Women’s T20 World Cup: Radha Yadav spinning a generational change
At first glance, a makeshift grocery-and-vegetable store, positioned atop the remains of a road once under-construction and left unfinished, right outside a Slum Redevelopment Authority building, typifies a certain kind of Mumbai story of jugaad.
But 65-year-old Omprakash Yadav’s shop, on Saturday, had an atypical flurry of visitors; a steady stream of people dropping by, smiling, offering him their best wishes. No, it’s not a wedding in the family, or the silver-haired shopkeeper’s social standing that brings them here, but because he is the father of Radha Yadav, the 19-year-old spinner in India’s T20 World Cup squad. On Saturday morning, Radha had run through the Sri Lankan line-up, returning the best figures of her fledgling career 4/23.
Yadav is sporting a National Cricket Academy (NCA) jersey with a BCCI logo—the only giveaway to his connection with cricket. Yadav is overjoyed with Radha’s performance.
“After four generations, she will be the one bringing us happiness,” he says, sitting in his store, half-hidden by the packets of snacks and vegetables in crates. In one corner is a stack of R1 toffees, a rage in the city back in the nineties, when he set up shop here. Yadav’s home—in the SRA building which used to be a slum till 10 years back—and shop, are just a few metres away from the Mumbai Cricket Association’s swank Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana facilties and the MCA grounds in the suburbs of Kandivali.
“Our ancestors were very rich, they had tabelas (dairy farms, in Mumbai), but they could not sustain the business, money was lost, and my father left for his village,” Yadav says.
But it did not improve the family’s financial conditions, and Yadav made his own decision to move back to Mumbai from their village in UP’s Jaunpur in 1989, and moved into a shanty with his wife. In 1995, they shifted to another slum, this time in Kandivali, where he started his shop. It is also here that Radha, and her two older brothers and elder sister, grew up in a 200-square foot home. Mostly, Radha could be found playing gully cricket with the local boys.
In 2013, a local cricket coach called Praful Naik, scouting for talent to strengthen his school team, stumbled upon a gully game where Radha was playing.
“I spotted her as a 12-year-old playing in half-pants with the boys in the society compound,” Naik says. “She stood out in the crowd. She bowled medium pace as well as spin. I felt she was more effective with spin and could conserve her energy for her batting.”
That’s how Radha Yadav’s career as a left arm spinner began. Because the Yadav family could not afford it, Naik took it upon himself to finance Radha’s cricket, and also helped her to shift from her first school to Our Lady of Remedy High School, where he was the coach. Playing in her first tournament, Radha helped Our Lady win the inter-school championship that year. The next year, she was called up to the Mumbai U19 squad. In 2016, Naik moved to Baroda to set up his own academy; by then, the coach-pupil bond had grown so strong that Radha moved too, to live with her coach’s family, and train at his academy (she recently bought an apartment in Baroda). Radha was immediately picked up by the Baroda age-group teams, then the state team, and in 2018, she got her maiden India call.
“One coach from Tendulkar Gymkhana came to give the good news,” Yadav says. “That’s when we experienced a feeling of happiness we had never felt before. There wasn’t any money to throw a party, but all of us in the family celebrated over a special meal.”
This is Radha’s second T20 World Cup. In her first, in West Indies in 2018, she was the joint highest wicket-taker with eight scalps. She was also India’s highest wicket-taker in 2019. But in Australia, she is competing with Rajeshwari Gayakwad for the left-arm spinner’s slot. With good outings against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, she has done her semi-final chances no harm.
After the Sri Lanka match, Yadav also praised the team’s spin coach, former India cricketer Narendra Hirwani.
“Narendra has been with us since the West Indies tour last year in November. He has definitely worked a lot on my bowling,” Yadav said at the presser. “My mindset often gets jumbled and I start overthinking about a lot of things, especially my action and my deliveries in general, but he has supported me a lot by freeing my mind up and clearing the clutter.”
Coach Naik says she knows how to strike when it matters.
“I haven’t played cricket at the top level, just club cricket in Mumbai, but I have done enough coaching to tell that Radha knows to keep her wits about her,” he says. “She will stick to the team’s plans. Even when bowling short, she will have a fielder for it. She would know when to bring in which variation.”
Back home in Mumbai, Yadav has placed a Krishna idol in his one-room residence to pray for Radha and the team’s success at the World Cup.
“Dhol-nagare bajenge agar aisa hua,” he says.