Komal Zanzad and Bharti Fulmali. ©Facebook

It’s been a busy evening for Komal Zanzad. Her phone is busy and it is after repeated attempts that we get to her. It’s after all the biggest day of her life. The left-arm seamer was named in the Indian squad for the Twenty20 Internationals against England in Guwahati next month, and she could not hide her excitement.

“I got to know about this news in the evening from someone on Facebook,” Zanzad told Women’s CricZone. “I verified it on BCCI (website) and then got to know about it. I was mind blown, speechless. I have got this opportunity after much waiting and efforts. India has a set medium pace unit in Shikha (Pandey) di, Jhulu di (Jhulan Goswami), Mansi (Joshi) di. To break into it was hard, but now I that I have made a place for myself I want to perform well and make the most of it.”

Left-arm seamers are a rare sight in the women’s cricket circuit in India, so when you see a good one it is hard to take your eyes off her. Especially if she is Zanzad, who has been in sensational form this season. Her market value rose even further this week when she picked up three early wickets to reduce England to 11 for 4 while playing for Board President’s XI in a 50-over warm-up match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai few days back.

“It was my first India A (appearance) and it was just a brilliant feeling, especially getting a wicket in the first over was the highlight for me,” Zanzad said. “Before the match the only advice I received from my friends was don’t give away too many runs. I was very confident that it will be my day and I converted it to mine.”

Zanzad bowled six overs in her first spell for the wickets of the famed trio of Tammy Beaumont, Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver, who at that point had a cumulative tally of 11,711 international runs between them. She finished with an impressive analysis of 7-3-14-3.

This is of course not the first time that Zanzad has caught attention. She was picked in the Smriti Mandhana-led BP XI on the back of her excellent show for India Red in their Challenger Trophy triumph in January this year. Before that, in December 2017, she had taken 9 for 8 for Vidarbha against Haryana. It is the best-recorded figures in Women’s List A cricket.

Anju Jain, who was formerly Vidarbha’s coach before joining Bangladesh, is one person along with her family and friends that Zanzad is thankful of. Jain herself heaped praise on Zanzad.

“It was an excellent performance seeing the kind of wickets she got, Sarah Taylor and without anyone’s help – two lbw and one bowled they are all her’s. In Challengers also she has given the same sort of performance,” Jain said. “She has already got a good strong bowling action, her slight adjustment to the non-bowling arm we have done, rest of the things are good. Then we started to work on her pace as a medium pacer must have good pace and we started to work on the fitness.

“In terms of fitness and pace, and above all, she is a very hard working girl. Also, she is that one person who stays very cool and till date, I have never seen her getting upset or raising her voice even a bit,” the former India captain added. “She is that sort of a person who remains very calm and that’s why we gave her captaincy (at Vidarbha) because she stays very cool on the field.”

An ordinary girl, Zanzad, who is now 27 years old, was introduced to the game in the streets of Nagpur where she played gully cricket with the boys. Since then her journey has been filled with ups and downs.

“My journey started off with Gully cricket, I would play with the boys,” said Zanzad. “I neither had the dream to play for my country nor the exposure and knowledge of women’s cricket.” Cricket has it’s way to sink in the lives of some. Komal followed steps of her male friend to join a club, where she learnt about the game. “When one of my male friends joined the club, I too was drawn towards it. That’s when I found out about women’s cricket at the International level. When I started to play in 2005, I didn’t think I could make it until I started working hard for it.”

While cricket is considered to be a game dominated by batters, Zanzad realised that she was unique because of her ability to bowl with her left arm. “Everyone starts off cricket by being a  bowler, but very few continue but I knew that I had a unique left-arm pace which was so it’s rare so I pursed it. My idol Zaheer Khan was also a pace bowler so I continued with that,” she said even while explaining that lack of proper guidance has made it difficult to remain constantly focussed. “Lack of proper guide made me defocus the dream to play for my country I have got good guidelines to follow my dream rejuvenated .”

Women’s cricket in India has evolved over the years, and since BCCI took charge in 2006 youngsters have been able to make a career out of it. While there is still a lot of work to be done, there is a definite calendar to focus on.

”Playing a lot of matches. This season and previous season we played the number of matches, we hardly had any net sessions,” she said on being asked the reason behind her consistency over the last couple of years. “I think that helped me (to perform against England). Every perfect match needs the perfect practice.”

The warm-up game against England also gave Zanzad a chance to rub shoulders with Mandhana who will lead her in the T20Is. “She is one of the best people I have ever met. She is humble and nice and she took everyone along and tried to impart her experience in the team. She told me to play to my strengths and I followed her and you can see the results.”

As and when Zanzad makes her international debut, she will be the first left-arm pacer to represent India in their 45-year cricketing history. She would like to make the occasion memorable with a few more early wickets.

Meanwhile, Bharti Fulmali is the other Vidarbha player to have been named in the T20I squad. Jain also appreciated her temperament as a middle-order batter. She impressed during the Challenger Trophy and has been rewarded.

“One of my team told me (about my selection). I couldn’t believe it. I literally told her to stop lying as I didn’t get the call or had seen anything,” Fulmali said. Later when I got the call from different reporters then I believed the news. I first called up home and my dad was dancing after hearing the news. This means everything to me. It was my dream to represent India. Now I want to prove myself whenever I get the chance. I will try my best to win matches for the country. I would like to thank my family and my dad. He has supported my cricket through thick and thin and is the reason that I play cricket. Also my coach Sandip (Gawande) sir.”

Hailing from Amravati, she looks up to Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir. She, like Zanzad and Mona Meshram (who is now with Railways), is a product of Vidarbha’s strong grassroots structure. With the three of them in the Indian team across formats, it is a vindication of the work that the association has been doing over the years.

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