By Niharika Raina
New Delhi, Jan 6 (SocialNews.XYZ) Sushma Verma has been a familiar figure in the Indian womens cricket set-up since making her international debut in 2013. But with the emergence of youngsters, she had to work hard and go through the grind to be back in the reckoning for the Indian team.
Her hard work finally paid off when she was picked in India's squad for the upcoming T20I tri-series in South Africa, to be held later in the month, with 2016 T20 World Cup winners West Indies as the third team.
Sushma, who represents Himachal Pradesh in domestic cricket, was the third-highest run-scorer in the 2022 Senior Women's T20 Trophy, amassing 237 runs in seven innings, averaging 79 at a strike rate of 105.80.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, Sushma, who played the last of her 19 T20Is in 2016, speaks about her comeback, the journey that was taken for it, what the women's IPL can do for the game in the country and more. Excerpts:
Q. What was the feeling inside when you heard that you are in the T20I team for the tri-series in South Africa?
A. That feeling of being back in the Indian team was good. When you work really hard to achieve something and when that happens finally, it's good. But the things that I have dreamt about, are yet to be fulfilled. It's just one thing that I got this platform again, which is something for which many people work really hard and dream to achieve it. I am lucky enough to get this chance again.
Q. You last played a T20I for India in 2016. Can you take us through the journey taken by you to get back into the T20I scheme of things for India?
A. I played my last T20 game in 2016 and was playing ODIs constantly till 2018, before making a comeback in 2019. I went to the West Indies and didn't get to play a single game. I then got back to play in the 2021 series against South Africa. But the thing was, that whenever I got the chance, it didn'' many chances.
In between, I had the full belief that the changes I am bringing to my game, and the hard work I am doing, and the processes I have, made me feel that I am in the race and that I have to win this race. It was just that I have to work hard and whatever the requirements are there to be back in the Indian team, I have to fulfil all of them.
I had to perform in that way and thus, it was very important for me to perform very well in the domestic circuit because when you are looking to make a comeback, your performance has to be really, really good, as compared to making your debut. The hard work it takes to make a comeback, I did all of that. I kept some patience too, and there were many times when a stage came, where I thought, will it happen or not? But I kept going and now I feel good to see the result.
Q. In today's world, T20 has become an ever-evolving format, with changes happening almost every day. Can you explain the improvements you made in your game to keep up with changing times in T20 cricket?
A. Many matches are being broadcasted on TV. The Indian team is doing well, and so as the overseas players and teams too. I used to watch matches of everyone and used to observe how they are changing their game and then I would sit back with coaches to plan out that whenever I get a chance, I need to be ready to put in that kind of performance. I focused hard on all my preparation, which was hugely important.
Talking about the T20 format, it becomes very important to see what is the new element or the x-factor you are bringing into a new season in your game. To work on it and do the hard work for the same, and then to take confidence from it, you need to be preparing very well to get that confidence.
Q. Of late, power-hitting has become a big talking point in T20 cricket. Could you talk a bit about how you have gone about adding power-hitting to your batting skills?
A. Many people believe that T20 is a game of power-hitting. I had started to prepare for it 4-5 years ago to see how I can be better, like in training, doing that kinds of exercises in the gym, and how I can better myself in those aspects in the nets.
I think that the result of all those things is seen here. But I still believe that there is a lot yet to be achieved. It does feel good that the hard work and the process I put myself in through discipline, are giving me a good results. But I still believe there is still a lot to be achieved.
Q. Where do you enjoy batting the most in T20 cricket?
A. Personally, I don't have any position like that as I have batted at every number. If we talk of outside the Indian team, in this domestic season, I opened the batting and played in the middle-order and lower middle-order too. So, I have batted everywhere and I believe in T20s, it is not necessary for you to have your favourite batting position as the demand of the format is how flexible you can be with your batting order.
Sometimes with four overs left in the batting, somebody else is sent to bat. So, the game demands that you cannot be fixed and have to be mentally flexible as you have to bat anywhere and bat in any scenario for the team to play a role in winning the match.
Q. How difficult is it for a cricketer to bat in the lower middle order in T20 cricket?
A. Yes, it is very challenging to bat in that order in the T20 format as when you are batting first, you have to take out maximum runs in the minimum number of balls. When you are chasing, then you have to think of the strike rate with which you can get to hunt down the total by seeing the scoreboard. Definitely, scenarios while batting in this are different, like different planning and strategies are needed while batting in the top order.
But in the lower middle-order, the pressure is there, and the situation is against you most of the time. But there aren't many chances to succeed as compared to the top-order, but if your preparation is fully fine and are confident of your abilities, then you can go the distance to win the match for your team, which is an expectation from the middle or lower middle order in this format.
Q. How important has batting become for a wicketkeeper in T20 cricket and how much of your focus has been on making improvements with the bat?
A. In T20s, you need to keep well, but you also have to be great in your batting because it shouldn't be like you are playing in the eleven based on purely wicketkeeping skills and one has to play an extra batter.
Because if that happens, then the line-up of the playing eleven gets completely disturbed in terms of the number of batters and bowlers. But if you get a keeper who can be contributing with the batting skill, then it gives a way better result to the team.
My focus in the last 4-5 years has been to get my batting even better so that I can be considered as a proper wicketkeeping batter.
Q. Any specific preparation/drills you are undertaking ahead of the tri-series in South Africa?
A. Not much special preparation as I have toured South Africa twice before. So, I have an idea of the wickets there. But talking about the bounce, it is there when the wickets are hard in Australia, England, and South Africa and in the weather of current times, it will be hard wickets. It won't be that challenging, but yes, I am really excited about what will be coming in my way and what I can do.
Q. We have been hearing that from March that the Women's IPL will be held in India. How do you see the impact of a Women's IPL on the growth of women's cricket in India?
A. When the Women's IPL will happen, then we will get to see the changes which have occurred when the Men's IPL came into the picture. One can see where men's cricket was at that time and now you can see what the level is right now of men's cricket. In terms of women's cricket, one can see what the impact has been of the Women's Big Bash League in Australia, the Kia Super League and now, through The Hundred in England.
The result one can see in international cricket is teams have players who have been playing competitive cricket and do well in performing under pressure situations while mixing up with players from other nations. Somewhere I feel that the changes which will come in India will come through Women's IPL and will give better stability to the Indian team.
It will also give domestic players a platform to perform because I feel that many players get ignored. In the Indian team, you have 15 players and probably 30 players in the set-up. But for the rest of the players outside, it will be a really good platform to perform in the coming times.