Just when the dust had settled in on Deepak Chahar creating ripples with the ball on the other side of the world against Bangladesh, Deepti Sharma began to weave her own bit of magic at St Lucia as India won the second Twenty20 International by 10 wickets.
Harmanpreet Kaur yet again decided to gamble with Sharma in the powerplay overs, and she did not disappoint. The West Indies batters adopted a cautious approach, perhaps thinking of shielding their wafer-thin batting lineup after captain Stafanie Taylor was ruled out. Sharma, without really getting prodigious turn, or even picking up a wicket, had done her bit in just two overs.
The pressure to cash in on the field restrictions got the better of the Windies, who were bogged down by this stage; they lost two wickets in the next nine deliveries. It was exactly the momentum Harmanpreet needed. With spin wizard Poonam Yadav and the dependable Radha Yadav frustrating the batters further in the middle overs, India were in the driver’s seat and never allowed their opponents to get out of second gear.
Chedean Nation and Natasha McLean led a brief recovery for the hosts, but it never threatened to take the game away from India. The duo are capable of using the long handle and a big flourish was on the cards with just three overs to go. Sharma was given the ball, and this time, she all but bolted the door on West Indies’s hopes with an extraordinary burst. Nation and McLean were well-planned dismissals with Sharma showing good grasp of varying the flight of the ball. Shinelle Henry was outfoxed by a delivery that had a flatter trajectory and Sheneta Grimmond had no pace to club the ball out of the park.
A score that barely sneaked over 100 was never going to trouble the rejuvenated Indian top-order. Teenager Shafali Verma, for the second time in under 24 hours, made a mockery of the bowlers.
For Sharma, this was yet another fancy showreel that signifies why she is so crucial to this setup. Her ability to out-think batters is also a testament to her acumen. Do we have a future leader here? Only time will tell, but Sharma is making giant strides in a season where she has already upped her game by a few notches.
The holder of India’s highest individual ODI score may not have got many opportunities over the past two months to showcase her destructive batting credentials, but her brilliance to steer Western Storm to the Women’s Super League title in England won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Moreover, Sharma’s role with the bat has looked vague; that of a floater who is shuffled across the order depending on the team’s requirements.
That being said, it is the top-order’s consistency that has created this scenario: Sharma can be an anchor in the middle-order but will be promoted as a pinch-hitter too. Her record 188, incidentally, came as an opener. But, performances like these will force the management to take her even more seriously, especially when the team’s lower-middle order continues to be an area that needs immediate attention.
The Agra-born all-rounder is riding a wave of confidence and had even outshone leading spinner Poonam Yadav in certain phases during the recent ODI series. It also allows the management to create a balance with three spinners – India’s trump card and winning formula.
At just over 22, Sharma is already a seasoned pro. Verma may have snatched the spotlight with yet another barnstorming fifty but the victory was set up by the bowlers. After churning out match-winning performances effortlessly, almost slipping under the radar with her low-key personality, sky’s the limit for Sharma. At this rate, the day won’t be far before she is talked about in the same breath as Ellyse Perry, Taylor, Sophie Devine and Nat Sciver – the great all-rounders of the modern game.
Sharma is bridging that gap without making much of a noise. While it was batting that helped her taste silverware in franchise cricket, India needs Sharma’s streetwise bowling and livewire fielding the most as they chase their first T20 World Cup title early next year.