Poonam Yadav: Focused on her game

“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,” says Arjuna awardee Poonam Yadav.

“Now many youngsters want to take up cricket seriously and their parents are also encouraging them to play the sport,” says Poonam Yadav.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Her teammates 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 was world’s leading wicket-taker in Twenty20 Internationals with 40 scalps.

Her hard work paid off in August when she was recommended for the Arjuna Award.

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 the key spinner in the Indian team. How would you rate your 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 on the domestic circuit, I could 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 the 2011 season, I moved to Railways and things changed.

So moving to 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 it to convince your parents to let you 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 my 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 families… So, initially there were a lot of questions from neighbours, who had no idea what I was doing, but eventually things settled down.

Poonam at the Indian Cricket Heroes event at Lord's in May.   -  Getty Images

There was a time when women cricketers were not recognised. But now all of you are known names...

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 of women’s cricket.

Now Indian women’s cricket 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 a 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.

Now, the set-up is also more professional…

Yes… After the World Cup, the interest in 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 Indian Premier League-style league?

The IPL is a good thing to have happened for the game because it has given youngsters a chance to show their skills. Playing alongside international cricketers, they even help the selectors get a fair idea to select the T20 teams accordingly. Since the 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.

Many of your teammates say you are extremely introverted. Do you love maintaining a low profile?

(Laughs) It’s not that I don’t speak to people. I share a very good rapport with all my teammates. 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 teammates. There is Smriti (Mandhana), Harry di (Harmanpreet Kaur), Jhulu (Jhulan Goswami), Mitu (Mithali Raj) who am I very close to. So, I am not an introvert, it’s just that I like staying focused. That’s how I am.

Poonam Yadav (centre) of the Trailblazers celebrates a wicket during the 2018 Women's IPL match against the Supernovas. Poonam feels it’s a great thing and that there should be more matches in the Women’s IPL.   -  Vivek Bendre

 

Is there someone who you share everything with?

My mom. 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 my mood and what I am going through. In the team, I talk to Harry, Mitu di. Smriti and I made our debut together, so we maintain a good bond. Smriti called me yesterday to congratulate and said: “It’s a good thing that we debuted together and we got the 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 in the Kia League and the Big Bash League. Do you want to feature in such 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 alongside foreign players. If I get a chance to play in the 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 leads to sleepless nights. But when I go to the field next morning, I put in my 100 per cent.