Renuka Singh Thakur: The girl from Pahad stands tall with her swing bowling

Renuka Singh Thakur in action © Sri Lanka Cricket

Jhulan Goswami is a really tall fast bowler. The 39-year-old served India for almost 20 years while leading the pace attack for most of those years. Post the England tour last year, India Head Coach Ramesh Powar talked about the need to find tall pacers going forward in pursuit of a more fearless approach.

“Yes, time is short, but the way forward is including more fast bowlers from domestic teams and domestic performers. We are especially looking at tall fast bowlers. Those who have performed can be included in the next camp, so yes, we are looking at 10-15 fast bowlers going ahead,” Powar said, as India were building up to the World Cup 2022.

Time moves fast and India went into the World Cup with the experienced Goswami and a bunch of rookie bowlers. They had an unfortunate exit from the global event after suffering a last-ball loss to South Africa. Renuka Singh Thakur was one of the pace bowlers in the side, but she was one of the two players who didn’t play a single match during the tournament alongside reserve wicket-keeper Taniya Bhatia.

What’s the definition of tall?

Thakur is not tall by any measure, but the diminutive medium pacer has one of the most potent weapons in cricket – swing. Modern batters, or even old-timers for that matter, have struggled against the moving ball over the years regardless of how good they are.

Inswing comes naturally to the 26-year-old and even with the modern limited over game’s propensity to be skewed towards the batters, inswingers have an effect on both ODIs and T20Is. That same skill made India take notice of Thakur when they called her up to the squad for the Australia tour in September last year. And she eventually made her ODI debut against New Zealand before the World Cup.

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There was nothing remarkable about her 1/59 on debut and the same was true for her 2/33 in her second ODI. Post the World Cup exit, India started their ICC Women’s Championship 2022-25 cycle with the tour of Sri Lanka. Goswami wasn’t named in the squad and the pace-bowling contingent was even more inexperienced, with young Pooja Vastrakar being the most experienced.

Her ability to get the ball to swing meant Thakur was chosen as the one to open the bowling for India in the first ODI after Sri Lanka opted to bat first at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium. Thakur went for two boundaries in the first over, but she continued to pitch the ball up and got one to move away against the left-handed Chamari Athapaththu in her second over.

Sri Lanka never really recovered from that early blow and even if they were, Thakur came back to get the top-scorer Nilakshi de Silva as the hosts were bundled out for 171. Thakur finished with figures of 3/29 from the six overs she bowled, bettering her bowling returns for the third time in as many matches.

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In the second ODI at the same ground in Kandy, Thakur once again had the same task, with India skipper Harmanpreet Kaur opting to bowl on a better wicket owing to the moisture in it.

The right-arm pacer was in her elements straight away and got the ball to come into the left-handed Hasini Perera showing her varied skills. Thakur repeated the same feat with the fourth ball and cleaned up Perera for a duck. Young Vishmi Gunaratne survived a tough second over against Thakur with balls predominantly coming back into the batter. The 16-year-old tried to shuffle across to the off stump to deal with the movement but was struck on the pad a couple of times.

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The game of cat and mouse continued and after Gunaratne pushed three deliveries back to the bowler or to cover, Thakur kept it up and the batter tried to hit across the line and was bowled for just three off 14 balls. Harhsitha Madavi didn’t fare any better as Thakur got the ball to jag back after pitching and trapped her in front in her fourth over.

4-1-4-3; Thakur had done her job as she broke the back of Sri Lanka’s top order and once again they never recovered from it and ended up with a similar score as the first ODI. Thakur picked up her first four-wicket haul in international cricket as she ended the innings with figures of 10-1-28-4.

Ever improving numbers of Renuka Singh Thakur © Women’s CricZone

In reply, India openers Smriti Mandhana and Shafali Verma were in their elements and made light work of the chase, giving India an emphatic ten-wicket win.

Meghna Singh, who took the new ball alongside Thakur, has played with her at Indian Railways as well and knows the fellow bowler well. When Thakur took the tournament-winning four-wicket haul for Railways in the Senior One Day Trophy final against Karnataka, Singh was at the other end.

“She is a very hard-working girl. Whatever we plan, she practices, applies, and executes it,” Singh summed Thakur up in simple words.

Renuka Singh Thakur celebrate a wicket © Sri Lanka Cricket

When Thakur first made her name in the circuit, she was just an inswing bowler. But in the few months since making her international debut, she has added more to her arsenal and now can get the ball to consistently move away from the right-handers as well. Those outswingers were one of the most notable things about Thakur in the Senior One Day Trophy final as well as in the matches against Sri Lanka.

Thakur, who hails from Himachal Pradesh, also has developed a terrific slower delivery and the team management also sees her as someone who can finish off the innings at the death. Her slower ones were on display in the first ODI and she got the better of Nilakashi and Oshadi Ranasinghe with her new tool. The one that had Ranasinghe in tangles was a classic slower delivery as it dipped late and made the batter miss the ball by a long way before finding its way to the timber.

The Pahadi girl from Parsa, a small village in Rohru, Himachal Pradesh, has come a long way and grown in stature in international cricket at swift pace.

And when you can make the ball talk like Thakur does, why do you need to be tall?