India v Ireland, Quadrangular women's series, Potchefstroom May 16, 2017

Deepti, Raut learned of records on WhatsApp

India's record-breaking openers, Deepti Sharma and Punam Raut, each showcased their own style and story against Ireland: one highlighting exciting potential and the other, a tenacity and sense of abandon

Deepti Sharma revealed she had spent the last few months working on stepping out of the crease and disturbing the bowler's lengths © Associated Press

Neither Deepti Sharma nor Punam Raut were aware of all the records they had set until nearly two hours after the match, when they checked the India women's team's WhatsApp group that was flooded with congratulatory messages and links to news articles hailing their achievements.

Their 320-run opening partnership against Ireland in Potchefstroom was the first 300-run stand by any pair in women's cricket and it also bettered the highest opening partnership in men's ODIs - 286 between Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya in 2006. Deepti, who was eight at the time of the Tharanga-Jayasuriya stand, smashed 188 off 160 balls, the second-highest individual score in women's ODIs after Belinda Clark's unbeaten 229 for Australia.

Deepti and Raut did little to hide their initial ignorance of the records.

"To be honest, I had no idea about the record in women's ODIs and not even the one by the Sri Lankans," Raut told ESPNcricinfo. "However, because I've always looked up to Sachin [Tendulkar] ever since my initiation into the game, I was aware of the 250-something opening partnership between him and Sourav [Ganguly] as being the highest by India. But even when we were closing in on the 300-run mark, little did we know we had already broken England women's record [268 by Sarah Taylor and Caroline Atkins]. It was only after our post-match recovery session in the pool that we got to know about the records from messages we received on our team's WhatsApp group."

Ireland were already familiar with the impact Deepti could have on a match: she took 3 for 20 and struck an unbeaten half-century against them in India's tournament opener. On Monday, her 188, against an opposition weakened by the absence of several regular faces, sent social media into a tizzy. However, for someone who adheres to self-imposed restrictions on social media activity in pursuit of higher cricketing goals, her voice searched for meaning and purpose (read: more focus on cricket; less on hashtag hullabaloo) even during a phone call.

"When we walked out to bat, our intent was clear: maximise our returns in the Powerplay and neither be overly cautious nor take unnecessary risks," Deepti said. "Around 15 overs or so into the partnership, Punam [di] and I kept reminding each other it's important we punished the loose balls, and make sure the run rate didn't drop."

© Getty Images

In the early stages of her innings, a circumspect Deepti scored 21 runs off 48 balls. Her hundred came off 106 balls with 12 fours. Her last 85 runs came off 34 deliveries, of which 15 were hammered for fours, and two for sixes. For someone self-admittedly predisposed to negotiating a ball solely on its merit, it is not surprising that the madness of the latter part of her innings was rooted in method.

"After I got to my century, I decided to shift gears and challenged myself to score boundaries even off deliveries that would have otherwise fetched me ones or twos," Deepti said. "I wasn't being ambitious; I was only trying to implement a few plans.

"In recent months, I have worked extensively with my coach, Vipin Awasthi, on stepping out of the crease, going down the pitch and loft the ball with a view to upsetting the bowler's intended lengths. I think I was able to hit as many fours today largely owing to the many nets sessions I've devoted to internalising this approach. Going forward, my attempt would be to implement this [plan] against the stronger teams as well."

Shanta Rangaswamy, former chairperson of the BCCI women's selection panel, lauded Deepti as one of the world's best allrounders in the making and Raut echoed those views on her opening partner's precocity.

Had I been the type to be deterred by challenges, I would have chosen to do something else in life
Punam Raut on her unusual career trajectory

"I have played a lot with Deepti since her earliest days in the domestic cricket circuit," Raut said. "It's heartening to see her having bettered her game, in every aspect, in such short space of time. During the partnership, I was particularly observant of the composure with which she constructed her innings. Surely, it belies her age."

Having made her international debut against West Indies in the 2009 World Cup in Australia, Raut's journey through 42 ODIs, 35 T20Is and two Tests has followed a pattern of surprise exclusion, emphatic performances in the domestic circuit and subsequent re-inclusion.

In 2012, she was dropped from the squad that toured West Indies, but was recalled for the subsequent series against Australia and the tour of England. Her failure to follow up her 60 at Lord's in the first match in England put her chances of a straightforward selection for the 2013 World Cup in jeopardy. However, Raut forced her way back into the side with prolific returns in the 2012-13 domestic season.

The last year has turned out to be uncannily similar. Having been excluded from the team for the limited-overs series against West Indies and the Women's World Cup Qualifier, Raut was recalled for the Quadrangular series on the merit of her recent domestic form. With two unbeaten knocks - 46 and 109 - in three matches in the series so far, she has also forced her way into World Cup squad. Her response to the highs and lows of her career is founded on the same abandon that drives her performance on the field.

File photo - Punam Raut has been a part of India's highest partnerships in Test, ODI and T20I cricket © AFP

"I play cricket because that's what I love the most," Raut said. "Had I been the type to be deterred by challenges, I would have chosen to do something else in life. I'm not sure what that 'something' would have been, but definitely not cricket.

"Being out of the national side makes you look at things from a different perspective. Every time I was dropped from the team, I chose to look within, not without. I looked at it as an opportunity to improve, as a challenge to take my game a notch higher and come back a better-oiled version of myself. You can say I thrive on challenges and that approach, in my opinion, has been one of the reasons I got picked for this side and, maybe, also for the World Cup."

On Monday, Raut accomplished the feat of being involved in India's highest partnerships across formats - she has partnerships of 275 in Tests and 130 in T20 cricket with Thirush Kamini. She attributed much of her renewed confidence to her coaches, Sanjay Gaitonde and Chandrakant Pandit, who, she said, had helped her read the "mental aspect of the game" better.

"My coaches have worked relentlessly in the nets to help me hone my shot selection," Raut said. "Their guidance on the need to focus on the mental aspect of the game has instilled greater confidence in me because when you are up against formidable sides like Australia, New Zealand and England, that is where the major part of the game is lost or won."

Raut echoed Deepti while underlining the importance of records: "At the moment, our focus is to win the Quadrangular series and put on a show at the World Cup. That is the ultimate glory. Personal achievements aside, putting in good performance for one's country in the World Cup is what matters the most to any cricketer."

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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