In all the years of Indian women playing one-day international cricket, never before had two pacers taken four wickets each in one innings of a match. This is no longer true after the events of Monday at the Wankhede Stadium as Jhulan Goswami and Shikha Pandey returned with four-wicket hauls, against the visiting World Champions, no less.
Their eight-wicket combo dealt a knockout blow to England’s hopes of winning an ODI series in India as Mithali Raj and Co made it 2-0 with considerable ease, registering a seven-wicket win in the second match.
Of course, Smriti Mandhana made another half century (her 15th) and continued her remarkable run of form in the 50-over format. She is now only behind Mithali Raj in the list of most 50-plus scores by an Indian woman in ODIs. And she looked classy while scoring those 63 runs.
Of course, Goswami was declared player of the match for her 4/30 in 8.3 overs, that included the wickets of Sarah Taylor, Heather Knight and Nat Sciver — the Big Three of England’s batting line-up.
But the biggest positive that came out of the win for India was the continuing resurgence of Pandey.
The medium pacer has been in good form for a while now but the numbers finally reflect how well she has been bowling. On Monday, her figures read: 10 overs, 1 maiden, 18 runs, 4 wickets. And not surprisingly, those were her career-best figures.
The 29-year-old has been a curious case study since the World Cup in 2017. Before the World Cup, she was seen as one of India’s main weapons. She was India’s leading wicket-taker during the tour of Australia in 2016-’17; India’s second-highest wicket-taker in the ICC Women’s Championship (qualifying cycle) ahead of the marquee event; and the highest in the Quadrangular series in South Africa.
But come World Cup, she was not in the best of rhythms. She was dropped after the first two matches, then made a comeback against the big guns South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. She pulled off some crucial breakthroughs as she managed to find good line and length, and more importantly, control her swing.
Then, another inconsistent phase followed. She played only two of the three ODIs against Sri Lanka in 2018, and was eventually dropped for the ICC World T20 altogether. The New Zealand tour, then, was a chance to show she had it in her to be Goswami’s strike partner (and eventually successor) and that’s where she found her rhythm once again.
That didn’t come immediately either. In the first ODI against the White Ferns, she was struggling in the opening spell to contain the swing with the white new ball again even as Goswami hit the ground running. In helpful conditions, Pandey even had to resort to bowling cross-seam to prevent the ball from moving in the air. But the next match onward, her rhythm improved. She was hitting the right lengths early in her spell and started to compliment Goswami.
Back in India, her rhythm improved further. In the first ODI, she precipitated the England collapse with some incisive swing bowling with the new ball. And in the second ODI, it all came together brilliantly for her as she picked up four wickets in two spells, with Raj turning to her for breakthroughs regularly.
The improvement has been steady and she attributed her impressive recent run to a few tweaks in her technique.
“There were a few technical issues, which were brought into my notice by Raman Sir. I was very surprised that I did not realise those (issues). He has been that assuring face in the dressing room,” Pandey said after the second match. “He is someone who you can speak about bowling and he is always there with an opinion about it. I would say, he caught the flaw during the Challengers (he had come down to see the Challengers). Those minute things actually helped a lot.”
Hard work pays off
And the biggest advantage of having Pandey in this form is that it adds a new dimension to this Indian bowling attack. For the longest time, the second pacer position has been sort of a placeholder in this lineup. It was Goswami and the spinners, irrespective of where the team played. If the new ball partner to Goswami provided a few solid overs, it was job done. But we are now at the fag end of the Jhulan Goswami era in Indian cricket, so much so that she gave finding her replacement as the reason for her retirement from T20 cricket. The second pacer position is now a full-fledged hunt for replacing one of the greatest medium-pacer the women’s game has seen.
And during the second ODI, something interesting happened. When Raj wanted to break a partnership, it was Pandey she turned to for a second spell and not Goswami. And Pandey delivered two wickets in one over to reduce England to 95/7.
“I have learnt a lot from her (Jhulan Goswami), her work ethics, for example,” Pandey said. “She is 35-36 and for her to continue her international career and bowl so well...as a youngster when I came into the side, I could learn from her. I could learn from the way she fights back in her second spell.
“There are lot of things, the list is really long. For me it has been her work ethics. She is such a team player and is always ready for the team. If I could emulate 10 per cent of that, I would be doing a great job,’ she added.
Pandey would be happy to know the admiration goes both ways.
“She’s one of the most hard-working cricketers I’ve played alongside in my career,” Goswami had told ESPNCricinfo after the 2017 World Cup.
And, in the middle of a fantastic run of performances, the hard work is starting to pay off. Shikha Pandey is finding her groove and that is great news for Indian cricket.