Worked hard to prove myself: Poonam Yadav on Arjuna nomination

Poonam Yadav has been nominated for the Arjuna award after having a terrific last year, where she became world’s leading wicket-taker in T20s.

Poonam Yadav, called a 'magician' by team-mates prefers to stay focussed on her cricket.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Her team-mates in the Indian women’s team call Poonam Yadav a ‘magician’. And definitely for a reason! After all, the 27-year-old has been one of the most consistent spinners for the team and last year, she became world’s leading wicket-taker in T20s, with 40 scalps.

Her hard work paid off on Saturday when she was recommended for the Arjuna Award. “It’s a great feeling to be honest... There was a time when I wanted to give up cricket, but now, I feel happy.” Poonam, who is presently in Hyderabad for a national camp, told Sportstar.

How does it feel to be recommended for the Arjuna Award?

It’s a great feeling, to be honest. I really worked hard to prove myself on the field, and I am glad that it has paid off. I am grateful to all the coaches who have helped me come so far. It’s been a tough ride, but with god’s grace, I could battle all the odds.

From a rookie spinner in Agra to be the key spinner of the Indian team. How would you rate the journey?

It’s been a tough journey. I struggled a lot to get things in order. I remember in the 2009-2010 season, when I was playing for Uttar Pradesh in the domestic circuit, I could not perform well neither with the ball, nor with the bat. I was shattered. I tried everything to overcome the rough patch but things did not work out. Things went so bad that I had decided that I will call it a day and never play cricket again. Perhaps, I would have given up, had my father not advised me to give it some time. He told me not to jump the gun and wait for the right moment. I listened to him and slowly things started changing. In 2011 season, I moved to Railways and things changed.

So, moving to the Railways turned out to be a life-changing move?

Certainly. That was a life-changing experience. Ever since I joined in 2011, Railways has always supported me. Initially, it was a bit challenging to maintain a balance between your job and cricket. But things eased out slowly. If you work hard, you get noticed and your seniors also help you out. I am really grateful to Railways for supporting me throughout.

Coming from a small town, how challenging was to convince your parents and pursue your dream?

I am not the first women cricketer from Agra. The city has produced a couple of other international cricketers as well. But yes, initially the family members were not too happy with my decision to play. People around would pass comments on how could a girl play cricket or how can a girl come home late? You know how things are in middle-class familie... So, initially there were a lot of questions from neighbours, who had no idea what I was doing, but eventually things settled down.

There was a time when women cricketers were not recognised. Presently, all of you are known names. What changed?

Reaching the final of the 2017 World Cup gave Indian women’s cricket a new direction. We played cricket even before that, but nobody knew us. After the World Cup, we became household names and now everyone is aware about our existence (laughs). After the World Cup, everyone got their due recognition. It indeed changed the perception about women’s cricket.

The current Indian women’s team is a powerhouse of talent. How competitive is the environment?

There is a very healthy competition in the team and everyone wants to perform better. That’s a positive for any team and its players. It’s not just about international cricket, there’s challenge in domestic cricket as well. We have to perform really well at the domestic level in order to get selected to the national team. So, it is important for all of us to put in our best efforts. If the domestic season doesn’t go well, then the chances of breaking into the national team are less. So, now, we need to be consistent throughout the year.

The set-up has also become more professional?

Yes... After the World Cup, the interest about women’s cricket has gone up. Now, many youngsters want to take up cricket seriously and their parents are also encouraging them to play the sport. Now, the matches are televised, so money is also coming in. Naturally, when there is money, the interest will definitely grow. I feel, it’s a great thing for women’s cricket.

What are your thoughts on the Women’s IPL-style league?

IPL is a good thing to have happened for the game because it has given the youngsters a chance to show their skills. Playing alongside international cricketers, they even help the selectors get a fair idea and select the T20 teams accordingly. Since IPL is all about handling the pressure, the selectors also get to know whether a particular player has that ability to handle pressure and take things in her stride.

Look, there is still quite a gap between domestic and international cricket. If you field a youngster directly in an international fixture, there are chances that she might not be able to give her best under pressure. But with the IPL, the players will be better prepared before they are elevated to international cricket. So, it’s a great thing and I think, there should be more matches in the IPL. That will help the players immensely.

Despite being a key member in the side, many of your team-mates say that you are an introvert.

(Laughs) It’s not that I don’t speak to people. I share a very good rapport with all my team-mates. But I am very serious about cricket and don’t want to take things for granted. My team-mates often tease me, saying: “Kahin ghumne jaya kar, nahi toh puri life cricket hi khelegi...” I tell them, that I am happy focusing on my game. But I enjoy the company of my team-mates. There is Smriti (Mandhana), Harry di (Harmanpreet Kaur), Jhulu di (Jhulan Goswami), Mitu di (Mithali Raj), who am I very close to. So, I am not an introvert, it’s just that I like staying focussed. That’s how I am.

Poonam Yadav (middle) with Jhulan Goswami and Mithali Raj.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

Is there someone who you share everything with?

My mum. I don’t tell her anything about cricket, but every time I speak to her over phone, she invariably finds out what’s happening. She can perfectly gauge how my mood is, and what I am going through. In the team, I talk to Harry di, Mitu di. Smriti and I made our debut together, so we maintain a good bonding. Smriti called me yesterday to congratulate and said: “It’s a good thing that we made debut together and we got Arjuna Award back-to-back.” (Mandhana received the award last year). She is younger to me, but we share everything. We make fun of each other and they are great people to be around.

Smriti has been playing the Kia League and Big Bash. Do you aspire playing in those leagues?

Every game is important. If I get to play in overseas conditions, then it would definitely be a good thing. I will be able to know a lot about the wickets, the conditions and also play along side foreign players. If I get a chance in Kia League or BBL, I would love to play there. It’s a dream for every player to play in overseas conditions and get more exposure.

Even though you appear calm and composed on the field, are you superstitious?

Who told you this? (Laughs) There are a few people who know about this. I am usually anxious before any game, which often lead to sleepless nights. But when I go to the field next morning, I put in my 100 per cent.