It was 2015. Sophie Devine played one of the knocks we have now become accustomed to – 70 off just 22 balls with five fours and eight towering sixes. Four of those were hit in a single over – the fifth of the innings. A certain Sneh Rana took a pounding as her only over in the T20I at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru went for 32. Four sixes, two fours.
Rana only played three more internationals after that for India and was discarded. She also had to undergo a knee surgery in that phase.
“She was hit for sixes by Sophie Devine and then immediately after that she had to undergo a knee surgery. I don’t think people dealt with her properly as a player. They just wrote her off,” Nooshin Al Khadeer, former India off-spinner, tells Women’s CricZone.
“I always knew Sneh Rana has got that capability as an allrounder to figure into a bigger league rather than just the domestics. It is just about getting the confidence back and the girl has worked really hard on that.”
“It’s not easy to come back from a bigger league/platform where you are hammered for six (four) sixes in an over. Sometimes it just hits your brain. But from there to make a comeback you needed something extra from the player and she’s shown that.”
In 2018-19, when Al Khadeer was the selector of Railways, she wasn’t happy with Rana’s work ethics and checked with her if she’s content with the way her career was progressing. Al Khadeer observed that Rana was not using enough of her trunk in her bowling and that she needed to focus on getting fitter.
“Being a spinner, it is very important to have a very flexible trunk. That helps in getting more bite from the wicket,” she explains.
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The following year, Al Khadeer was appointed Head Coach of Railways and one of the first things she did was to give more responsibility to Rana.
“I always felt as a player she was calmer and if I could give her more responsibility in the absence of Mithali (Raj, captain) and Punam Raut, (it would do her good). The first thing I did was make her the deputy of Railways, so that her focus is more on planning and on thinking about the game.”
“When you start thinking about the team, you’ll need to live up to the expectations from the players. So you’ll need to perform. Being an allrounder she had an extra inch where she could deliver through her batting or through her bowling. She took it up as a challenge.”
Responsibility seemed to get the best out of Rana. She led Railways in the 2019-20 domestic season whenever Mithali Raj was on international duty. She scored 168 runs in the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy at an average of over 42 and a strike rate of 131.25. The spin bowling allrounder also had eight wickets to show for her efforts. She was also part of the T20 Challenger Trophy where she picked up three wickets and followed it up with four scalps for India A in the Quadrangular series featuring India B, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Rana also enjoyed fruitful returns with the ball in the Senior Women’s One Day Trophy last season. She returned 11 wickets, before the tournament came to a halt due to COVID-19.
“She was a little disheartened that she could not get runs. I told her to not give up and from last year to this year, she lost another three-four kilos. Her work ethics have become better. Her focus and diet have changed completely,” says Al Khadeer.
In 2020-21, she continued from where she left off and displayed her allround prowess. She led Railways to the Senior One Day Trophy final - before Raj returned for the title-clash - and picked 18 wickets – the most in the competition – as well as scored 160 runs in the lower middle order at a strike rate of 123.07.
Additionally, over the last two seasons, the off-spinner has taken two six-fers in the 50-over competition.
“Once you start tasting blood, you want it more and that’s what has happened.”
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Al Khadeer revealed that she had to work a bit on Rana’s run up and use of the bowling crease and explains the methodical hard work that has played a part in the 27-year-old's recent success.
“If a batter can knock hundred balls why can’t the bowler be consistently bowling to improve her line and lengths? The idea is about temperament, and temperament is only built when you spend a lot of time working on that particular skill. That’s what I did with her and the other bowlers.”
“It’s not about the one and a half hours of net session – you are just fine-tuning your skills in nets. Long hours of single wicket bowling and trying things has made a difference. She has not been hesitant and has been hitting the right areas consistently. That comes after a period of repetitive practising of skills.”
“If you want to bowl ten overs with proper line and length consistently, you can’t be practising for ten overs. You’ve got to practise for 20 overs so that these ten overs are going to be better for you.”
Rana’s returns over the last couple of years meant she couldn’t be kept out of the national side for long. She received a call-up for the tour to England and made her Test debut on Wednesday (June 16). Part of a two-pronged off-spin bowling attack that India chose to go ahead with, Rana returned four wickets in her first go with the red cherry.
“She’s bowled as if she’s been in the team for a long time and that gives me immense pleasure,” states Al Khadeer.
It is 2021. Rana is now a Test cricketer and will also possibly play a role in the ODIs and T20Is. And it could well make the other toilers in the domestic circuit hopeful of getting their due. Even with a skill that is not so special.