Shikha Pandey’s dreams take flight at World Cup
When Harmanpreet Kaur tossed the ball at Shikha Pandey for the last over against New Zealand on Thursday, India watched with bated breath. Needing 16 to win off the last over, New Zealand took the chase down to the wire when Shikha bowled that yorker at Amelia Kerr. At Goa’s Panjim, Shikha’s family was glued to the TV, praying for a miracle. And they erupted when she bowled the final ball.
“She had called before the game and said how she wants to win the match for India. It was so thrilling to see Shikha bowl the final over successfully. Amelia Kerr was on fire,” said her father Subas Pandey, a retired school teacher who shifted to Goa from Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh in 1997. Shikha’s love for the sport grew after shifting to Goa but it was mostly confined to gully cricket till she entered her teens.
“I was always very strict when it came to education. She took to proper training when she turned a teenager. I told her to be disciplined and achieve a professional degree first and only then can she pursue her dream of playing for India,” said Subas. “She has some brilliant variations up her sleeve. The way she bowls in the death overs is remarkable. She bowls off-cutters and inswinging yorkers in tight situations. So far, she is doing a great job in the World Cup,” said India medium-pacer Mansi Joshi, who has shared the new ball with Shikha for India.
“The India bowling coach Subroto Banerjee has been of great assistance. She worked hard on her yorkers and other variations with him,” added Subas. That and Shikha’s discipline forged to help her become one of the most reliant pacers India have recently witnessed. Jhulan Goswami, who shared the new ball with Shikha in many matches, vouches for her discipline as well. “Once I roomed with her and was scared to watch television or speak on the phone. She would go to sleep at 9:30pm, finish her dinner at 7:30pm, wake up at 7am. I told her, ‘Shikha, you are such a nice girl but I would rather room with someone else. I can’t be this disciplined,” said Goswami from Kolkata.
Shikha ventured into cricket only after keeping her promise. She got an engineering degree and joined the Air Force in 2012 where she underwent training to be a flying ATC officer, and is now posted at the Palam Airport in New Delhi. “She used to be a topper in school and college. She joined Indian Air Force by clearing tests and not because she was a sportsperson,” said Goswami. It was finally in 2014 that Shikha made her Test, ODI and T20 debuts for India.
This T20 World Cup has come with its share of challenges. Shikha knew her role would be crucial in the absence of the experienced Goswami. With medium-pacers Arundhati Reddy and Pooja Vastrakar still learning the ropes, Pandey has more or less been the go-to bowler in pressure situations. But Goswami always knew ‘Shikhu’ would be up to the task. “Many pace bowlers carry a version of their aggression off the field but even on the field, Shikha was always good natured,” said Goswami. “She has a clear idea of her ability. She didn’t have a lot of experience coming into the India team possibly because the scene in Goa is not that vibrant, you don’t get that many games to play. But she had that spark. She would spot her own errors and that is why she has come this far. She is now the leading medium-pacer and mind it, she was not there in the last World T20. She has worked her way back into the team and how!”
(with inputs from Dhiman Sarkar)