'Aggression is in my genes'
Describe your first day at work with Sydney Thunder. Was it a training session, a squad meeting or an ice-breaking session?
My flight to Sydney was scheduled the same evening we [the India women's team] landed in Mumbai after winning the Asia Cup in Thailand. So I missed all the ice-breaking and training sessions with the Thunder girls and was due to play a match the very next evening. I landed there and did a few pressers and the team meetings. Was dog-tired after that but excited to hit the ground running in a few hours
Your 28-ball 47 on your WBBL debut featured a lofted cover drive for six that was described by Adam Gilchrist on live commentary as "as good a cricket shot as you will ever see". Is that the best shot you've played till date?
One of the best, surely. I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was on air at that point. He even tweeted something after the game. [It's] always nice when a legend like him appreciates your game.
How did you feel when you had the bowler, Gemma Triscari of Melbourne Stars, in splits with that shot?
My first reaction action after hitting that six was… umm… confusion. I was like, "Hey, I smoked that one, and all she does in reply is burst into laughter!" The next match, which was also against the Melbourne Stars, and we needed 13 off 12, I remember I had closed out the game in the 19th over, with one four and two sixes. After I hit that winning six, I spotted Triscari laughing at short third man. I told myself, "Well, maybe, that's her way of reacting to sixes!"
How well did you get along with your team-mates?
Oh, it took me a while to remember the names. For the initial few days I wasn't able to tell their faces apart. I would think, "Wasn't this the same girl I was introduced to a few minutes ago?" But the first fielding session I had with them on match day was real fun. I had only four-five hours of sleep and was tired but the enthusiasm of the girls was infectious.
Their English is starkly different from what we speak here in India. I would have to strain my ears to make sense of what they spoke. I would focus hard on a few words when the Aussie girls would interact with each other and then pick a few up from there. I guess I did pretty well as a student (laughs).
Were you able to rub off a bit of Hindi or Punjabi on your Thunder team-mates?
Oh yeah, I did, but only a smattering. They seemed to be already familiar with "Chalo chalo" (let's go), and it was kind of nice the way most of the girls used it while heading for the ground. I also remember many of them showing particular interest in the "Jai Ho" song from Slumdog [Millionaire]. Many a time, I would enunciate the words, explaining the lyrics to them, and to their credit, they were pretty quick at getting the pronunciations right. But they would also put me on the spot, asking me to translate words like "breakfast" into Hindi. I would wonder, "Arre yaar, India mein toh breakfast ko breakfast hi bolte hain!" (Oh man, we call breakfast breakfast in India.)
Did you develop a liking for Australian food?
Sandwiches were a constant feature in breakfasts, and I absolutely hate sandwiches. I would be really annoyed every time I found it on the menu. And then there was also bacon. I wasn't accustomed to eating bacon before my WBBL stint. I don't even like fish much. I have always been an all-things-chicken aficionado, as you'd expect of a Punjabi. But my room-mates would insist I tried a bit of bacon. I kept refusing for the longest time - and succeeded in doing so too. Thankfully, though, the Thunder manager, Merv Pereira, turned out to be an Indian. That was the biggest plus point (laughs). He was almost like a godsend. And a lot of Punjabis based in Sydney would come to watch our games. My cousin lives in Sydney too. So, getting "ghar ka khaana" (home-style food) wasn't much of a problem.
You have been signed up by Surrey Stars for the upcoming season of the Kia Super League, England's domestic T20 tournament. Were you offered a contract by any other franchise?
No, it's only Surrey [Stars]. The BCCI informed me that the franchise wanted to rope me in for the tournament. Given that I don't have any cricketing commitments during that time of the year, and the World Cup, too, will have been over by then, I decided to give it a shot.
With one wicket in hand, and eight runs needed off the last two balls in the final of the Women's World Cup Qualifier, against South Africa, in February, you hit a six off the penultimate delivery and ran a couple the next ball to hand India the title. Talk us through that final-over finish.
We needed nine off the over, so I had made up my mind early that I would face all six deliveries. Raja [Rajeshwari Gayakwad], the No. 11 batsman, was at the other end, and knowing our tailenders rarely get to bat in matches, I was clear in my head I didn't want to give her the strike, because doing that would have meant I had to hope for her to take a single.
In such situations, you can't hope for things to happen - you've got to make things happen. The South African quicks were also keeping it really tight in the end overs. We had lost the last few wickets to yorkers. My target was to hit at least two fours or one six, and I was anticipating where the ball would be bowled according to the field placements. But after I failed to execute in the first three balls, I realised perhaps the bowler was trying to out-think me by bowling completely opposite to the field setting. So, I decided to play the last two balls purely on their merit, and luckily, I connected the penultimate ball for a six. Whew!
And what about the celebration that followed? Were you even aware your bat was on the verge of skyrocketing into outer space?
Such was the thrill of that win. Normally I wouldn't even let my bat drop to the ground, forget hurling it up in the air. My bat means the world to me, so after the excitement tempered down, I kept apologising to my bat for hours on end. But yeah, I did watch replays of that frenzied celebration on social media and, as I said, it was frenzied.
How was it being room-mates with West Indies captain Stafanie Taylor and batting in her company during the WBBL?
It was fun. Since most of the [Thunder] girls hailed from Sydney, they would travel from home. A few of us lived in the same apartment - Taylor, I, Sam [Bates], Cheats [Lauren Cheatle]. Taylor is a chilled-out girl - doesn't talk much and mostly likes to keep to herself. But I thoroughly enjoyed batting with her. We would share our individual understanding of a bowler's gameplan, share our views and experiences with each other. I got to learn a lot from her in terms of assessing tactics of opponents. She's really good at that: 70-80% of her predictions about the bowlers' lines and lengths would come true.
Tell us one trait you admire the most in each of the captains you've played under - Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Anjum Chopra and Alex Blackwell, the Thunder captain.
Mithu di has been immensely calm and focused as the leader of our side. Her experience as a top batsman for all these years reflects in her sound awareness about responding to a particular situation.
Jhulu di was as aggressive as captain as she's always been as a bowler. I'm an aggressive player myself, so I like that trait in her.
Anjum di was a cool-headed skipper. She would underline that there were no hierarchies in the team, no senior-junior classifications. She would often say, "Irrespective of age and experience, all players representing the national side, even the debutant, are on the same plane."
Blackwell is an out-and-out team player. Often after the end of a match she would seek our opinion on the choices she had made in the field that day and ask us how differently we would have reacted had any of us been in her position. It was nice to see the importance she attached to the perspective of every player.
The ideal way of describing your bowling style would be: right-arm everything. Your spin variations are marked by a deceptive use of pace and flight. How did you develop this brand of bowling?
It's only been two or three years since I switched from medium pace to spin. I don't focus much on the technicalities of the craft, to be honest. I just make sure I enjoy my bowling, which is what I'm glad I've been able to do so far. Much of the effectiveness of my spin bowling - offspin, legspin, wrong'uns or quicker ones - has its origin in the nets sessions I used to have in Moga.
During my early years of formal training, my coach, Rupchand Sir, would make the girls try out all types of bowling. I'm happy those experiments - the looping, darting and all that - are coming to good use now.
You've always said Virender Sehwag is your cricketing hero. How much of an influence has he been?
I grew up watching Sehwag, and he was the only reason I followed matches on television as a kid. I never had any other cricketing idol. I would meticulously follow his style of batting - his liking for scoring runs in fours and sixes, his approach in high-pressure situations. During my growing-up years, I would often try and execute some of the trademark Sehwag shots while playing with the boys in the neighbourhood. Even now, whenever I get to meet him, I discuss my game with him and try to learn something new.
Is your on-field aggression a reflection of your admiration for Sehwag's strokeplay?
Not really - the aggression is in my genes (laughs). It's been handed down by my father, Sardar Harminder Singh. I would tag along with him when he used to play club-level games. I think I picked up the hard-hitting style from him.
What is it like to be the connecting link between the two veterans - Goswami and Mithali - and the younger crop of players in the Indian team?
Spending considerable time over the years with Jhulu di, Mithu di and now with the youngsters as well, has helped me understand their mindsets. At times, when either side is not able to convey their thoughts to the other, I can play the communicator between them. The youngsters coming into the team may feel shy about discussing certain things with the two legends, while for them [Raj and Goswami], the concern may be to ensure their feedback is not misconstrued as putting undue pressure on the girls. That is where I can chip in and bridge the gap, if any. [It] helps the team-bonding too.
What's the worst sledge you ever copped on a cricket field and what was your response?
I'm not sure if I can recall the worst sledge but I do remember getting one from [Alyssa] Healy during the WBBL. I was at the non-striker's end and the noise in the stadium was quite deafening, so I couldn't hear what she said. But my partner told me between overs that Healy had uttered something unpleasant. Since I hadn't heard it myself, I chose to ignore it and carried on with my game. However, after the end of the match, Healy came up to me and apologised.
If there were a contest to publish most Instagram stories in a day, who among your India team-mates is likely to win?
Sushma Verma [the wicketkeeper] - hands down. No one in the team is a patch on Sush.
Who's the most fun on a night out?
I think it's Veda [Krishnamurthy]. She is a firebrand and a great dancer too.
Who's the worst?
It has to be Smriti [Mandhana]. You know how graceful she is as a batsman. But, unfortunately, I can't say the same about her dancing skills (laughs).
A catch goes up to win the World Cup final. Who do you want under it?
Myself. I trust my abilities the most.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo