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File photo: Veda Krishnamurthy. Image courtesy: Twitter

In 2011, when 18-year-old Veda Krishnamurthy struck a half-century on debut against a strong England team, I was not surprised. I was part of that Indian team, and watched as she took on the bowlers who had restricted our side to 98/3 in 30 overs. She helped India post a healthier  — though eventually insufficient — 202.

I had first met Krishnamurthy two years ago, when she was my roommate in a Challenger Trophy. She played no real part in the tournament itself, going home after the first game with a broken finger, but a pre-match net session is what convinced me of her talent. While I was harrying our regular openers and top order batters with my pace, the 16-year-old was playing me with all the time in the world, getting right behind the line of the ball.

The youngest of four siblings, Krishnamurthy’s parents hoped she might become an IAS or IPS officer. Hoping it would develop her self-confidence and physical fitness, they enrolled her in a martial arts class as a child. She obtained a double black belt at the age of 12, though she also had a strong interest in cricket.

There was just one problem: The family lived in Kadur, more than 200 kilometers from Bengaluru. Krishnamurthy’s father ran a cable operating business there, but there were precious few cricketing facilities, and even less so for girls.

So when Krishnamurthy saw an ad in the local newspaper about a cricket academy in Bengaluru, the 12-year-old begged her father to take her. Six years later, she would play for the Indian team.

After a sparkling start to her international career, Krishnamurthy’s form dropped. “Success got to my head”, she told Cricbuzz. “I was 18 when I played for India and scored a fifty against England on debut. I feel I got carried away.”

On the next two tours, to the West Indies and England, she did not manage to escape single digits even once. She was dropped from the Indian side, and it meant back to the grind of domestic cricket, and to the nets of the Karnataka Institute of Cricket, where she had begun her journey as a 12-year-old.

Back in 2005, Irfan Siat, chief coach at KIOC, had seen potential in the young girl, yet to enter her teens, from Kadur who turned up at his academy.

“I saw athleticism in her”, he told Firstpost. “She was very agile, probably because of her martial arts background. She had good hand-eye coordination.”

Sait spoke to her family and convinced them to allow her to stay with one of his female students for the duration of the summer camp. “I felt that she will be next India player from our camp”, he predicted, having already produced internationals like Manish Pandey and Karuna Jain.

Once it was apparent that Krishnamurthy had the talent to make the highest level, her older sister moved to Bengaluru and ferried Krishnamurthy to and fro practice and matches, often travelling one-and-a-half hours one way.

Krishnamurthy meanwhile, trained with the KIOC boys teams, and in just a couple of years, broke into the Karnataka senior team on the back of her fielding. “She could pull off some amazing catches. At just 14 or 15, she was game-changer by her catching alone”, said Sait.

Krishnamurthy made a return to the Indian team in 2015, three years older and more consistent. She celebrated in her second match back with a then-career best knock of 63, counter-attacking against a strong New Zealand side. It was a signature innings, punctuated by drives through cover as well as sweep shots. Without letting the scoreboard faze her, she played her usual aggressive cricket, but also identified and kept out the good deliveries. Her animated celebration after getting to fifty showed exactly how much it meant to her.

While she averaged only 16 in her first stint in international cricket, since her comeback she has averaged over 34, with four fifties in 18 innings. But it has been adding other facets to her game that have made her an asset to the team.

“Now she has worked very hard on her defence”, said Sait. “Earlier she was the slam-bang kind of player, but now she’s looking for singles too. It has helped that she’s rubbing shoulders with elite cricketers; she understands the game a lot more. She realizes that a lot is at stake.”

Perhaps the most widely viewed example of Krishnamurthy’s bold play is not on the cricket field, but on the television screen. She was one of four India women cricketers who appeared on a leading comedy show earlier this year. Amid the many casually sexist questions, the host asked the players about their favourite film stars. Krishnamurthy didn’t hesitate turning the tables on him by cheekily putting him on the spot instead.
Krishnamurthy goes into her first World Cup a little undercooked though. She has had only seven ODI knocks in 2017, with a high score of 31. Her batting talent has often been described as mercurial — prone to the odd lackadaisical dismissal — but if she gets going, few bowling attacks can contain her.

India play their first game against hosts England at Derby, the same venue where Krishnamurthy made her fifty on debut. The team will hope that she can recreate that belligerent form on the biggest stage.

(Firstpost)

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