Bangla speaking Deepti Sharma is Bengal’s superstar

Deepti Sharma with Jhulan Goswami. ©Karuna Jain/Women's CricZone

Bhalo bowling, bhalo bowling’ – good bowling shouted the fielder in encouragement of the bowler during Bengal’s defence of 198 against Andhra in the inter-state 50-over final at the Just Cricket Ground in Bangalore on Monday (December 31).

It was not surprising to hear someone speak Bangla as Bengal were on the field, but it was not any of the local players but their professional, Deepti Sharma, dishing out the praise.

Deepti was not even close to being associated with Bengal till the start of the last season. She got no-objection certificate from Uttar Pradesh, and immediately Railways and Baroda also seemed interested in having her. Had she gone to Railways, she would have been an important cog in the dressing room after Harmanpreet Kaur left them, and in Baroda she would have had direct link with the then India coach Tushar Arothe. But Cricket Association of Bengal, where Sourav Ganguly is the boss, offered a better job role, and getting to work with Jhulan Goswami also excited her.

Bengal were in desperate need of someone of Deepti’s stature, who had been one of the stars during the 2017 World Cup in England where India lost the final by nine runs. She was the ideal foil to Goswami in their attempt to move out of the plate league in the 50-over competition.

Not only did she help Bengal finish runners-up in the plate group and earn promotion last season, she was also their main performer both with the bat and ball as they won their first-ever silverware when they beat Andhra by ten runs in the 2018-19 50-over competition. She finished as the competition’s highest run-getter and the joint second-highest wicket-taker. With 487 runs and 22 wickets in 11 matches, Deepti’s value to Bengal needs no reiteration but the way she has adapted to a new culture indicates at her adaptability.

“Nisha Maji (her teammate) is my Bangla teacher. I have learnt it from her. She teaches well. I have only learnt the good things. I don’t even listen to any bad thing that is said,” Deepti told with a smile to Women’s CricZone soon after the final. “It is important to adapt to the culture you go into. The faster you get accustomed the better it is, and it is completely upon you. The support staff here, the teammates have played a big role in ensuring that we have a good atmosphere, which meant that it did not take much time for me to gel. Not to forget the constant support from Jhulu di, and also Mithu (Mukherjee) ma’am, who was our selector last year. It gives good motivation to perform well.”

With Bengal having seven members in the support staff, Deepti says it has helped her work on specific areas of her game, and it played a part in her dominating the tournament. “I have improved my shot-making skills. If your approach is positive then there will be results, and am glad to be among top run-getters and wicket-takers,” she added. “I have of course carried the confidence from the World T20 in Windies, but it was a different format. In 50-over matches, you have to stay at the crease, so the mindset was different. The plan was to read the pitch and see how it is behaving initially before playing my shots.”

Deepti scored her runs at a strike-rate of 66.07, raising eyebrows for the number of dot balls she played in all her innings. Goswami, however, said that the team had given a specific role and she is glad that she played it to perfection.

“I was not concerned at all. She is a quality cricketer and only batter in our team who could play till 50 overs. I told her to stay there and play all 300 balls,” Goswami said. “She is not batting regularly in the top-order in the Indian team. I told her, here you do your batting practice, and put up some good examples for other girls on how to play long, take responsibility and build partnerships. She responded really well. Every game, she tried to graft her innings. Whenever needed she played her shots. Its because of her contribution in every match that we won the title.”

Deepti explained that dot balls did not matter if she batted deep into the innings and the team won. She said that the goal in each game that Bengal batted first was to post a total of 200, and that allowed her to play calculatively. “Our realistic target in all matches where we batted first was to make 200. Our bowling attack is very good. We were confident as a bowling unit and it was just about following basics while bowling.”

Deepti was one of the four batters to score two hundreds in the competition, and she rated her unbeaten 106 against Baroda as the most memorable one because “I played my role of batting full 50 overs and others playing support role around me to perfection.”

While as a batter she scored plenty of runs, as a bowler she suffocated the opponent with her tight offspin. She finished the tournament with 410 dot balls – the fifth-most by any bowler.

“The plan was to bowl wicket to wicket and stick to basics. Wickets will automatically come once you put pressure,” she said. “In the final, there was a partnership going on. I was telling everyone to keep calm and take the game to the last over. Whatever happens after that we will see. I said we don’t give up in any situation and take the game till the end.”

Though Deepti made her international debut in 2014, it is the first time that she has dominated the domestic season. “It is a good confidence booster,” she shared. “Credit to my coach back home, Vipin Awasthi sir, and bhaiya (brother). They have worked really hard and never said no to anything I have asked. Here also our support staff – the more said the less about them – have been motivating. Parents are also important. It’s because of all these people that I have reached so far.”

Deepti will not be playing the Challenger Trophy. Her next assignment is India’s tour of New Zealand in January 2019. She has not been to the country before, and said she will speak to Goswami to know more about conditions. They have the option of discussing about New Zealand in Bangla.