WPL 2024: Obsessed with MS Dhoni, powered by javelin skills, Kiran Navgire leaves behind finisher role to arrive as an opener

Kiran Navgire loves finishing games. Her personal coach Gulzar Shaikh shares an aspiration the swashbuckling batter has had for a long time: “To finish matches for India by hitting a six like her idol MS Dhoni.” From her WhatsApp status that reads, ‘cricket god MSD’ to playing with a bat that has the former Indian captain’s initials scribbled on it, Navgire has been aboard the Dhoni hype train since she first saw him hit that World Cup-winning six.

So it was only poetic that a promotion up the batting order – à la Dhoni 2005 – brought her out of a slump.

Having played all nine games for UPW last season, she’d only scored 155 runs. The streak of low scores continued in the Senior Women’s T20 Trophy last year, and in the first two games in this year’s WPL. With her place in the playing XI at stake, Navgire would waltz into head coach Jon Lewis on the eve of the game against Mumbai. “I want to open,” she’d tell him, as shared by captain Alyssa Healy after their win on Wednesday. It’s this confidence that’s got her so far in her journey.

Coach Shaikh shares having been at the receiving end of it after a T20 Challenger Trophy game in Pune. “She was playing in such a big tournament for the first time and told me before going out to bat, ‘I’ll open my mark with my favorite shot.’ And she did so, a sweep shot off the first ball for six. When she returned I told her, ‘That’s a risky thing to do’. Her gentle reply was, ‘I can do it, sir’. She isn’t overconfident, it’s the belief that drives her,” he tells The Indian Express.

WPL Kiran UP Warriorz’ Kiran Navgire celebrates her half century with captain Alyssa Healy during a ‘Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2024’ T20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and UP Warriorz, at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, in Bengaluru, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (PTI Photo)

It may have gotten her out plenty of times during her slump but on Wednesday, the sweep shot was out again as Navgire blitzed to 57 off just 31 deliveries. But when he first saw her smashing sixes for fun back in 2017, Shaikh admits Navgire wasn’t even aware that she could make a profession out of it.

Festive offer

Playing in the Abeda Inamdar National Invitational tournament in Pune, she was riling up the bowlers when the Azam Sports Academy coach enquired, “Which club do you play at?” To his surprise, Shaikh would learn that Navgire had no club or plans for cricket and wanted to make big in athletics. She had already won several medals in track and field events, and held a national record in the Javelin throw. Shaikh intervened, “We asked her to leave it all, give herself a couple of years in cricket because we knew she could make it as a top-tier player. Within three days she stood outside my office with her bag, ‘Sir, mai aagyi hu’.”

Strength from Javelin

Divorcing himself from the sheer emotion of watching a batter nail maximums, Shaikh’s first observation of Navgire’s game was negligence for taking singles. “Back then, she only wanted to hit maximums. Defence ka maamla na ke barabar tha. (Her defensive game was next to nothing),” he says.

Her ease of execution while playing the sweep/slog sweep comes as a by-product of honing her javelin skills. Shaikh explains, “She is extremely comfortable in dispatching any of the shots in front or behind the square that require her to sit on one leg and stoop forward. They take a lot of shoulder strength. That’s not an issue for her.”

It was evident in the six she hit off Amelia Kerr. A leg-spinner in fine form, tossed up her stock ball, outside the off stump, and it was deposited over deep mid-wicket.

Dhoni, a way of life

For Navgire, Dhoni is a way of life. Having just decided to sign for the Nagaland domestic team to get more play time, Navgire lived in a hostel close to the Azam campus ground in Pune to avoid missing a single day of practice, starting as early as 5:30 AM. The big change she implemented during the second lockdown was that of championing her mind.

“She worked mostly on meditation. On her breathing,” says Shaikh. “She has consciously worked on becoming calm and composed. Even though, as long as I remember, she doesn’t get flustered from anything. She has been an optimist. These are the traits she takes from her idol. From the time I’ve been with her, I’ve learned that she won’t give away her state of mind from her expressions. She’s like, ‘What’s done is done, let’s move on to what’s next’. Baatein kam hai uske paas. Kehti hai, ‘hum balle se baat karenge, aise kya baat karein’ (She speaks less. She says, ‘My bat will do the talking for me’).”

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