It’s not easy being Deepti Sharma!
In the semi-finals against arch-rivals Australia in the 2017 World Cup, the world witnessed Harmanpreet Kaur at her absolute best en route to her record-breaking knock of an unbeaten 171 runs; little do the people remember, there was a young girl at the non-striker's end who played one of the most important knocks of her career.
With the Indian team tottering at 101 for the loss of three wickets in 25 overs, Deepti Sharma forged a crucial 137-run stand along with the right-hander to power India to a formidable first-innings total on the board.
There ain't any surprise that fans across the nation and cricketing pundits around the globe heaped praises on the then Indian vice-captain for her heroics, but most people forgot to appreciate the silent servant of Indian cricket in Deepti.
It is fair to say that Indian cricket is blessed to have someone of the calibre of the 25-year-old who is well accustomed to playing some of the most challenging roles in international cricket with utmost ease.
With Smriti Mandhana injured just before the World Cup, the southpaw was assigned the responsibility of opening the batting and forged a mammoth 320-run opening stand with Punam Raut, the highest in the history of women's cricket to etch their name in the record books.
Despite her valiant batting performance and an impressive average of over 55 in the 13 innings she has opened thus far, the all-rounder was slotted down the order once Mandhana regained fitness in the World Cup.
In eight years since her debut in 2014, it is hard to phantom the fact that the team management has not managed to zero down on her batting position as the southpaw has batted from number one to nine and excelled in each of them.
Four years after being an integral part of the team in the 2017 World Cup, all eyes were on the Agra-born player as the Indian side embarked on their journey to New Zealand for the much-awaited ODI World Cup.
A couple of lukewarm performances in the lead-up to the final match of the group stage, Deepti was handed the final over of the game with South Africa needing seven runs.
However, a no-ball on the penultimate delivery that dismissed Mignon du Preez ensured the Proteas stayed in the contest and ultimately knocked India out of the showpiece event.
While the scars of the World Cup are still fresh in the minds of the players and the fans and, most importantly, Deepti, she vowed to make amends and returned back to her basics in the series against Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth Games.
With runs and wickets slowly making the noises for all the right reasons, the all-rounder was yet again in the eye of social media and cricketing pundits in the final ODI against England at the Home of Cricket.
The game was an emotional one as far as the fans of Indian cricket are concerned, as Jhulan Goswami was all set to bid adieu to the sport after two decades.
With the home team needing 16 runs and only one wicket remaining, Deepti ran out Charlie Dean at the non-striker's end, which sent social media into a frenzy with the debate surrounding the spirit of the game.
Despite being a legitimate mode of dismissal, the all-rounder was criticised for her actions by the former players, especially from the England team.
However, Deepti continued to focus on the things at hand and contribute to the national side in each and every opportunity presented to her. In eight years of her career, she may not be as threatening as Mandhana or Harmanpreet with the bat, but she more often than not gets the job done for the Women in Blue.
Also read: Onus on Smriti Mandhana as India eye elusive world title
With the likes of Shafali Verma and Jemimah Rodrigues in the top order, along with the skipper and her deputy, Deepti has been assigned the role of finishing matches for the Indian side in the shortest format.
And guess what, despite not being the power-hitter in the side, she improved her game by leaps and bounds and has now evolved as the most dependable batter for the Indian side down the order.
In the 23 innings she has played thus far, the left-hander has amassed 361 runs at an average of 36.1 and a strike rate of 131.1 batting at number six or lower, which is the best by a player since the T20 World Cup Down Under in 2020.
While her graph as a finisher was always on the upward swing since the Commonwealth Games, she showcased glimpses of her wide array of strokes in the first T20I against Australia in Mumbai.
With the Women in Blue struggling for impetus in the back end of the innings at 132 for the loss of five wickets in 17 overs, Deepti smashed an unbeaten 36 off 15 deliveries, studded with eight boundaries to power the Indian side to 172 runs in the first innings.
While her impressive numbers with the bat take centre stage on most occasions, Deepti, the bowler, usually flies under the radar in the list of most threatening bowlers in world cricket.
However, the off-spinner is the leading wicket-taker in the shortest format, with 43 wickets in 37 innings at an average of 19.2 and an economy rate of 6.3 runs per over since the conclusion of the T20 World Cup in 2020.
The 25-year-old is also effective with her yorker-length deliveries at the back end of the innings and will be one of the players to watch out for in the mega event.
If the Women's tri-series was any reflection of the sluggish nature of the wickets we can expect in the World Cup, Deepti, along with her spin twins in Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Devika Vaidya, will be more than handy in the land of the Proteas.
Well, only time will tell if Deepti can erase the scars of the World Cup against a nation that knocked India out of the tournament. However, as fans of the sport, it is fair to say she is the most underrated player in world cricket, and India ought to give her a lot of credit for her ability to switch into any role seamlessly, which lends balance to the side.