In the 14 ODIs she had played before the 2022 ODI World Cup, the numbers didn’t make for particularly impressive reading for Sneh Rana. She had a batting average of 11.33 and a bowling average of 39.92.
Deepti Sharma had usurped the role of India’s premier off spin bowling allrounder and Rana had not gotten many opportunities since making her debut for the country in 2014.
While the numbers look ordinary, Rana had made gamechanging contributions in several matches since her second coming in June 2021. She helped the India draw the Bristol Test and was a key part of the Indian team’s successful chases in Worcester and Mackay, where her lower order hitting helped the team to better the required rate.
Rana played only three of the five matches on India’s tour of New Zealand before the World Cup and was not a sure starter for India’s opening game against Pakistan in the World Cup.
Ever since she was picked for that Pakistan match, possibly because India wanted a genuine allrounder at no. 7, Rana’s numbers have brooked no argument.
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In six matches at the World Cup, Rana has averaged 25 at a strike rate of 92.59 despite having not batted higher than number 7 in five of India’s six matches. Her bowling has proved even more valuable as she’s currently top of the wicket-takers tally in the tournament, taking 10 at an average of 18.60 and an extremely impressive economy rate of 4.
Only Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Jhulan Goswami have bowled more overs for India than her in the tournament and her bowling has allowed India to play a specialist batter in Shafali Verma rather than Deepti, making the batting line up a lot more dynamic and menacing.
Rana’s value to the team can be gauged from her performances in India’s three wins so far, where she has scored 92 runs at an average on 92 and picked up nine wickets at a stunning average of 8.77.
It’s fair to say that India’s fortunes in the tournament have mirrored Rana’s. In the three matches that India have lost, Rana has only scored 18 runs at an average of six and picked up a solitary wicket at an average of 107.
While she may not have a Player of the Match award to show for her efforts, she has received wholesome praise from her teammates. Gayakwad, who has led India’s spin attack over the last World Cup cycle, has long known Rana, with them having played together for Railways in recent years.
Speaking of the improvements Rana has made, Gayakwad said, “We have been playing together ever since she became a part of the Railways team. She is a very good spinner and it feels really good to see her bowl and take wickets. We know each other very well. This understanding matters a lot as it helps us to build partnership and we also bowl in tandem a lot. We have good bonding.”
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Rana began the World Cup in fine fashion, rescuing India from a spot of bother at 114-6 against Pakistan and recording a record partnership with Pooja Vastrakar for the seventh wicket. Vastrakar, in fact, credited Rana for that partnership after the match, saying, “When I first came out to bat Charu di (Rana) was well set and she told me how the wicket was behaving. We decided to only take singles and doubles initially and not take undue risks.”
Not only did Rana take India to a position of safety, she batted out the 50 overs and remained unbeaten at the end. She then followed up with the ball as well as he picked up two wickets and only conceded 27 runs in nine overs.
“It was my dream to represent my country as part of the World Cup team. And yes, finally this moment came in my life. And if you perform when your team needs it, then it becomes a more valuable moment. So, I am feeling very satisfied today," Rana said after the opening fixture.
Rana has now made a habit of performing when the team needs it the most and she followed up with another match-winning performance against West Indies in the very next match after India suffered a big loss against New Zealand.
Having batted only two balls and remained unbeaten after being pushed down to number nine in the batting order, Rana was also the last bowler that Mithali Raj through the ball to as West Indies made a rapid start and reached 100 in just 12 overs.
Rana struck off her second delivery as Deandra Dottin’s power-packed innings ended at 62 off 46 deliveries after she could not get hold of a sweep against a ball that had a little bit of extra bounce.
Having dismissed the biggest threat, Rana went on to take two more wickets, including the in-form Hayley Matthews who had already scored a 100 in the tournament.
It is Rana’s knack of taking wickets and being involved in the big moments that makes her an invaluable asset. Having captained Railways in the domestic circuit, she also has a sharp, analytical mind, which helps her keep her calm in crunch situations and not get fazed.
That ability served her well again in the must-win match against Bangladesh on Tuesday. India were once again in a precarious position with the bat at 176-6, but Rana stepped up again, scoring 27 off 23 in a match where no other batter (minimum two balls faced) scored at a strike rate of over 100.
After taking India to an above par total on a very challenging surface, Rana made an even more telling contribution with the ball to finish with her new career-best figures of 4-30, including the big wickets of captain Nigar Sultana and Rumana Ahmed, a player who has often troubled India in the past.
Speaking of Rana’s spell, Nigar said, “I think she was trying to bowl in good areas today and was using the conditions well. And I think it has worked for her. And obviously I think the lack of concentration played its part, I was trying to hit over the top but couldn't connect well. That's why I got out.”
However, it was Player of the Match Yastika Bhatia, who best summed up Rana’s contribution in a post-match interaction with Rana for BCCI.
“Hamari rakshak hai ye (she is our saviour).”