Sneh Rana would never know why she was not part of the Indian women’s cricket team for its tour of Sri Lanka last month. Her name was missing from the squad announced by the five-member national selection committee, led by Neetu David.
The selection committee, since taking charge a couple of years ago, has never appeared for a press conference. When asked about her absence, the team’s head coach Ramesh Powar said: “Sneh has been rested for this series, and she is in the NCA, working on her fitness. Moving forward, the FTP that we have, there are about 20-25 T20 games, so we want our players fresh for all the series.”
The explanation, however, just raised more questions about why a key player was rested when the team had not played any international cricket since March.
Even Rana was “surprised” to see her name missing. The spinner, along with Pooja Vastrakar, played a key role lower down the order in the World Cup earlier this year, and she was hoping to get more game time ahead of the Commonwealth Games. Rana went back to the basics and started training in Dehradun before moving to the NCA.
The selectors included Rana for the Commonwealth Games. And at the Edgbaston on Sunday, the seasoned campaigner stamped her class with figures of two for 15 as India restricted arch-rival Pakistan to a meagre 99 and eventually chased down the total with 38 balls to spare in a crucial Commonwealth Games fixture. She removed Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof and Muneeba Ali in a span of three deliveries.
After missing the first match against Australia, it was a challenge for Rana to get her rhythm back. “The best thing about her is that she is always cool-headed, and even in difficult situations, she makes it a point to go back to basics and come back stronger,” Narinder Shah, who has been her coach for a long time, tells Sportstar.
Shah and her spouse Kiran, who runs the Little Masters Cricket Academy in Dehradun, met Rana when she was nine. Hailing from the village of Sinaula on the outskirts of Dehradun, Rana’s father, Bhagwan Singh Rana, was a farmer, but he wanted her daughter to pursue her dreams of playing for the country. So, when Kiran and Narinder organised a match in her village, Rana featured in the game and impressed with her off-breaks. A few days later, she travelled to Dehradun to train at the academy run by Shah.
“Her father used to cycle about 10 kms daily to drop her at the academy. We were amazed to see her performance in the local match and decided to include her in our academy, and over the years, she has emerged as a genuine talent,” Narinder says.
Back then, Uttarakhand did not have a domestic team, and the coaches wanted her to play for Punjab. She shifted base to Amritsar in 2009-10 and started training under Madhu Arora and Monika Sharma at the Gandhi ground. “When we saw her and a few others, we were very impressed. They got enrolled in DAV Women’s College here and continued training. Soon she broke into the Punjab team,” Arora, a former assistant coach of the Punjab senior team, says.
“She was hard working from the beginning and fared well for Punjab in domestic tournaments, and even in tough times, she did not lose hope, and her aim was to play for India, and she did everything to fulfil her dreams,” Arora says. Rana later moved to Railways in 2014 and made her India debut.
However, a string of unimpressive performances and a nagging knee injury saw her lose her place in the national setup.
“But she never lost hope. During training, she would go the extra mile to make a comeback. We would often share her stories of Chamari Athapaththu and how she overcame the odds and went on to become a legend for Sri Lanka. She listened to those stories and worked even harder,” Narinder reminisces.
Last year, Rana’s long wait finally ended as she made a comeback in the Indian team with an unbeaten 80 and four wickets against England in the Test match in Bristol. She followed that with a series of consistent performances, and it was her all-round heroics that helped the team India defeat Pakistan and West Indies at the World Cup earlier this year. She bagged 10 wickets and was one of the highest wicket-takers for the team.
She also captained Railways in the domestic season and featured for Velocity in the women’s T20 Challenge in Pune in May. But thereafter, there was no cricket for her as the selectors thought it was important to “rest” her. “She would speak over the phone from NCA and update me about her training sessions. We just focused on little things and wanted her to rejuvenate and take the field with a more sorted approach,” Narinder says.
In Birmingham, Rana – fresh, rejuvenated – made her presence felt in the important win over Pakistan.