Titas Sidhu shows promise as the pace spearhead
The tall teenager, who plays a fearless brand of cricket, conjured up a dream spell to help India win the Asian Games gold on Monday
During a high-performance camp last August, Nooshin Al Khadeer was puzzled seeing Titas Sadhu walk into a meeting holding ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ in her hand. When asked why she had carried a book to a meeting, she shrugged and said: “I’ve been reading it so got it along.”
Just 17 years old then, Titas was comfortable being herself. This confidence was evident on Monday too as she ripped through the Sri Lankan top order to help India win gold at the Hangzhou Asian Games, her spell reading 4-1-6-3.
“I’ve always looked at Titas as someone I can rely on,” said Nooshin, head coach of the India U-19 team. “I know I can talk to her and she’ll understand, which isn’t the case with every player. She’s very calm, which is in stark contrast to her aggression on the field.”
On Monday, in her first tournament with the senior team four days short of her 19th birthday, the pacer delivered a sensational spell when it mattered the most. Armed with a smooth action and the ability to generate movement in the air and off the pitch, she rescued her team from a tight spot.
India had been restricted to 116/7 after opting to bat first and Sri Lanka seemed to have got a start. Sadhu, introduced in the third over, though struck with her first, fourth and eighth deliveries. Three quick wickets, which included the all-important Chamari Athapaththu, and India were on their way. In a low-scoring game, her bowling figures were decisive.
“When you know you’ve ticked all the boxes in training, it gives you that confidence,” said Nooshin. “Titas knows her game very well, her preparation has always been very good.”
Titas wasn’t picked in the playing XI when India began their Asian Games campaign. She also wasn’t the first choice at the start of the ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup in January. Then too she stole the show in the final by taking two wickets for six runs and winning the Player-of-the-Match award.
In fact, even a month before that in Mumbai, Titas hadn’t featured in the India U-19 team’s first two matches against the New Zealand development side. It was a five-match T20 series and the hosts swept it. She got to play just two games but made a mark by picking 3/35 across eight overs.
Tournament after tournament, from Mumbai to the World Cup in South Africa to the Asian Games, Titas had to show patience before she was given a chance. And each time, she seized upon the opportunities that eventually came her way for a phenomenal rise towards the top.
“Her speed has improved a lot,” said Nooshin. “She bowled at around 102 kph at the start but touches 115 regularly now. Her fitness and understanding of the game have got much better too. Even within a few months after the U-19 World Cup, I could see how far she has come. There was such a big difference and she got much stronger. Having tasted success at the World Cup, she probably understood what she can do better to become a frontline bowler.”
Earlier this year, Titas also competed in the Asian Cricket Council Women's Emerging Teams Cup and impressed with the new ball in both matches that India played. But perhaps more importantly, she got to be a part of the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League and rub shoulders with the world’s best. Acquired by Delhi Capitals for ₹25 lakh, she didn’t get to play a single game, but spending time with the likes of Meg Lanning, Jess Jonassen, Marizanne Kapp and Shikha Pandey would have further enriched her.
Titas belongs to a batch of young cricketers that also includes Shafali Verma and Richa Ghosh, two established players in the senior side, and the common factor between all three of them is that play with a great sense of freedom.
“We have been developing the Under-19 squad by simulating pressure situations for them in practice sessions,” said Nooshin. “At the U-19 World Cup, it wasn’t just Titas, we saw so many players who performed fearlessly. That happened because they know their game better and practiced in that way. They train with such intensity that someone like Titas, for instance, would head into every match thinking it’s just another one. It’s all about the quality of the preparation.”
To perform at the biggest stage, when there is everything to play for and the expectations are highest, requires character. Across sports, there have always been players who excel most times but stumble when it matters most. Titas, though, has shown maturity beyond her years so far.
For India, who consistently struggled to cross the final hurdle at big events, to win two important titles in the same year is an encouraging development. That this success has coincided with the emergence of a youngster, who is seemingly blessed with a big-game temperament, is just as promising.
The key, however, is to allow Titas the space to grow and chart her own journey.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to put pressure on her,” said Nooshin. “She comes from the land of Jhulan Goswami. However, Jhulan was Jhulan and I don’t think anyone else can contribute the way she did for so long. Having said that, Titas will be Titas and it would be wrong to put any pressure on her. We should just let her be.”