Target now is to win the 2021 World Cup: Poonam Yadav

Having finished as runners-up in the recently concluded T20 World Cup, ace spinner Poonam Yadav is focused on winning the 50-over World Cup next year.

Poonam Yadav had a stellar T20 World Cup and was instrumental in helping India reach the final.   -  AFP

As India women cricketers geared up for the T20 World Cup in Australia, Poonam Yadav wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it to the side. A fractured finger threw the spin ace out of action for a while, and coming back wasn’t easy.

But, the national selection committee showed faith in her and flew her down to Australia with the team. Even though she didn’t play the tri-series, Poonam was back in action for the T20 World Cup. And she did not disappoint. 

Starting her campaign with a four-wicket haul against Australia, Poonam scalped ten wickets in the tournament. However, she is disappointed to have missed out on yet another World Cup title.

“I am tired of finishing runners-up twice, pata nahi gold kab milega! But 2021 World Cup should be ours and we will go all out to chase our dreams,” she said making it clear that the ultimate goal is to win the 50-over World Cup next year.

Speaking to Sportstar from her home in Agra, Poonam walked down memory lane…

Ahead of the T20 World Cup, you fractured your finger and were out of action for a while. But you came back strong. How was it playing the T20 World Cup?

Before the World Cup, I was with the team for the tri-series but did not play a single match. I was returning from a finger injury, so yeah, there was a bit of fear. They had selected me for the World Cup and carried me for the tri-series, showed faith in me. So, at the back of mind, I was quite apprehensive on whether I will be able to perform. I won’t be lying – I was under pressure.

So, when the tri-series was going on, I used that time to work on my fitness and skills. The fielding coach helped me in catching. I had just undergone surgery on the finger, so there were doubts about whether I will be able to field properly.

I remember during the training sessions, the fingers would hurt, and the coaches would tell me, “That’s okay. We will again train tomorrow.” The fielding coach, our physio (Tracy Fernandes) were very supportive. So, we took time to get back into shape. At a time, when I was not confident, the selectors gave me confidence and I am grateful to them for helping me.

How challenging was it to get back the rhythm?

I worked hard during the tri-series. In the nets, I would bowl at various pairs, under different scenarios. While fielding also, I tried to work hard and did drills just like the other members of the team did. I would train all alone and also focused a lot on my diet.

The protein intake went up, and I followed whatever the physio and the trainer advised me. I still remember, there were times when I would feel low and Tracy di would tell me, “Don’t worry, Poonam. You can do it. Imagine you are lifting the World Cup…” Those things motivated me.

I knew I could not let these people down. They worked equally hard to get me back into the shape. Initially, I would do the catch practices with soft balls, and slowly moved to the white ball. It was challenging, but I managed to take things in my stride.

Despite the odds, you delivered a hit show on the first day of the tournament and scalped four wickets. How was the feeling to be the match-winner against Australia?

I played the warm-up game against the West Indies, but could not give me best initially. Maybe, I was under pressure. Even though I trained hard in the nets, it was a different challenge to execute the plans in a match-situation. It was a close match, which went till the last over, but I could fare well and scalp four wickets.

So, going into the first match of the T20 World Cup, all I thought was to play to my potential and not let my team down. So, the experience of playing against the West Indies boosted my morale. I was very much involved in the game. It was, after all, the first game of the T20 World Cup, so I made sure that I backed my team-mates well. That definitely helped me in scalping those four wickets.

This time, former India spinner, Narendra Hirwani travelled with the team as the bowling coach. How was the experience of working under him? What did you learn?

The good thing about Hirwani sir is that he is always ready to help the bowlers. He talks to all of them, explains all the nitty-gritty of the game. He helped Radha(Yadav) a lot. Every time I went wrong, he would show me how to rectify the mistakes. Radha was relatively young, so she was under pressure. But Hirwani sir ensured that she got back her rhythm. Having him around was a great thing.

Poonam Yadav shares a light moment during a nets session.   -  AFP

 

This time, the focus was entirely on Shafali Verma. Did that take the pressure off the other members of the team? Or was it the other way around?

Yes. It is always a plus when your team has a player who is bindaas about her game. She was not scared of anything; all she cared for was how to score runs and make the team win. She enjoyed her batting. Even in the first match, she motivated me saying: “Poonam didi, aaj googly dalna hai. Wickets lene hai…” That chirpiness motivated us as well. She has done exceptionally well. And she is a great human being.

You were part of the India team, which lost the World Cup in 2017. So, as your side struggled to break the final jinx once again, how was the atmosphere in the camp?

Reaching final was the target. We took one game at a time and that helped. Our combination was right and the team bonding was very good. We lost just one match – the final – but that hurt us. It’s a game after all, and the team which played better won. For the world, it might look very easy to move on, but for cricketers, it gets very difficult to accept the defeat in the final and cope with it.

In the 2017 World Cup also, the same thing happened, it was very tough to get out of that zone. Everyone keeps asking the same question: “Kya hua? Kaise hua?” At times, you feel irritated because people keep on asking the same questions. Arey, sab ne match dekha, phir bhi kyun puchhte hai ke kya hua? For a player, it gets very difficult to deal with it. But then I understand that people have high expectations from us. Trust me, every time I look at the medals, it hurts, and also makes me wonder, when will we win the gold?

How was the feeling of playing in front of a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground? Most of the players aren’t used to seeing so many fans turning up...

In 2017 final also, a lot of people had come in. This time, the attendance was exceptional. It was a huge ground and was completely packed. I enjoyed every moment and treated it like any other match. With the pressures shooting up, you are under pressure.

So, it is important to not get carried away and stay in the present. But it was a great feeling to see so many people. When we played the series against South Africa in Surat, a lot of people turned up to cheer for us. So, it’s always a great feeling to see so many fans cheering for you.

The team has a packed international and domestic calendar. What are your targets for the future?

We have the World Cup lined up next year, so ideally the preparations should start by now. But with the coronavirus effect, things are stalled for now. But we are training at home and keeping ourselves ready. Once the situation improves, we will get back to training. This time, the target is to win the World Cup. 

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