‘Switched on’ Radha Yadav revels in support role

Radha Yadav (c) celebrates a wicket with her team-mates. © ICC

An average age of around 23 means there is a lot of song and dance in the Indian dressing room. It also means less baggage from previous World Cups. Less experience equals less fear. It’s easier to be fearless when you don’t know what there is to be afraid of.

When the last T20 World Cup in 2018 began, Radha Yadav was fearless. Her bowling style was perfectly suited to the wide-outside off line that India employed so effectively in that tournament. Her fielding was uninhibited by the possibility of failure; a flying return catch against Australia was indicative of as much. She had had a good first year in international cricket.

But at the start of this World Cup, Australia 2020, Radha might have been afraid. Suddenly everything was not quite right. Suddenly, she had lost her place in the Indian team.

“I was disappointed, but I was ready for that because I wasn’t doing well,” she said of being dropped. Rajeshwari Gayakwad had forced her way back into the Indian side, by topping the wicket-taking charts in the Challenger Trophy, and then topping the charts in the tri-series. Gayakwad took 10 wickets in five games at an economy rate of 6.3. Radha took four in four games, at an economy of 7.2, a run higher than her usual economy of around 6.2.

So despite being on a 21-match wicket-taking streak, Radha warmed the bench as India played three spinners and two pacers in the opening two games. “I was backing myself, I knew that if I work hard I will definitely play and help the team win,” she said. Sometimes, all a player needs is a kick up the backside. A reminder to not take one’s spot for granted. Some sideline perspective, some starvation to get the hunger going.

As India switched to a four-spinner strategy in their third game against New Zealand, Radha came back in and made an immediate impact, first with the bat. A six, lofted cleanly over long off, in an innings of 14, in a partnership of 32, after India were 111 for 7 with just under three overs to play (she often has insisted that she loves her batting more than her bowling). Then against Sri Lanka, a return of 4 for 23, career-best figures. Now, for the second time in Radha’s short career, India have a chance to play a World Cup final. And this one, is on the massive MCG.

ALSO READ: Veda and her bid to make it all worth it

Even to dream of such a space is a huge step up from where Radha has come from. Her adversity has shaped her: her fielding skills have been honed by Mumbai’s box cricket scene, urban India’s fix for their cricket craze and solution for their lack of space. Her passion, so evident in her celebrations, comes from an awareness of the sacrifices her parents made to enable her to play cricket. Her tenacity comes from having dreamed of playing for India at 14, shifting cities and teams for that dream, and achieving it four years later.

“I will dedicate this performance to my family”, she said after the game. “They have also worked very hard for this.” Those sacrifices have paid off. Radha’s current financial realities have meant that her family’s business -their milk, vegetable and grocery shop – could find a proper home. Her coach, Praful Naik, no longer has to help her much with her investments; she takes most of the decisions herself.

“I don’t talk to family much on tour,” she declares. Well she’s the heart and soul of the touring family. Often the first to get the music on, always first the one to then break out into a jig. She seems to seek out the company of excellence, often appearing in the Instagram feeds of Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues, besides being managed by the same agency. And her success has coincided with having those who know their craft around her. Her wicket-taking run began on India’s tour to Sri Lanka in late 2018, where former India off-spinner Ramesh Powar took the reins. And since last November, former India leg spinner Narendra Hirwani has been added to the staff. 

“We have been working together since the West Indies tour,” she said of Hirwani. “My mindset was also not right, I was really thinking a lot about my action. Sir really supported and took the pressure off me about that. He has really supported me well. Thank God it’s working out.”

The healthy competition in the Indian spin contingent, though Radha doesn’t like the word, has helped. “It’s not competition. We help each other, talking about how to get it done, support each other.While bowling we talk about where to bowl, what to bowl on which surface. We don’t really talk about competition.”

That her career-best performance came on Leap Day was pretty appropriate timing for someone, who likes to lift the bowler into the air each time they affect a dismissal. It was the perfect way to cement India’s commitment to a four-pronged spin attack, leading into a semifinal at a venue that favours spin. The final piece of the bowling puzzle had fit into place.

If you see dance moves in Sydney, don’t say you hadn’t been warned.