There will always be hype around India vs. Pakistan games but we need to focus: Yastika Bhatia

Yastika Bhatia

It was not very long ago that the COVID-19 pandemic forced India to enforce a nationwide lockdown in 2021. But even when the whole country was reeling under the impact of the pandemic, Yastika Bhatia, out of her sheer passion for the game was practicing rigorously, just to make sure that she doesn’t lose the cadence in her batting.

Having represented India in just seven ODIs, Bhatia is fairly new to the international circuit but has already given a glimpse of her batting prowess and hence has become the talk of the town.

She played a pivotal role in halting Australia’s 26-match winning streak in the third ODI at Harrup Park in Mackay during India’s tour of Australia in 2021. During the course of her 64-run knock, she stitched a 101-run stand with Shafali Verma and made the Aussies look clueless.

Having been picked in the India squad for the upcoming World Cup, Bhatia will look to stamp her authority on the tournament and help both Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami have an unforgettable swansong.

In a compelling conversation with Women’s CricZone, she talks about her journey to the India jersey, the support she received from her parents, life inside a COVID-19 bubble, sharing the dressing room with Mithali and other senior pros, and a lot more.

Excerpts:

Q: How did you feel when you saw your name in the World Cup squad?

I was at the gym when the team was announced so I wasn’t aware of it. My father called me during my training session and informed me about my selection in the World Cup squad. I was overjoyed and got really excited as soon as he shared the news with me. I especially want to thank my parents and everyone who has supported me in my journey. The preparations are in full swing and I am looking forward to the tournament.

Q: During the lockdown, you used to train at your home. Your father used to arrange net sessions for you. Talk us through that experience.

During the lockdown, we were not allowed to go to the grounds for practice. So my father arranged net sessions for me in the parking area near our house. My coach would come to train me at home. We used to do various drills like batting, wicket-keeping among others. It was all done to make sure I do not lose my touch and rhythm.

Q: During India’s tour to Australia 2021, we saw your power-hitting capability. How did you develop your power hitting?

WV Raman sir (Woorkeri Venkat Raman) arranged a few training sessions for me at the Reliance Ground in Vadodara back in 2021. I started my training sessions with Kiran sir (Kiran More) in June and I trained for 45 days rigorously. We focused mainly on power hitting. I used to practice with heavy balls weighing around 14 to 16 ounces. He (Kiran More) made me realise my strengths. He also worked on my wicket-keeping and that helped me raise my game. And those hard yards that I did reflected during the Australia series.

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Q: How did you get into playing cricket? Tell us about the kind of support you received from your parents.

I was very interested in sports since my childhood days and my parents were always there to encourage me. My sister and I began swimming at a very young age. My father, sister, and I, all three of us are black belts in karate. So sport is a big thing in our family. Having played cricket during his college days, my father wanted to introduce me to the sport. He met Pinal Shah (former Ranji Trophy player) and enquired him about a good cricket club in Vadodara to get me enrolled. Based on Shah’s suggestion, my father enrolled me at the Youth Service Centre (Polo Ground) in Vadodara. So I started my training when I was eight years old. I started off as a medium pacer and then transitioned to a wicket-keeper because the Baroda side was looking for a wicket-keeper.

Q: How did you feel when you shared the dressing room with the likes of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana among others?

It was a surreal feeling. I was always in awe of them whenever I used to watch them play on TV. It was always a dream for me to play alongside them. They were very approachable and made me very comfortable when I got picked for the Indian team the first time.

Q: What are your thoughts on the World Cup game against Pakistan?

There is always a lot of hype around a India vs. Pakistan clash. There was also a lot of hype when I was playing for India A and we had to face Pakistan in an Asia Cup match. So there will always be media hype, but we have to focus on the game and ensure that as a batter, I play to the merit of the ball and focus on the basics.

Q: How was your experience when you were training at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. Did you get to interact with Rahul Dravid as he was heading the NCA then?

I couldn’t have a one on one interaction with him. But he used to observe our practice sessions. He used to give a lot of inputs to our then coach Shiv Sunder Das so that we could improve our game and then Das sir would communicate his feedback to us. So my days at the NCA were really productive and helped me immensely in terms of my career.

Q: There are a lot of youngsters who are playing for the Indian team at the moment. Can you talk us through this change that has come up?

It feels very special to be a part of this new group of young players. All the youngsters in the team are all new, fresh, and exciting. We are all very excited about the World Cup and the matches to follow. Whenever I interact with them, I feel a sense of fresh energy inside me. This kind of energy is very essential for the team. It boosts the morale of the team and improves the overall performance of the team.

Q: How have you dealt with the bubble life? And how do you relax after a hectic day of practice?

The bubble life is extremely difficult. But as a player, you must remember that there are people who want to see you play so that they can have a few moments of joy and merriment. So yeah we need to perform and enjoy the game for the fans. In addition to that, I play my guitar, listen to music, and watch a lot of movies just to keep myself engaged and not let the bubble fatigue get to me.