Renuka Singh Thakur’s WhatsApp display picture is of a tattoo where a father is playing with his daughter. Renuka had inked it in memory of her late father, who passed away in 1999. Kehar Singh Thakur, who used to work in the Himachal Pradesh irrigation and public health department in Rohru, died when Renuka was only three.
“Whatever little she has achieved is dedicated to her father,” says Pawan Sen, coach of the Himachal Pradesh Women’s cricket team. Before going to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games, Renuka had a long chat with her childhood coach. Sen’s only advice to her was to do well in the first match.
“Maine usko bas itna kaha ki pehle match mein aisa perform karna ki saare match mey khelne ka mauka mila (Perform well in the first match so that you get to play all the matches in the tournament),” Sen told Indian Express from Dharamshala.
Australia are 4 down for 34 runs.
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) July 29, 2022
“When she was picked for the 50-over World Cup, she didn’t get to play a single game. She wanted to prove herself to the team management that she deserves a long rope; against Sri Lanka, she did really well in both the T20Is and the ODIs, and now in the first match, she’s destroyed Australia’s top order. A solid effort indeed,” said Sen, who has trained Renuka for the past 14 years.
The 26-year-old seamer ran through Australia’s top four in India’s Group A opener at Edgbaston, removing Alyssa Healy (0), Beth Mooney (10), captain Meg Lanning (8) and Tahlia McGrath (14) in an impressive spell of 4-0-18-4. Healy and Mooney were dismissed on good length deliveries and Lanning threw away her wicket to a shortish, wide one but the wicket which satisfied Sen the most was of McGrath.
“Inswing uska asli weapon hai, inswinging yorker kaafi achha daalti hai, best hai country mein (Inswing is her real weapon and she has the best inswinging yorker in the country),” said Sen.
Mother and brother’s sacrifice
If not for her mother, Renuka would never have played cricket. Renuka’s mother Sunita joined the irrigation and public health department as a class IV employee in 2000, and as a youngster, Renuka showed interest in playing cricket at the village ground with elder brother Vinod.
“My husband loved cricket and had named our elder son Vinod after his favourite cricketer Vinod Kambli. When he died due to an illness, it was a tough time for our family as Renuka was just three years old. While I got the job as a class IV employee in place of my husband, it also meant that I would spend the day at Rohru.
“Renuka started playing with her brother Vinod at the village ground and to see her claim all these wickets for India in the opening game against Australia is due to all the hard work by her all these years. She has proved that she is no less than Vinod Kambli for all of us,” an emotional Sunita told this paper from Rohru in Shimla district.
At the age of 14, for the first time, Renuka moved out from her village Parsa near Rohru to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association academy.
“HPCA started a girls residential cricket academy in Kangra in 2009. She was very fit as compared to other girls. Maybe that came from the fact that she came from Rohru, a town at a height of around 1600m. As she was always interested in being a fast bowler, we initially made her run cross country twice a week to build her stamina,” said Sen.
Sunita supported Renuka’s dream. But in the process, she had to sacrifice her son’s dream. “Vinod was a good cricketer, too. But her mother could not afford it. You know how costly cricket is. So she decided to support Renuka, and it worked out well for the family,” said Sen.
Renuka’s brother said that she would travel with him to neighbouring villages to play games. “Renuka would always ask for the ball when she would accompany us to the village ground and later when she started playing with us, she was the only girl playing the morning and evening matches. Sometimes, we would travel to nearby villages and would get late but she would be happy that she helped the team win. She took two wickets in one local village league match and smashed a couple of huge sixes.
“That’s when my uncle Bhupinder Singh Thakur asked her to give trials for the HPCA Academy in Dharamshala in 2009 and took her for the trials,” shared Vinod, who is two years elder to Renuka.
Sen says his ward will not be satisfied with her performance after she was given the cold shoulder by the selectors in 2019.
“It is her nature. In the 2018-19 domestic One Day League, she took 21 wickets but was not picked for India. She was disappointed and that changed something in her. She is never satisfied with her performance. She always tries to improve in the next match,” said Sen.
Healy’s early wicket raised confidence
With only 155 runs to defend for India, Renuka put Australia at the backfoot on the second delivery of the first over as she dismissed star keeper batter Alyssa Healy for a silver duck, trapping her to play in the irresistible fourth stump line. When asked by the Indian Express after Friday’s match at Edgbaston on how big a boost that was, Renuka responded in the affirmative.
“Obviously, because it was a big wicket,” she said. “We had planned to bowl according to the field. My application of the same, raised my confidence.”
Despite Renuka’s bowling in the early stages of the innings, the game slipped away from India’s grasp even after they had pinned Australia at 110/7 with 45 runs still needed off 34 deliveries.
“The match was in our hands till the very end. Actually we only have two pace bowlers in the team right now. The wicket is good for the fast bowlers. We missed Pooja (Vastrakar) today.”