In the high-octane clash against Pakistan, in what was India’s opening match in the ongoing ICC Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, Vastrakar was at her best with the bat.
Coming in to bat at number 8, Vastrakar, who hails from Bilaspur in Madhya, Pradesh belted 67 off 59 deliveries and stitched a 122-run partnership with Sneh Rana (53 not out off 48 balls) to take India out of a tough situation. She walked in to bat with India at 114-6, at the fall of captain Mitahli Raj’s wicket. Her valiant knock was studded with eight boundaries. She was adjudged the Player of the Match for what is now her highest career score across all formats.
Pooja Vastrakar (Image credit: ICC)
Opting to bat first, India were under immense pressure after swashbuckling opener Shafali Verma fell for a duck. Mandhana (52 off 75) and Deepti Sharma (40), however, steadied the ship but Pakistan made a strong comeback to remove Deepti and Mandhana and then dismissed Harmanpreet (5) and skipper Mithali Raj (9) cheaply too.
Vastrakar and Rana then put together a Women’s World Cup record seventh-wicket stand of 122 and helped India post a respectable 244 for 7 at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.
Pooja Vastrakar (ANI Photo)
India then skittled Pakistan for 137 in 43 overs to keep their perfect World Cup record against the arch-rivals intact. This was in fact the eleventh straight win for India women against Pakistan women in the 50 over format.
“I am happy that she (Pooja) helped India keep a clean record against Pakistan. She has got huge support from legends like Mithali, Jhulan and Smriti. Mithali and Jhulan also call her Bablu sometimes (laughs),” An elated coach Ashutosh Srivastava, Pooja’s first coach who shaped her career told TimesofIndia.com.
HOW PLAYING WITH BOYS IMPROVED VASTRAKAR’S GAME
It was 2009 when Srivastava spotted Vastrakar. Srivastava was a private coach in Shahdol, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. Vastrakar was playing cricket with some boys and she was tonking them for huge sixes. Srivastava closely observed her for some time and then walked up to her and asked her if she would be interested in training at the academy where he was a private coach. She quickly replied in the affirmative.
Srivastava asked her to start training from the very next day and told her that she would be in the boy’s squad. Initially, she was surprised but later she agreed.
Pooja Vastrakar with her coach Ashutosh Srivastava
“I included her in the boys’ squad. She was playing the best bowlers in the academy with ease. Initially, she played with Under-14 boys and then Under-16. She also played with Under-19 boys. She has natural talent. The best part is that she always watches the ball very closely when she bats. She always says – ‘sir why should I leave a loose ball, I will send it where it should go’. This is the approach she has towards the game. She is ruthless,” Srivastava, who is now a Level-1 coach with the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Academy (MPCA), further told TimesofIndia.com.
Pooja’s playing role is that of a right arm medium pace bowler and before the match vs Pakistan on Sunday, she had a total of just 190 runs in 12 ODI innings.
She also has 30 international wickets so far across all three formats.
A few days after joining the academy to train under Srivastava, Pooja lost her mother. This incredible personal loss at a very young age was extremely traumatic for the young Pooja. She had just begun playing cricket seriously. She was numb with pain and stopped going to the academy.
Srivastava didn’t want a talent like Vastrakar to leave the game. He decided to speak with her father, Bandhan Ram Vastrakar, a retired BSNL employee, and her sister, Usha Vastrakar. Usha, a promising sprinter herself, supported Srivastava and convinced her father to encourage Pooja to go back to cricket.
“It was a tough time. Pooja’s sister Usha is an athlete and she knew how to handle the situation. We managed to encourage Pooja and she rejoined the academy the very next day. I was really happy to have this courageous girl back. Pooja is the youngest of her five sisters. She also has two brothers,” Srivastava further shared.
“Now, she supports her family. She also contributed a large amount of money for her sister’s marriage and helped her father as well,” Srivastava further shared with TimesofIndia.com.
‘Chota Hardik’ – that’s the nickname the 22-year-old has picked up since her international debut in 2018. The reason being her fearless approach to the game.
“She is ‘chota Hardik Pandya’. And our ‘chota Hardik’ has done the job for India. I am so so happy. The way she played this innings for India vs Pakistan, it was amazing to see. Mithali, Jhulan and Smriti, and all her teammates call her by this name (chota Hardik). This (knock vs Pakistan) will become one of her best innings. She is young and has a long way to go. The way she picks up the ball and then launches it is pretty similar to how Hardik Pandya plays. She is a fearless and hard-hitting cricketer like Hardik,” Srivastava signed off.