In India, cricket is not just the most popular sport, but a religion in itself where cricketers are worshipped and their victories are celebrated as festivals. While the national excitement over cricket tournaments and their news coverage is extensive to say the least, perhaps it is important to note how most of this coverage is centered on male cricketers.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that most people would not even be able to name a couple of women cricketers. Though the gender bias in sports is clearly evident in India, in no way does it point to a lack of talented and passionate sportswomen in India.
Poonam Yadav is one such Indian cricketer who has created a space for herself in the sport. Hailing from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, she was born in 1991 to retired army officer, Raghuveer Singh Yadav, and Munna Devi. Poonam’s passion for cricket brought her to train at the Eklavya Sports Stadium. However, around three years later, when she was close to quitting the sport, her father encouraged and pushed her to continue further. Since then, she has gone on to play numerous matches and win several national as well as international awards.
In the Indian women’s team, Poonam’s teammates have named her “a magician”, for being one of the most accomplished spinners among the rest. She is a spin bowler and bowls leg-spin. Poonam has played for the Supernovas in the Womens’ T20 Challenge and was also a part of the Brisbane Heat for the 2021 Women’s Big Bash League.
Poonam Yadav was a member of the Indian team that advanced to the 2017 Women’s World Cup finals, where the team lost to England by nine runs. She further made it to the top five in the Women’s T20I rankings in June 2018, finishing third on the list. She was selected for India’s squad for the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 event in the West Indies in October of 2018.
Before the competition, she was designated as one of the players to watch. With an amazing score of eight dismissals in five matches, Poonam Yadav was India’s leading wicket-taker in the competition. In September 2018, she became India’s best-performing wicket-taker in Twenty20 Internationals, with 57 wickets from 39 matches.
In the first T20I against Sri Lanka, she surpassed Jhulan Goswami’s record of 56. She is also India’s only front-line bowler who has appeared for India in every T20 game in 2018. She was chosen as part of India’s squad for the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia in January 2020.
India advanced to the final but was defeated by Australia, with Poonam scoring 1-30 (her lone wicket being Rachael Haynes) and scoring 1 run before being the final wicket to seal Australia’s triumph. Her finest bowling performance came against eventual champions Australia in the first game, when she wrecked havoc with the final figures of 4-0-19-4. She was a part of India’s Test Squad for a one-off match against England women’s cricket team in May 2021, as well as India’s team for the 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand in January 2022.
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In the ICC Women’s ODI World Cup, Poonam has played 9 matches on this pitch. She has taken 11 wickets at an average of 26. During this, her economy has been 3.86 and the best performance has been to take 2 wickets for 19 runs. In addition to challenging the gender stereotypes affixed to cricket as a sport, Poonam Yadav has also successfully challenged the notion of the “athletic physique”.
When asked how she managed to be such a phenomenal leg-spinner being just about 5 feet tall, Poonam replied, “It doesn’t matter whether one is tall or short. What matters is the kind of bowling one does. How consistent one is, these things matter. When I started playing, my height was the same. I worked very hard to develop the art of leg-spin. I started out as a medium pacer. My coach suggested that since I wasn’t that tall, I should attempt leg spin. It’s a very difficult job.”
Poonam went on to explain how she mastered the art of leg-spin through hard work and consistency. “When I started out, my deliveries didn’t reach the other end. I learnt the art after rigorous practice of two years.” She elaborated on how her fingers were not so strong, something which is required to control the ball efficiently, so she consciously worked on that, even in her day-to-day life by using her fingers more. “The harder you work, the better the results are on the field”, she says.
At present, Poonam Yadav is the most successful T201 bowler for India. As she worked her way up as a leg-spinner from originally being a medium pacer, her courage, temperament and passion for the game has gotten immensely inspiring. She has set groundbreaking records like winning most consecutive four-wickets-in-an-innings in the Women’s Twenty20 Internationals. She was presented with the Arjuna Award in 2019.
She has been India’s most consistent and best-performing leg-spinner for the past three world cups, and is currently playing for the Women’s World Cup 2022. Poonam Yadav, with her undying dedication and immense courage, remains a treasured part of the Indian women’s cricket team.
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Featured Image: The Cricketer