Given the death traps for pacers that are most pitches in the subcontinent, Indian quicks in women's cricket have forever jostled for space on team sheets and record books. Bridesmaids to spinners at best, a large part of their playing second fiddle has been down to a deficiency in their own primary skill: raw pace. [Women's cricket 101: Nope, quicks don't clock 140kph.]
So if you know any young girl aspiring to be a fast bowler in India, let them know what they're signing up for: spin-friendly tracks to bowl on, no specialised coaching service like the MRF Pace Foundation to train at, and fighting a constant urge to switch to bowling spin. That's because by the time a rookie female quick finds her feet in the domestic circuit, a realisation invariably hits her: two pacers in an India women's starting XI is a security bond every captain signs; three is a misinformed investment in a fraudulent scheme - that's Indian women's cricket 101.
The rundown, admittedly, reads gloomy. But it might help explain why Shikha Pandey and Jhulan Goswami's pace-bowling masterclass at Wankhede Stadium in the second ODI against England may be the perfect #MondayMotivation for young girls in India aspiring to take up pace bowling.
"Probably I have stopped brooding a lot, I am an over-thinker. My focus has narrowed a lot. That is helping me and I will continue to do that" SHIKHA PANDEY
Against a star-studded England line-up, Pandey and Goswami became the first pair of India women pacers to pick up four-wicket hauls in an ODI. Sharing new-ball duties, they bowled ten overs in tandem to start with, reducing England to 31 for three to set up a series-winning seven-wicket thrashing of the reigning 50-over world champions.
Their aerial connection aside - Goswami is employed by Air India, while Pandey is a Flight Lieutenant at the Indian Air Force - there's not much similarity between the two. Pandey moves the ball through the air, into the right-hander, while Goswami elicits movement off the pitch.
On Monday, they combined their skills in searing early spells in the Powerplay. Goswami squared up the batsmen and beat them with movement off the grassy track several times before Pandey's relentless inswingers had them mistime their flicks for leading edges.
While the pair's pace hovered in the 109-113kph range throughout, it was the accuracy of their lines that denied the batsmen any chance to settle. Their combined tally of 39 dots in the Powerplay alone set the tone for Pandey's career-best figures of 4 for 18, and a 4 for 30 for Goswami.
Two quick bowlers dictating terms to a non-subcontinental side on an Indian pitch is a rarity. But Pandey and Goswami's new-ball partnership has won Indian games in the past too, if not quite in familiar conditions. Most memorable of those was the must-win league game against New Zealand in the 2017 World Cup, where they shot out the openers inside three overs, keeping New Zealand to 26 in the Powerplay to set up India's entry into the knockouts. More recently, their efficacy as a pair came to the fore again during India's ODI series win in New Zealand last month.
Pandey's performance in New Zealand gave a glimpse of what was to come against England, where she started with 2 for 21 in the first match, besides teaming up with Goswami with the bat to take India to a winning total of 202.
Beyond the distinction that comes with returning career-best figures, the four-for in the second ODI may also be a self-affirmation for Pandey. She was dropped from the World T20 squad but made a comeback in New Zealand following a five-for in the final of the Challenger Trophy where she led India Red to the title.
Pandey's recent performances may spur her on to bigger things in a career where she has oozed promise aplenty as a bankable quick-bowling allrounder but has been pegged back by her own frailties.
"Probably I have stopped brooding a lot, I am an over-thinker," Pandey said after the second ODI. "My focus has narrowed a lot. That is helping me and I will continue to do that."
The streak of self-admonishment that has often been an evident hindrance in Pandey's growth was visible on Monday too. In the sixth over, a grimace and an angry clap came in the wake of an inswinger that went down the leg side. On another day, it may have led to her erring the line again, eyeing a corner in the field to dig a hole where she could jump in and chastise herself in silence. Instead, the next ball was a near-perfect full delivery outside off that sneaked past Heather Knight's edge. The change in her approach, by Pandey's own admission, is down to a simple tweak.
"I am in a very good head-space right now," she said. "A few months back, I was not feeling well about myself. Right now, I am enjoying my bowling, I am trying to control the controllables. Things that are in not my control are out of the picture."
Pandey says "getting dropped from the World T20 side has [not] sparked something in me". She instead puts down her consistency in the last five ODIs to insights from new head coach WV Raman.
"There were a few technical issues, which were brought into my notice by Raman Sir," Pandey said. "I was very surprised that I did not realise those. He has been that assuring face in the dressing room. He is someone who you can speak about bowling and he is always there with an opinion about it. I would say, he caught the flaw during the Challengers (Raman was in Vijayawada to watch). Those minute things actually helped a lot."
As for her idol Goswami, now also a colleague and friend, getting the Player-of-the-Match award ahead of her, Pandey said it was of little consequence. But given the mentor-friend figure Goswami is known to be in the Indian dressing room, trust Goswami - "the team player… always ready for the team" - to walk to up to her junior and share a slice of the bounty. After all, not often do you have bridesmaids play party-poopers for those that have denied them two world titles in two years.