In September 2022, a huge void was felt when when pacer Jhulan Goswami called time on her international career.
She led the Indian pace attack for two decades, after all. Even as she groomed several youngsters to take up the responsibility over years, there still seemed a gloominess around the decision.
Cut to September 2023 and Indian cricket found a light after that gloom. It is tough to match up to Goswami’s standards, no doubt. But on Monday, at the Zhejiang University of Technology Cricket Field, 18-year-old Titas Sadhu stepped up.
She had made her debut in semi-final against Bangladesh a day earlier. But in the final of the women’s cricket event at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, she finished with a memorable bowling figures of 3/18 to ensure India won by 19 runs in the final against Sri Lanka.
The pitch in Hangzhou was already tricky as India battled to 116/7 on a challenging batting surface. A lower-middle order collapse meant that the target wasn’t exactly threatening. However, India’s bowling attack rose to the occasion and Sri Lanka, in return, were held to 97/8.
It wasn’t the first time that Harmanpreet and Co were fighting for gold at a multi-sport event. They got that experience last year at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. But with that experience, they also had to exorcise some ghosts this time around.
It was a rather close match against Australia last year and the nerves had gotten to them. They failed to close out the match and the pattern of not being able to perform under pressure had reared its head again on Monday.
A look at their batting performance in Hangzhou seemed to indicate that things hadn’t changed much this time around too.
The Indian batting line-up collapsed from 89/2 to 116/7 and there was little fight once the partnership between Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues was broken. However, the Indian bowlers dented the Sri Lankan effort early on and that’s when the pattern broke.
It was Sadhu who struck the decisive blow as she bowled a double-wicket maiden in her first over to send back openers Anushka Sanjeewani and Vishmi Gunarathne. She ended up taking a total of three wickets in her first two overs, including that of the opposition’s captain and top batter Chamari Athapaththu. Sri Lanka were placed on the back-foot in the powerplay itself.
Sadhu found able support in fellow pacer Pooja Vastrakar (1/20), senior off-spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad (2/20) and leg-spinner Devika Vaidya (1/15) to ensure there were no partnerships later on.
This was not the first final where Sadhu shone though.
She was awarded the player-of-the-match in the ICC U19 Women’s Cricket World final for her 2/6 to help bowl out England for 68 runs. The ability to step up on big occasions and perform under pressure is what the Indian team needs more of.
Incidentally, Sadhu belongs to Bengal – the same state as Goswami. She made her senior Bengal squad debut in the 2020-2021 season under the leadership of skipper Rumeli Dhar. Having shared the dressing room with her idol Goswami in her early years, Sadhu can indeed take forward those learnings.
Harmanpreet Kaur, who played her 100th T20I on a fitting occasion after missing the last two matches for India, led her side to gold. There are still some challenges to overcome for the Indian side, but by proving that they are the best in Asia, they can return home with pride.
In their very first outing at the Asian Games, the Indian women’s cricket team created history. It may have come after several heartbreaks and lessons from other events but with a gold in Hangzhou, for a pleasant change, the tears in Kaur’s eyes were those of happiness.
The Field’s Asian Games build-up series, where we focus on athletes who have played in the shadows, but may be ready to step into the limelight.