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India bank on Deepti's all-around abilities to lend balance in the World Cup

Last updated on 03 Feb 2022 | 05:23 AM
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India bank on Deepti's all-around abilities to lend balance in the World Cup

The 24-year old will be a vital cog in the playing XI of the Indian side as they aim for the elusive title

On 20th July 2017, when the world of cricket was in absolute awe after witnessing the heroics of Harmanpreet Kaur as she carved her way into the record books; 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 struggling at 101 for the loss of three wickets in 25 overs, Harmanpreet needed to find an able partner to motor through the innings to ensure India post a massive first innings total. The vice-captain of the Indian side found just that as Deepti Sharma joined forces and forged a crucial 137-run partnership for the fourth wicket. 

While the southpaw contributed only 25 off 35 deliveries, the knock was crucial in the context of the game since she held one end up, allowing Harmanpreet to take the attack to the Aussie bowling unit and power the Indian team to 281 runs in a rain-curtailed match.

Despite the valiant effort of an unbeaten 171 by Harmanpreet, India needed their bowling unit to deliver in this crucial encounter against a formidable Australian batting unit. 

And, it was time for Deepti to shine at the County Ground in Derby, but this time around with her off-spin bowling. She scalped three crucial wickets in her eight-over spell, including the massive wicket of Alex Blackwell for 90 to cement India's place in the summit clash of the World Cup. 

While it was one of the most significant achievements for the Indian side, and it created a revolution back home, for a young girl in Deepti, it was years of hard work culminated into a moment when she knocked over Blackwell's stumps to send the cricket frenzy fans into jubilation. 

Like most women cricketers in the country, Deepti developed a liking towards the sport after playing hours of gully cricket with her brother in Agra. After hours of gruelling sessions in the backyard and the ground nearby, Deepti graduated through the ranks to play for the state team at the age-group level before making her much-awaited debut against South Africa in November 2014 at Bengaluru. 

Over the past three years before the commencement of the World Cup, Deepti was assigned various roles in the batting unit of the Indian side. 

Despite amassing thousands of runs at the domestic level opening the batting, Deepti had to bat at number three or in the middle-order due to a solid opening combination of Smriti Mandhana and Punam Raut. 

However, a freak injury to Mandhana before the World Cup resulted in an opportunity for Deepti, which the southpaw grabbed with both hands. In a league match of a quadrangular series against Ireland at Potchefstroom, Deepti smashed 188 runs off 160 balls studded with 27 boundaries and two sixes to propel the side to 358 for 3 in the first innings. En route to her record-breaking knock, she forged a 320-run opening partnership with Raut, the highest partnership in the history of the game.

With Mandhana returning to the playing XI after successfully recovering from the injury in the opening match of the mega event against England, Deepti was assigned the new role of batting in the middle-order. In the eight innings at the World Cup, Deepti amassed 216 runs at an average of 30.85 and scalped 12 wickets to help the Indian side inch closer to the world title. 

While she has been given plenty of opportunities at the international level to get accustomed to her role in the middle-order since the 2017 World Cup, the 24-year old has struggled to find her mojo with the bat in the middle overs. 

In the 50-over format since 2018, Deepti has scored 647 runs in 31 innings at a strike rate of 65.2, which is the fourth-worst scoring rate among players with a minimum of 500 runs. 

With the likes of Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet struggling to find the boundary and keep the scoreboard ticking, lack of impetus from Deepti might hurt the chances of the Indian side in the middle overs. 

However, with the experience and exposure of plying her trade at various franchise leagues across the globe, the team management would hope for the youngster to incorporate all the learnings in the upcoming tournament. 

The team management would also hope for improved performance with the ball in the middle-overs as the Women in Blue has failed to create inroads, resulting in a massive score by the opposition. 

In the 2021 season, the Indian spinners have leaked runs at an economy rate of 5.4 runs per over and managed to scalp eight wickets, which is the worst among all the nations. 

While Deepti managed to pick up five out of the eight wickets, Mithali would expect a lot more from her premier strike bowlers in the middle overs.

With the five-match series against the White Ferns acting as an ideal build-up to the quadrennial event, the Indian team would hope for Deepti to replicate her heroics like the 2017 World Cup and help India script history in the land of the Kiwis.

And, as the Indian team embarks on their journey to the southern hemisphere for the series against New Zealand and the World Cup, all eyes will be on Deepti as the Indian side aims to find the right balance in alien conditions.

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