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Slow but killer: Into the world of Poonam Yadav

Last updated on 20 Apr 2020 | 02:13 PM
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Slow but killer: Into the world of Poonam Yadav

India's leading T20I wicket-taker opens up about her loppy leg-breaks, the T20 World Cup, and much more

Poonam Yadav is a street-smart cricketer and knows how to get the most out of her resources. The 28-year-old might be just 4 feet and 11 inches tall but she surely knows how to make batters dance to her tunes with her leg-breaks and googlies. Trapped at home because of the lockdown, Poonam didn't have all the equipments required for her training but the legspinner, as expected, has managed to ensure that it doesn't hamper her daily fitness drills.

Last December, Poonam suffered a serious injury on her left index finger at the National Cricket Academy and there was a possibility that she might miss the T20 World Cup 2020. She couldn't take part in the tri-series that was organised just before the World Cup but her sheer will and determination, apart from putting in the hard yards at the gym and in training, helped her get match-ready for the showpiece event. Poonam had an outstanding tournament, picking up 10 wickets in five encounters at an impressive average of 11.90 and an economy of 5.95. India fell short against Australia in the final but Poonam made quite an impression with her slow and loopy leg-breaks.

In an exhaustive telephonic interaction with, the Agra-born cricketer spoke about her amazing run in the T20 World Cup, her loopy leg-breaks, why she relies more on her googlies, her WBBL and KSL aspirations, and much more. Excerpts:

How have you been keeping yourself busy? How has this lockdown affected your training routine?  

We had a long season and when this lockdown was announced I was kind of happy that I will get time to spend with my family. However, after 10 days I started getting bored and now just want to step out of my house, but of course I can't. After a few days of break, I decided that I will have to make some routine. I wake up around 5:45 in the morning and start my training. My dad has made me homemade dumbbells off stones. Then there is one iron rod... Whatever stuff we have at our home, I use it for training. I am doing cardio as well.  

Then I have a solid breakfast. I don't know much but I help my family wash utensils. Oh, I watch Ramayan with my whole family (laughs). I have also been playing chess and ludo with my brother and father. Me and my mom have been watching lots of movies online. We have set up a net and I practice bowling in the evening. Somehow I manage to pass my time.  

You were brilliant in the T20 World Cup, but losing yet another knockout match, how frustrating was that?

Failures always teach you important lessons. Cricket is a team game and that defeat in the final is a lesson for all us. We will always have to fight back. If the team is doing well, you win. It never an individual who suffers a loss but it's the entire team. We have a young team and this lockdown has given them an opportunity to think about their game, what went wrong and what all did we do right. This is a chance for them to become mentally stronger because we have another World Cup coming up next year in New Zealand. That's the next big tournament coming up. We have enough time to prepare ourselves mentally. I now want to win that gold medal.

The mistakes we made in Australia, we will try to make sure we don't repeat it if we get an opportunity. As a team, I think we have been doing well in the major tournaments. We won four matches on the trot in the 2018 T20 World Cup before losing in the semi-final. Here as well we were unbeaten in the group stage. We have a good team and that's why we are making it to the knockouts. We have the team to win a World Cup. What frustrates me the most is we managed two silver medals (2017 World Cup and 2020 T20 World Cup) but couldn't get that gold. There’s a lesson to be learnt here. Apne ko finals mein tough hona padega (we will have to play tough in the finals)!

You suffered a serious injury on your left index finger last December and couldn't play the tri-series against Australia and England. At any point of time, were you worried about the fact that you might miss the World Cup?  

When the injury happened, mujhe laga ki gaya mera tournament (I felt I might not play the World Cup). But I would like to thank my captain and coach for showing a lot of faith in me. I had to work really hard and the only thing going in my mind was no matter what I will play the World Cup. When I was watching my team-mates on the field during the tri-series, I had that spark in my eyes that I want to be there with them. But when I was doing the fielding drills, it was hurting me a lot. I couldn't even field with a Cosco ball.  

However, the support staff, my doctor and trainers helped me a lot. They kept on motivating me that I can do it, I can get fit. That charged me up and I kept telling them to somehow make me ready for the World Cup. During the tri-series, I was bowling a lot in the nets and was trying to keep myself busy. All I was thinking was the moment I get an opportunity, I will give my best. Yes, I wanted to play but for me it's also important that I play and win games for my team. I was quite focused during the warm-up match against West Indies and I did well and that gave me a lot of confidence. 

The injury was on your non-bowling arm but you were worried about your fielding and caught-and-bowled opportunities. Coincidentally, your first wicket in the World Cup (Alyssa Healy) was via a caught-and-bowled. That would have given you huge confidence?

I was 90 percent confident that I would do well in that match but when I dismissed Healy via caught and bowled, my confidence level boosted up to 100 percent. I knew that now I can do things the way I want to and not be worried about my injury. If you are getting a chance to play in the World Cup, it's your duty to give your 110 percent. I struggled a lot to get there and I am used to playing under pressure. Being a senior player, I knew I had to do well. My close friends, family members and my team-mates wanted me to do well and their blessings helped too. 

In this T20 era, many legspinners around the world try to bowl their leg-breaks and wrong'uns at a good pace so that they don't give batters enough time to adjust. But you are completely the opposite.  

Skills differ! Even I can bowl on a flatter trajectory but I don't really do it. It becomes easier for the batter if I give them pace but that won't be the case if I bowl slow and try to turn the ball. If I bowl on a flatter trajectory, I might push them on the back foot but if you are flighting the ball, you will create more opportunities of getting them out. 

I try to vary my pace and use all the variations I have up my sleeve. Before every match, I analyse my bowling. I think about the areas where I need to bowl. I think about all the batters and then accordingly come up with a plan. I do analyse my bowling a lot.  

How difficult it is to control such loopy leg-breaks?

I think when you are trying to flight the ball, it's not easy to control. Anyone can flight the ball but it will only come handy if you can control it properly. It becomes difficult to control the line and length. Many bowlers try to do it but not everyone can master it. You will have to practice constantly and work hard. 

I am not that tall, so it comes naturally to me. Even if I am not trying to flight the ball, people will think I am trying to give it a loop. Because of my short height, I get a good loop while bowling. I do bowl quicker ones as well just to mix things up. It's important that you keep the batter guessing.

Many batters in the World Cup tried to charge down the track and attack you, but New Zealand's Amelia Kerr waited for the ball to arrive and played her shots late. Do you think batters will try this approach in the future against you? 

I don't think so. In our next match against Sri Lanka, they could have applied the same strategy but they didn't. The two short balls that I bowled in my last over and got hit for two boundaries, those were bad deliveries. If I would have bowled those two deliveries slightly more fuller, it would have been difficult for her to hit me. But I admit the other two shots were really good.

You don't have long fingers. How hard it is for you to get a proper grip? How much effort you had to put in to master all these variations?

It wasn't easy. When I started my cricketing career, I was a fast bowler but my coach told me that I could become a good legspinner. Legspin is slightly more difficult than offspin because you have to use your entire body and even my fingers are small. I am not tall and well-built so I have to put in that extra yard in the gym and training sessions.

When I am bowling a googly, my entire shoulder rotates. If I am bowling 60 deliveries on the trot, toh phir shoulder ki what lag jaati hai (your shoulder starts hurting). It's not easy to bowl googlies. There were people who used to say that I am not made for ODIs and I took that as a challenge. I told myself that I will prove them wrong. If someone tells me I can't bowl googlies, mein sochti yaar aisa kaise bol diya usne, and I try to work on it. It's also important to get your tappa (the bowling spot) right. I worked hard on getting my googlies right with my coach and I used to try that against boys. I used to tell them to try hitting me out of the park and that helped me to get better. 

You rely a lot on your googlies. Is that your go-to delivery when a batter is trying to go after you? It's also slightly quicker than your leg-breaks.

Absolutely! I use it in crunch situations and it gives me results as well. But it's also important that you use it wisely and bowl it on a perfect line and length, if not, you might get smashed for a four or six. Like I said, you have to work hard so that you can bowl it with proper control. Practicing with boys helped me a lot because I told them to try and attack me. I was bowling decent googlies but I was giving the batsman a little bit of extra time to adjust. From 2017, I started bowling it slightly quicker and it took me almost a year to get control over it. I was then able to bowl the googlies on both flat and loopy trajectories.

How was it working with Narendra Hirwani? 

It was a nice experience. Whenever we are in doubt, he helps us and gives us his valuable opinions. He has helped me, Shikha (Pandey) and Radha (Yadav) a lot. You could see the result in the World Cup. It was good to have his support.

Ian Bishop was truly awed by your bowling. Did you have a chat with him behind the cameras? And yes, we saw the pictures!

I didn't have a proper chat with him behind the cameras but he did ask me for a picture. I asked him if he could kneel down? The first picture we took, he was standing and in the next one he did kneel down. He told me I am his favourite spinner and it means a lot to me, especially coming from someone of his stature. 

You still haven't featured in any foreign T20 league. Is that something you are looking forward to?   

I have been performing well in T20s from the start. I am hoping that I soon get an opportunity to play in the Big Bash League and Kia Super League. If I do get a chance, I will try to give my best. I have done really well in the last two years but still haven't got a chance to feature in any of those two leagues. It's not a big deal because I am performing for my team. Hopefully this year I might get a chance.   

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