 13 and is now the captain of the state side. 

The trio spent years together at the academy, pursuing their passion.

For them, it was a shared dream to represent the country together. While Sushma was the first from the academy to make it to the national team back in 2014, it took Harleen five more years and Renuka eight.

Now, nine years after Sushma first broke into the Indian team, the three of them will be together in the Indian dressing room for the first time. And this time, it was the senior most player among three who has made a comeback to the team for the tri-series in South Africa, featuring the hosts, India and West Indies.

"These two (laughs). I remember, we have been together in the residential academy for 11-12 years now," Sushma told The New Indian Express. "Staying 24/7 together and knowing each other very well, not just as a player, but as a human also. That way, we are connected. I am very happy that Renuka is doing very well. This is one of those dreams which I remember we used to talk about when we used to stay in the academy. 'Someday all of us will be playing together for our India.' Which did not seem possible (laughs), so yes, very excited. I am really looking forward."

While Renuka has cemented her place in the Indian team since her maiden call-up in September 2021 and Harleen has made a comeback to the T20I setup for the World Cup, Sushma did not make the squad for the marquee event. However, she will be a part of the tri-series later this month. Dropped after the home series against South Africa back in March 2021, Sushma's selection for South Africa tour comes as a recognition of her performance in the domestic T20 season this year.

Batting in the middle-order, the 30-year-old scored 237 runs (third-highest) at an average of 79 while striking at 105.80, playing a crucial role in Himachal Pradesh reaching the semifinal of the Senior Women's T20. But courtesy of a rain-intervened heartbreak against Bengal, they could not make it to the final. Although devastated, Sushma had to move on to the next challenge. In the Inter-Zonal T20s, she hammered 186 runs at 46.50 average and 121.56 SR, and in the final of the Senior Women's T20 Challengers, Sushma hit an unbeaten 10-ball 13 at No.5, ensuring India D title victory.

It was a result of hard work that has gone behind the scenes. "I have been working to improve my fitness and power-hitting abilities. I have a good setup here. My coaches and the people around me kept pushing me. Every day we had plans and what are the areas I need to work on to meet up the expectations of the Indian setup," she said.

Whether Sushma starts in the first match in the tri-series or not, she knows she is ready, not just with respect to form and physical fitness, but mentally as well. "Whatever comes, I am ready. Whenever I get an opportunity, I have worked hard on how I can be better and make an impact in the middle order. I am just waiting for it, fingers crossed."

We will have to wait and see if she gets a game. But for now, the dream of the Himachal Pradesh trio has finally come true. Come January 19, the three will be there together in the Indian dressing room just like they had dreamt under the starry skies of Dharamsala all those years ago.


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