December 27, 2018: The quarter-finals of the Senior Women's One-Day trophy are underway, and away from the hustle and bustle of a busy Bengaluru city, Himachal Pradesh locked horns against Mumbai at the scenic stadium in Alur.
However, there was one particular player, Renuka Singh, silently going through her paces ahead of the toss in one corner of the ground, trying to get her consistency right ahead of the high-voltage clash.
The right-arm seamer was struggling a tad bit with her line and length in the previous encounters, and like how the big players always step up in pressure situations, Renuka did exactly the same.
The Shimla-born player rattled Mumbai's top order with a couple of quick strikes that helped Himachal Pradesh dismantle the opposition for partly 138 runs and guide her team to a semi-final spot in the competition.
Despite being in the opposite camp, I was in complete admiration of the temperament and the calmness exuded by the youngster in her short domestic career.
Over four years since the day I saw her wreaking havoc for her stateside, a lot has changed for the youngster as she has graduated from donning the Himachal jersey to the national colours due to her sheer grit and determination.
With consistent performances for her state team, Renuka was part of the India A side before making her much-awaited debut on 10th October 2021 against Australia away from home.
And guess what?
In her very first over of international cricket, she scalped the prized wicket of Alyssa Healy to not only announce herself to world cricket but also showcase glimpses of great things to follow in Indian cricket post the retirement of Jhulan Goswami.
While the leap of joy taken by his ardent student at the Metricon Stadium in Queensland indeed got a smile on all the cricketing fans across the globe, but for someone back in Himachal Pradesh, it was a sense of satisfaction.
Pawan Sen, Renuka's childhood coach, heaved a sigh of relief seeing his player shine in the international arena after training her for over a decade at the Himachal Pradesh academy in Dharamshala.
Life has not been easy for the speedster after losing her father at the tender age of three. However, with the support of her family and Sen, Renuka slowly and steadily started to make noise for all the right reasons in domestic tournaments.
With 21 wickets in the 2018-2019 Senior One-Day tournament laying a solid foundation for her growth as a cricketer, her exploits in the Challenger Trophy that followed created a pathway for her selection in the Indian squad for the T20I series against the mighty Australians.
While she was in the shadows of Goswami for the initial part of her career, the 27-year-old's standout moment was in the inaugural match of the Commonwealth Games when she derailed Australia's top order with four wickets for 18 runs in her four-over spell, including 16 dot deliveries.
Well, this was just one of the instances where Renuka has enthralled the world with her ability to swing the ball both ways, as she has been a significant reason behind India's dominance with the ball in the last couple of years.
Since making her debut in the shortest format, the right-arm pacer has scalped 16 wickets in 25 innings at a strike rate of 21.4 in the powerplay, which is the second-best among bowlers since October 2021.
Well, needless to say, her recent exploits at the international level ensured she capped off the year as ICC's Emerging Player of the season. However, Renuka understands that while this may be a glorious feather in her short career, a stern test awaits her in the land of the Proteas.
While the world has witnessed her heroics in the Commonwealth Games in conditions suitable for pace bowlers, the sluggish surface on offer in South Africa will test her skills to the absolute hilt.
There ain't any doubt that she has been India's best bowler in the last 12 months and will be one of the most sought-after players in the Women's Premier League auction. But for Renuka, the next fortnight is set to define her and the fortunes of the Indian side as they strive hard for the elusive title.
A world title before the inaugural edition of the T20 league, well, we have all seen it before, and the onus will now rely on the shoulders of a 27-year-old to carry India's bowling resources.
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