When India started their campaign in Australia in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, Radha Yadav’s name was missing from India’s playing XI against the hosts. It was a surprise, because she was India’s joint highest-ranked bowler in women’s T20Is.

In the final tally, Yadav might have played just three matches at the tournament but the finer print will tell you that she made an impact for eventual runners-up India whenever she turned up.

Against New Zealand, her late cameo with the bat proved to be pivotal; she picked her career-best figures of 4/23 against Sri Lanka; and in the final, she broke the record opening partnership and supposedly gave a ‘gobful’ to Alyssa Healy that made the batter certain of Australia’s win.

All these instances point to the kind of player and personality the 19-year-old is – passionate, an all-round talent and a fighter.

But for Yadav, the most significant matches at the tournament were the two she wasn’t picked for – the opener against Australia and then against Bangladesh. She had a lukewarm tri-series and, with Poonam Yadav fit again, she missed out as India went for only three spinners.

“The matches I didn’t play were probably the best part for me. It helped me understand myself and my game better. You need that setback sometimes, to understand what you want, what the team needs from you and I figured that out,” she told Scroll.in.

This admission indicates the drive of Yadav, the left-arm spinner who made her way to the Indian team from the bylanes of Mumbai where her father sold milk and vegetables in a tiny stall.

“It was the first time in my career that I had a bad patch, so I like that phase. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again but something good came out of it, I learned a lot because of that. Of course, there was pressure when I played my first match, but I was determined,” she added.

Obsessed with winning

For the straight-talking Mumbaikar, who represents Baroda in domestic cricket, winning is almost an obsession. She is honest about how she is still not over India’s loss to Australia in the final. She thinks about it before going to bed every day and uses it as motivating her to work harder every morning.

“Before the final, I was so focused on winning… that loss hurt. It’s not easy for me to forget that day. Personally, I don’t like losing and it takes me time to recover,” she said.

“I still haven’t seen a single video of that final, not even of my bowling. I avoid even the photos though they keep popping up on Instagram, especially ones of the trophy. It still hurts me when I think about it, it’s impacted me deeply.”

The national lockdown due to coronavirus and the fact that everyone she meets wants to analyse the defeat has made it even harder to put the memory behind.

“We are at home now so it plays up further in my mind. If I was playing or practicing at least, it would have been easier for me to get over it.” she said.

“It’s not a good thing but it’s a motivation for me as well. It pushes me to work harder and I think of that final loss as I am training, to win it the next time.”

Radha Yadav with the player of the match trophy at the T20 World Cup 2020

Backing each other

For now, she is working out in her building in Mumbai and trying to keep fit. After the final in Melbourne, though, the team was understandably shaken.

“No one was showing their emotions and everyone supported each other. Coach [WV Raman] said that we have to work harder and need to have a purpose every time we practice. Mainly everyone was thinking about how it was just a matter of a few mistakes made in two-three hours. But everyone was positive, was saying that next time we will do better and win it,” she said.

“It would have been a big deal… not just for me or for the team, but for women’s cricket in India. I wish I could change that,” she said, adding that a young team gave it all they had.

Asked about what was the infamous thing she said to Healy, Yadav’s response gives another peek into her competitive streak.

“I was involved in the game, not sure what that was and don’t really remember,” she laughed. “If I am not aggressive, I can’t play cricket, my emotions tumble out any way.”

Come a long way

This aggression, so often found on the maidans of Mumbai, has served the teenager well in her short time as a cricketer. From humble beginnings to moving to Baroda with coach Praful Naik, from starting as a batter and becoming one of the most effective spinners in the Indian team, Yadav has come a long way.

Only 19, this was her second T20 World Cup after 2018 and she is already seeing the changes in the Indian team.

“There are lots of positives from Australia, the biggest was the team atmosphere. Nobody is treated like a senior or a junior, everyone knows their responsibility both as individuals and as a team. Everyone is enjoying their own process, doing their role and supporting each other. This sort of a team atmosphere makes a big difference,” she said.

“Everyone is backing each other, giving tips, discussing and enjoying each other’s’ success. The team is largely young as well, we would dance together, watch movies and have fun.”

Even in the spin quartet of the squad – which is the department with the stiffest competition – there’s only camaraderie.

“There is no competition as such but as a group we tell each other how to bowl on a particular pitch. I don’t think anyone thinks of this as competition, everyone knows what’s best for the team so we just back each other,” she said.

The many social media videos back what Radha Yadav says about the camaraderie; that this Indian team has a different energy. They even watched Chak de! India, a very poignant pick for an Indian women’s team playing in Australia. In the reel version, the Indian hockey team came home from Australia with the winner’s trophy. But in real life, in a cricket tournament, the result was different.

For Radha Yadav, the lost final is only adding fuel to the competitive fire she possesses.