Kiran Navgire is the perfect specimen for a finisher. She has the power and range, honed by her years as a javelin and shot put thrower, that allows her to hit sixes in all directions, irrespective of the bowler she faces.

In her brief dabble in athletics, she also trained as a short-distance runner, which gives her the speed to run between the wickets in cricket – a perfect tool to squeeze out a few more precious runs towards the end of an innings.

But on Wednesday night, UP Warriorz captain Alyssa Healy revealed that Navgire had requested the team management to let her open the batting.

It is still unclear as to whether this change in the batting lineup was made before or after regular opener Vrinda Dinesh had to be helped off the field due to an injury while fielding.

But what was clear was the blistering hitting on display as the UP Warriorz cruised to their first win in the 2024 Women’s Premier League on the back of Navgire’s 57 off 31, with six boundaries and four sixes.

The 29-year-old from Solapur has had an unusual start to her cricket career. It was only in 2017 that she decided to make the shift to the sport after having spent 10 years competing nationally in javelin throw, shot put and 100m events.

Cricket was not a big deal in her hometown, let alone women’s cricket.

“When I told my family that I wanted to play cricket, my father and elder brother were very upset,” recalled Navgire in an interaction with Scroll.

She had already secured admission for a Bachelors in Physical Education degree in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. She had already paid for tuition and lodging at the college, but decided to take a chance on cricket after impressing the organisers of an invitational tournament in Pune in 2017.

“Looking back, I don’t regret making the decision [to quit her academic engagements and pursue cricket],” said Navgire.

“The way I practised and worked hard, I have to go further, win matches and play better. I want to spend time with the best players and learn from them.”

The javelin throw event today is a rage in the country after the heroics of Neeraj Chopra. But the discipline was looked at through a different lens when she was throwing the spear in 2016-17.

Navgire claimed her middle class family did not have the means to support her athletic endeavours, which required her to travel to Patiala for training. She had decided to let go of those dreams and take up a job instead.

Then came the invitational tournament organised by the Pune District Cricket Association, where Navgire scored 429 runs in five matches. It wasn’t just the volume of runs, but the manner in which she got them – big, powerful and consistent hitting.

This was a player who did not have much formal cricket training, yet she was clearing the boundaries with ease. Seeing that performance, she was approached by coaches who offered her an all-expenses paid ride to a cricket academy in Pune.

“I felt that this was an opportunity for me and I didn't think much,” said Navgire, smiling as she recalled the life-changing decision.

“But after I moved to Pune and started living in a hostel, I realised that I didn’t have much time and started practising all day.”

Starting out in the domestic circuit at the age of 23 was unusual. Especially considering that some of the players she would soon share the Maharashtra dressing room with – Devika Vaidya and Anuja Patil – had already made their international debuts by the time Navgire first emerged on the domestic scene.

This sense of urgency prompted Navgire to dedicate all her time to practising, getting up at 5 am and soaking up as much information as possible to improve her batting style. It paid off when she received a call-up to the Maharashtra state team, solidifying her decision to move cities.

“I was very demotivated in the beginning [after quitting her degree in Ahmednagar] so I had to succeed in front of my family,” explained Navgire.

“I started sending whatever money I was earning from match fees back home and slowly my father started accepting me playing cricket. I asked him to give me one year to succeed in this.”

Although her stint with her home state didn’t last long, it was when she moved to Nagaland that things began to fall into place.

In the 2021-22 Senior Women’s T20 Trophy, Navgire struck a stunning 162 off 76 balls, hitting 10 boundaries and 16 sixes in a match against Arunachal Pradesh as an opener. She would finish the tournament as the highest run-getter with 525 runs, single-handedly powering Nagaland to the quarter-finals where, despite her half-century, the team’s campaign ended against Kerala.

That innings against Arunachal Pradesh was also special because it made Navgire the only Indian batter, men or women, to score over 150 runs in a T20 innings.

Later in the year, she was snapped up by the Velocity for the Women’s T20 Challenge, the precursor to the WPL, where she impressed with an innings of 69 off 34 balls, including five sixes and just as many boundaries.

It was also during this time that Navgire formed a close friendship with Indian all-rounder and current UP Warriorz teammate Deepti Sharma. While the duo’s respective trajectories in the sport are wildly different, their personalities are quite similar.

Cheeky smiles and a love for table tennis, their friendship is based on the foundation for constantly learning about the game and enjoying themselves while playing. The similar role both share in batting has also helped solidify their bond.

“Since I made my international debut [in the T20I series against England in September 2022], we have understood each other very well,” said Navgire about her teammate, Sharma.

“She [Sharma] helped me to understand more about the game, what shots to play when, so we keep discussing that. Whenever we practise together, we also discuss how we will both finish the innings if we bat together.”

As Navgire started making a name for herself on the domestic circuit, her family would slowly come around to the existence and growth of women’s cricket.

She had made an important switch in 2017, moving from athletics to cricket.

On Wednesday, another important switch – from batting at No 6 to starting as an opener – may have brought in the upward curve the late cricket-entrant was looking for.