Shreyanka Patil prefers to do things a little differently. Unlike most cricketers who choose their words carefully and carry themselves in a conventional manner, Patil wears her heart on her sleeve.

It is a style that pays tribute to what has, so far, been an unconventional career path.

After all, not many Indian cricketers can say that they played in a foreign cricket league before they made their debut in the senior national team.

Patil became the first Indian to participate in the Women’s Caribbean Premier League and her debut season has been an outing to remember. Playing for eventual runners-up Guyana Amazon Warriors, the 21-year-old was the leading wicket-taker at the end of the season with nine wickets from five matches. She was also the first bowler to take a four-wicket haul in the league – against Barbados Royals Women.

“It’s a great feeling because I am representing India in the WCPL,” Patil said in a virtual media interaction. “It’s a platform where I can learn a lot of things. I have done this in the Women’s Premier League which made me a better cricketer and a better person. So, I am just looking forward to play many such leagues.”

The Matthews dismissal

Playing against Barbados Royals Women during the group stage, she dismissed West Indies captain Hayley Matthews with a dream off-spin delivery.

“It was like a box ticked for me,” said Patil of the delivery.

Patil produced a fullish delivery that quickly nipped back in and took a sharp turn, leaving Matthews speechless and knocking the stumps out of place.

“When I practice in India, my coach and I visualize getting batters out,” she explained. “One of them is Hayley Matthews because she is an amazing cricketer. I kind of visualized picking a wicket the same way I did.”

Patil’s coach Arjun Dev encourages her to prepare bowling to the top batters before any tournament. They create a match simulation and visualise getting those wickets.

He pretends to be the batter with just a mitt on his hand and asks Patil “You’re bowling to Hayley Matthews now, what’s the plan?”

Patil then details the fields she would set up and the deliveries she would bowl and how she would change things up if she has been hit.

“The idea is to make her feel like she’s been there and done that a number of times already,” Dev explained to Scroll.

He added: “We knew that she would try and make room and hit over covers.”

Dressing room bonds

Considering the lack of gametime the Indian female cricketers get, exposure to the international stage, pressure situations and the experience of playing alongside accomplished players are paramount.

Having already been part of a star-studded line-up with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the WPL, Patil gained a lot playing alongside the likes of Smriti Mandhana, Ellyse Perry, Sophie Devine and Heather Knight.

“[The WPL] was a great experience for me being a youngster in the team,” she said. “It was just so nice to have them around, guiding me throughout the journey.”

Although in a foreign land, in the Warriors’ dressing room, she found another environment to thrive in with the likes of Shabnam Ismail, Karishma Ramharack, Suzie Bates and Stafanie Taylor.

She recalled, “When I came here, I was like ‘Oh my god, why am I feeling so lonely?’ Because I am the only Indian, I didn’t know anybody. I just knew Sophie. I was like, ‘Okay, fine. This is a platform where I can make a lot of friends and learn a lot of things.’ So, I just tried to gel up with all the people.

“Ismail is a gem of a person,” she added of the South African pacer. “She made sure that I don’t feel lonely here. I keep asking questions and she doesn’t say no for anything. Even though I am a spinner and she’s a pacer, there is a lot of learning because she has played 16 years of international cricket. That’s a lot of experience!”

She acknowledged that having a confidante closer to your age is important but to have the guidance and rapport with an experienced individual is just as essential – it is only Patil’s first year in domestic cricket after all.

She found that support in fellow Karnataka player Veda Krishnamurthy, whom she fondly calls akka, or sister.

“Veda is close to me because she’s seen the growth in me and helped me achieve that growth,” Patil said about their bond. “She’s given me the strength when no one was there.”

A brief but wholesome moment almost validated that sentiment during the WPL when Krishnamurthy made an announcement on on air whilst interviewing Patil saying, “Akka is proud of you.”

An impact player

Patil was adjudged player of the series in the Emerging Women’s Asia Cup in Hong Kong, having picked up nine wickets in two matches, including a five-for against hosts Hong Kong and a four-for in the final. However, she was not named in the Asian Games squad.

But she is not one to mull over her disappointment for too long. All it took was a day for her to process it before she returned to being steadfast in her resolve to make it to the senior squad soon.

“I was disappointed [about not getting a call-up for Asian Games] but it’s okay if I take little more longer than expected,” Patil said. “If I play more matches, that’s a win for me.

“I want to be an impact player who changes matches. Starting with WPL and then followed by the Emerging Asia Cup where in the two games I played, I made sure that I made an impact.”

While coach Dev believes that it was merely an opportunity lost in terms of experiencing the Asian Games village and interacting with other athletes there, her absence in the India squad heading to Hangzhou paved the way for her participation at the WCPL.

“I’d rather have her be ready and own that spot in the Indian team,” said Dev. “And honestly, in all our visualisation, that debut is coming against either Australia or England. So we’ll wait for that.”

It’s still early days in her career but Patil has already got a glimpse of the highs and lows of being a cricketer. She continues to be the first one to go to the ground and the last one to leave. Even against suggestions that she might be working a bit too hard, taking it all way too seriously, overtraining, she admittedly finds it all a lot of fun.

“Ever since I dreamed about playing for my country, I haven’t looked back,” she said. “And if that’s working for me and if I’m having fun, nothing can stop me.”

For any budding athlete who is getting the recognition and success early in their life, a coach often worries about their ward becoming complacent or getting carried away. Dev however, asserted that he has no such worry about Patil.

“As cricketers, you fail more than you succeed,” he said. “So when you have the success, why not fly? I don’t want her to stay grounded. I want her to fly. It’s almost limiting, actually. You’re not working to stay on the ground. You want to be up above everyone else.”

As a memorable season in her first outing at a foreign league comes to a close, Patil seems destined to reach greater heights.

FanCode is the official streaming partner for the Caribbean Premier League and Women’s Caribbean Premier League in India.