Renuka Singh Thakur: India’s hope becomes change

Renuka Singh Thakur © Getty Images

When Jhulan Goswami, their bowling spearhead, couldn’t deliver during the 2022 World Cup as per the demands of the team, it affected India and affected them adversely.

The onus of providing India with wickets upfront with the new ball was on Goswami but the veteran failed to produce the goods by her standards. With just seven wickets in six games at an average of 30.57, Goswami had a tournament to forget. India eventually bowed out of the group stage of the tournament.

Goswami neither featured in the Women’s Senior T20 Trophy (April 15 to May 4) nor in the Women’s T20 Challenge 2022. Hence when India’s 15-member squad was announced for the Sri Lanka tour in June there was a huge question mark – whether the fast bowlers that were picked for the tour will be able to deliver.

But Renuka Singh Thakur set the ODI series on fire as she bagged a three-fer in the first ODI and backed it up with another electric display in the next game where she bagged a four-wicket haul and demolished Sri Lanka’s batting order.

Her terrific performance was one of the reasons why Harmanpreet Kaur-led side was able to sweep the series 3-0. Thakur was rewarded for her brilliance and was named in India’s squad for the Commonwealth Games 2022 (CWG).

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Although her performance during the ODI series was outstanding, the fact that it came against Sri Lanka had people in doubt whether she would be able to replicate the same performances against some top-notch sides in the CWG

But Thakur put all the doubts to rest as she set the stage alight in the CWG opener.

Thakur was immaculate in terms of line and length against the World Champions Australia. With 154 on the board and that too against a formidable batting line-up like Australia, India had an uphill task at hand.

India needed to create a big impact upfront and Thakur took the onus of the same. She was cognizant of the heavy off-side field that was given to her and she just stuck to it.

Her first scalp of the evening came in the form of Alyssa Healy. With Deepti Sharma placed slightly wide than where a conventional slip fielder would stand, Thakur delivered a good length ball outside of off-stump enticing Healy to go after it and she fell for the bait.

Healy tried to run it down to third but failed to get the execution right and ended up lobbing it straight to Sharma.

Healy’s dismissal brought Australia skipper Meg Lanning to the crease and Thakur had a plan ready for her too. Aware of Lanning’s strength square of the wicket on the off-side, Thakur and Kaur hatched a plan to feed balls into her strong zone and that paid off eventually. They stationed two fielders at point in Sharma and Radha Yadav. While Sharma was at the conventional point position, Yadav was finer and right on the edge of the inner circle.

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Having already nailed a cut off Meghna Singh on the first delivery of the second over, Lanning went to execute the shot yet again only to smash it straight into the hands of Yadav as she lunged forward to grab the catch.

Thakur dismissed Beth Mooney next as the latter dragged an attempted cut back onto her stumps. As a bowler, if you pocket Healy, Lanning, and Mooney on the day then you can be content with your efforts but not Thakur. She went on to pick one more for the match with arguably the most unplayable delivery of the game in the form of Tahlia Mcgrath.

Renuka Singh Thakur steaming in© Getty Images

Mcgrath was high on confidence as she advanced down the track to Rajeshwari Gayakwad and put her away to the fence between covers and mid-off on only the third delivery of her innings. She again shimmied down the track on the fourth delivery of the over and drilled a drive down the ground for another four.

Steaming in to deliver the first ball of her third over, Thakur produced an absolute corker. The delivery tailed into Mcgrath, breached her defence, and pegged her leg stump back. Mcgrath was baffled by the prodigious movement and stood there in utter shock for a while.

By virtue of Thakur’s dazzling effort, India were breathing down Australia’s neck and were looking favourites to win the contest but a superb fightback from Grace Harris and Ashleigh Gardner snatched victory from their grasp.

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Thakur was extremely disappointed with the loss and it was evident in her words after the match got over.

“I am not very happy because we lost the game. Had we won then I would have been happier.”

Thakur didn’t have enough role to play during India’s clash against Pakistan as a disciplined bowling effort from all the bowlers sealed the deal in the team’s favour.

Two days later, India found themselves in a do-or-die game and had to lock horns with Barbados in pursuit of a semi-final berth.

Having posted 164 on the board, Kaur’s hopes were heavily relying upon her bowlers to make early inroads. Barbados had Deandra Dottin and Hayley Matthews opening for them and were driven to go hammer and tongs from the outset.

Well aware of the challenge that lay ahead of her, Thakur sprinted in with a spring in her step and struck gold for India on the very third ball of the innings. She uprooted Dottin’s leg stump as it cart-wheeled back and finished the over by conceding only a run.

Renuka Singh Thakur Jubilant after a wicket © Getty Images

When she came back to bowl her second of the evening, she had another daunting task at hand in the form of Matthews. Having already struck two boundaries in the previous over against Meghna Singh, Matthews was high on confidence and was willing to take the attack to Thakur.

Matthews walked down the track to Thakur but Thakur pulled her length back slightly to stay away from the former’s arc and it ended up in Matthews’ undoing.

Thakur went on to pick two more scalps and ended up with career-best T20I bowling figures of 4 for 10. India eventually humbled Barbados by 100 runs thanks to Thakur, who arguably sealed the game for them with her eighth delivery of the match when she got Matthews.

India are now a few hours away from taking the field against the number two ranked side in the world England, who stand in the way of the Kaur-led side and a historic opportunity to bag a CWG gold.

And just like the final group stage match against the Proteas at the 2022 World Cup we are still without Goswami as the veteran might have already played the last match of her international career. But given the rhythm Thakur is in at the moment, there’s optimism and a sense of security as the 26-year-old has already shown her pedigree and plenty of promise.

Not every Indian cricket fan would have mustered up the courage to imagine Indian pace bowling’s future without Goswami during the 2022 World Cup, little did we know that the baton had already been passed, it’s just that the person, who provided the same was running drinks to those in the middle.