Until a few years ago, Titas Sadhu dreamed of becoming a swimmer. She would accompany her father Ranadeep to the Chinsurah Rajendra Smriti Sangha academy, on the outskirts of Kolkata, West Bengal, and had no interest in cricket.
But over the years, things changed, and Titas eventually fell in love with cricket. Starting cricket at 13, she had to wait for her chance to break into the Bengal team. While she could not clear the trials on the first attempt, school board examinations (standard ten) forced her to miss out on the 2018-19 season.
Titas finally made it to the senior Bengal squad in the 2020-21 season post Covid-19 pandemic. Just 16 then, also a late starter, Titas was not expecting an opportunity to come her way so early, but the then Bengal women’s coach Shib Shankar Paul saw her at one of the training sessions and picked her for three practice games.
However, it was not a fairytale debut. Up against Uttarakhand, Titas had an abysmal outing. While Rumeli Dhar started the proceedings for Bengal with the new ball, Titas bowled the second over. The first ball she bowled went for a wide and boundary. She looked off-colour on the field and could not justify her selection in the first two matches and was eventually dropped.
But she performed well in the inter-district matches and the Cricket Association of Bengal-affiliated tournaments. And those performances were enough for her to earn back her place in the senior team.
Hoever, her moment of glory came only on Sunday when she rattled England’s top-order by finishing with a match-winning figure of 4-0-6-2. India bundled out England for 68 on its way to winning the inaugural ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup title in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Even though she was playing in an ICC final for the first time, Titas absorbed the pressure well and ensured she did not lose the plot.
“There were some nerves because it was the first-ever final of the women’s U-19 World Cup, and we all had that thing in our mind that we have to win this title. So, there were some nerves, but we handled them well,” Titas told Sportstar from Potchefstroom late on Sunday, a couple of hours after the Indian team created history.
“We took it as a normal game and did not want to take too much pressure. After the initial breakthroughs, we were pretty chilled out and really enjoyed the rest of the game,” she added.
For Titas, the initial idea was to bowl in the right areas as the pitch favoured the batters. “I think consistency bore fruit. The day before the final. I went for the practice session and bowled a couple of overs on the single wicket and was trying to hit the right line and length. I wanted to perform for my team, so that intent was there and apart from that, I spoke to the coaches and watched videos to identify which deliveries could get me a wicket,” she said.
Throughout Titas’ journey, Rumeli - a former India fast bowler - has played the role of a mentor, along with Jhulan Goswami.
Before travelling to South Africa, Titas had a long conversation with Dhar regarding the conditions in the rainbow nation. Goswami, meanwhile, provided her with inputs throughout the tournament, sending her text messages. Those things actually boosted Titas’ confidence. “Jhulan di texted me after the first match and also after the semifinal, which was really a big thing for me,” she said.
While she had played with Richa Ghosh in the past for Bengal, it was for the first time that Titas played with Shafali Verma, the captain of the Indian team. “Shafali was very humble, she mixed with us well and mingled around. We got very comfortable with her,” said Titas.
Going ahead, she wants to hone her skills and add more variations to her bowling. “The aim would be to gain more consistency on those variations. Obviously, the more I play, I will get more experience. It will give an idea in terms of what works in a match situation and what doesn’t. So, those things I am planning to work on,” she said.
On the eve of the final, the Indian team had a surprise visitor in Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra and it was a ‘surreal’ moment for the young cricketers. “It was surreal to talk to him because not everyone gets the chance to meet someone as inspirational as him, especially before the final. It was incredible and all of us were inspired and motivated after interacting with him,” Titas said, “Despite all his achievements, he was so humble and down to earth. It was sweet of him to come and meet us and help us get inspired…”
Chopra’s words created magic as the Girls in Blue took to heart each of his advice and went on to notch history, just as Chopra did it for India in Tokyo.