Shikha Pandey: India cricketer Shikha Pandey emerges as a better all-rounder in her new avatar

By Snehal Pradhan, Former India Cricketer

When she was dropped from India’s T20 squad for the World T20 2018, there was a possibility that Shikha Pandey’s career may be over. She had been the second highest wicket-taker for India in the period between 2014 and the 2017 World Cup, but had fallen out of favour with the team management in 2018.

A brutal series at home against Australia last year left all the Indian bowlers bruised, and Pandey seemed to carry scars. Her consistency suffered, confidence dipped, and on India’s next two tours, she carried drinks more than she played. Insipid performances in the T20 format saw her dropped for the first time since her 2014 debut when the WT20 came along. With younger bowlers emerging, India could have looked beyond the all-rounder, who is nudging 30.

You would have guessed none of this from the way she bowled at the Wankhede on Monday. For the second time in two games, her in-swingers picked up an England wicket in her first over. For the second time in two games, she threatened the stumps without spilling onto the leg side, giving away just 12 in a sevenover burst. Then she picked up wickets in her second spell, finding two LBWs in her last over, the 29th, the ball still swinging. She finished with her career-best figures of 4 for 18, yet somehow was pipped to the Player of the Match award by Jhulan Goswami, who took 4 for 30.

“There’s been this thing about me not being consistent,” she admitted after the game. “There were a few technical issues that (coach WV) Raman sir brought it to my notice. He caught the flaw during Challenger (Trophy).”

The advice seems a tipping point; Pandey finished the Challenger Trophy with 5 for 35 in the final, booking her place on the plane to New Zealand, where she showed early signs of a resurgence.

As an in-swinger who has two fifties in ODI cricket to her name, Pandey is an all-round talent that has not always been well managed by the establishment. She was once ignored for a tour to England after picking up six wickets in a selection match. On the flip side, there have been many occasions where she has got opportunities but not made the most of them, like in the 2017 World Cup Final, when she ran herself out with just 11 runs to win.

An avid reader and occasional blogger, Pandey is also a self-confessed over-thinker: a dropped catch will often puncture her body language irreparably. But in the last month, not only has she shown more control with the ball, she also seems to be in a better headspace.

“A few months back I was not feeling good about myself. But I’ve stopped overthinking and am now enjoying my bowling, even in the nets. I’m just thinking about controlling the controllables, so I’ve stopped brooding over things.” It helps that she has made a conscious effort to put the blinkers on, not read anything that is written about her, and narrow her focus to her game.

Surprised by England’s capitulation given India lost the World Cup final to them? “I’ve forgotten about the World Cup Final. I’ve got a short memory,” she replied. Upset about not winning Player of the Match? “I’m above all of that. We won the series, that’s what counts. For me, I’m the Player of the Match.” Pandey is a rare breed. Most players have namesake graduation degrees. Pandey is an engineer. Most players subsist on government jobs offered through sports quotas. Pandey got into the Air Force the hard way, passing the demanding technical exams and surviving rigorous training. She never got to be a pilot like she wanted, but she carried her kit bag along when she was enlisted as a Fighter Controller. Most players can place the prefix ‘Ms’ before their names. Pandey is Flight Lieutenant Shikha Pandey.

Pandey’s revival is as good for Indian cricket as it is for India. In a country where women have to fight to achieve even a single dream, Pandey is showing that if you block out the noise, you can live two. To borrow from Cricinfo writer Annesha Ghosh, most players represent the country in one uniform. Pandey has worn two.

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