Deepti Sharma is one of the favourite topics of conversation in Indian cricket in recent times. Her bullet throws from the deep draw adulation. The elegance with the bat once she settles down is worth drooling over. Her patience and love for the long haul are well documented. Her impeccable lines and lengths with the ball saw her bowl three maiden overs in a T20I.
But the recent conversations revolve around her batting position and approach especially in limited overs cricket. Should she bat at No.5 in ODIs? Is she the finisher that India want? But she can’t tonk the ball, can she? Should she even play T20Is? Do you bat her at six or push her up the order?
On Sunday, Sharma was back at the County Ground in Hove – the place where she played out one of her best finishing acts with the bat. In the second T20I against England, India had walloped to 72 for two in nine overs, thanks to Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, after which Sharma walked in at No.4.
From 73 for two after ten overs, India added only 29 in the next five overs. Harmanpreet Kaur, who had walked in at No.3, and Sharma, faced 17 dots together, with the latter accounting for seven of those. Though Kaur faced more dots, she made up for it with a couple of fours and sixes each.
Sharma couldn’t get the timing right throughout her 27-ball stay in the middle. She could find the fence only once, when a sweep off Freya Davies found the gap at deep mid-wicket. The southpaw ended her innings on 24 with just one four and a strike rate of 88.88. Had she done enough having walked in with a good platform set by the openers? Did she potentially hold India back from a possible score of 160?
“When I was batting, I was looking forward to building a partnership and also score six to seven runs per over,” Sharma said in the post-match press conference.
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"That was the mindset but we couldn't score as much as we wanted. We had got a good start, we thought we can score 160 but the 140 total wasn't bad because we knew as a bowling unit, we bowl in partnerships and we were supporting each other and we could defend the total.”
“Actually the wicket was holding up a bit. In the last match, the ball was coming onto the bat, but today it was holding, it was slightly slow off the pitch, so it was little difficult batting.”
England were cruising with Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight going along smoothly. After nine overs, the hosts were 74 for two and needed just 75 more in 66 balls. That is when Sharma was handed the ball.
The off-spinning allrounder made things happen almost immediately – despite having nothing to do with it directly – as Beaumont almost dropped her bat onto her stumps while nudging the ball to the on side. A quite over to begin for Sharma. Just six runs given away. And then out of the attack.
Sharma was then brought back after three overs. By then England had gained a firm hold over the game. They needed just 44 runs in seven overs with a well-set Beaumont on 59. The English opener went for a reverse sweep, missed and was struck on the pad. Sharma thought she had her woman but the on-field umpire thought otherwise. Only a millimetre saved Beaumont as the impact of the ball hitting her pad was 'umpire’s call' on the DRS.
A couple of balls later, though, Sharma finally managed to break the 75-run partnership when she trapped Beaumont in front. This time the England batter opted to review the call but the ball was clipping the stumps, which was enough for India as the on-field call was in their favour.
But life was still good for England. Amy Jones looks at ease against spin, Knight had got her eyes in and was on 30. Sophia Dunkley, Katherine Brunt, Sophie Ecclestone… all capable batters were still in the hunt.
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And then the decisive moment of the game happened, with Sharma, again, as the protagonist. Jones punched her first ball right back towards Knight at the non-striker, but Sharma got to her right to field it and had Knight in a tangle. In the meanwhile, the ball ricocheted off her knee onto the stumps at the bowler’s end, with Knight stuck outside the crease. Sharma knew how big that wicket was, for it was evident in the way she ran in celebration towards captain Kaur.
In her next over, Sharma was yet again calmness personified. She collected a flat throw from Mandhana at deep mid-wicket to run Sophia Dunkley, who was charging back for an ill-advised second run, out. England had managed to go from being at two for 106 to five for 120 with Sharma playing the role of the proverbial cat amongst the English (batting) pigeons.
“I like playing in pressure situations in any position in the team - batting, bowling, or fielding,” said Sharma. “As an allrounder, I just want to contribute to my department and take the team forward.”
“I like leading from the front. In domestic tournaments when I play as a senior player and win matches for my team, that gives different confidence. When you bring that confidence here (it helps). Of course, this platform is not easy but it depends on how you handle it. I now know how to read and handle situations, so I find it easy to play because I know I can handle things easily now.”
In sport, like in life, there are multiple chances to get up when you are down. Watching from afar, you always want your favourite players or those from the team you support to be winners. There’s an expectation of them to come good every single time. But as journalists, you take a closer look at them and their performances and realise the many layers that exist, much beyond the binary of win-lose.
Deepti Sharma, probably, experienced a fall in Hove. But she also found a way to rise immediately. And that augurs very well for Team India.