Over the years the Indian women’s cricket team has depended mostly on spinners along with Jhulan Goswami’s pace. Going into the multi-format series in Australia, India had a fragile pace line-up to go with the experienced Goswami, Shikha Pandey and rookies Meghna Singh and Pooja Vastrakar being the others in the side.

Playing in the first ODI of the series, India’s pace line-up seemed low with Pandey not getting a look in. However, the second ODI onwards, the form of the pacers picked up and they flourished going into the one-off pink ball Test. Playing a support role to the 38-year-old Goswami, Vastrakar hogged the limelight with pace and swing in the Test at Carrara on the Gold Coast.

India dominated the match against the formidable Australia but the heavy rain disruption on the first two days meant there wasn’t enough time to force victory in the four-day match, which ended in a tame draw on Sunday.

Dismissing Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney turned the spotlight on the 22-year-old pacer from Madhya Pradesh. “It was a nice experience bowling with the pink ball under the lights. Pink ball doesn’t move as much as the red ball moves initially. I had fun bowling under the lights when it started moving. Jhulan didi’s and coach Ramesh Powar’s inputs helped me pick confidence in the nets and it worked well during the game,” Vastrakar said about her performance in the Test.

She was the top wicket-taker in Australia’s first innings with 3/49, while she induced Beth Mooney to hole out to deep square-leg with a bouncer in the second innings. Known for her pinch-hitting skills, Vastrakar also impressed with the bat, scoring 57 in the warm-up game and 29 in the second ODI at Mackay.

“I had seen Pooja in domestic tournaments more as a batter. Keeping the ODI World Cup in mind, we were looking for someone who could score runs as well as give us some overs. She fitted that role pretty well. In England, it was different. She was making a comeback after a lay-off and looking for rhythm. Playing in the ODIs against Australia, she did a fine job as an all-rounder. The way she bowled with the pink ball and stood up with Meghna to Jhulan was remarkable,” said skipper Mithali Raj, referring to the player nicknamed ‘chota Hardik’ for her all-round abilities.

Growing up in the small town of Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, cricket was a hobby for Vastrakar to start with. The youngest of seven children—she lost her mother when she was 10 while her father is a retired BSNL employee—Vastrakar nursed the dream of playing for India. She was always encouraged by her siblings, especially her sister, a sprinter who gave up her sporting aspirations to support the budding cricketer.

She was only 15 when a ligament injury forced her to undergo ACL surgery and kept her out of cricket for nearly 10 months. Recovering from that, Vastrakar grabbed the headlines when she hit a 56-ball 51 in her third ODI game against Australia at Vadodara in March, 2018.

“Injuries are never in your control, and one has to work towards recovery. Injuries have always troubled me. During the T20 World Cup in the West Indies in 2018, I picked up a hamstring injury. I could not cement my place in the Indian team due to injuries. Then a lot of time was lost due to the pandemic,” said Vastrakar.

Last season, she came into prominence when she scored two consecutive double centuries—262 and 219 in consecutive days—in the divisional cricket tournament organised by the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association.

With two Tests, 10 ODIs and 20 T20s under her belt, Vastrakar can use the confidence gained in Australia when she goes into the World Cup in New Zealand (March-April, 2022) where the pacers’ role will be crucial.

In the T20 squad—the three-game series will be played at Carrara from Thursday–it would be interesting to see how Vastrakar makes use of the chances and does justice to her all-round abilities.

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