Matches (24)
IPL (2)
USA vs CAN (2)
WI 4-Day (4)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
ACC Premier Cup (6)
SA v SL (W) (1)
Feature

Fitter, stronger, quicker Renuka produces dreamy spell against the best

She displayed all the qualities that India thought they would miss with the new ball in the post-Jhulan-Goswami era

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
29-Jul-2022
Renuka Singh broke Australia's back with the new ball  •  Associated Press

Renuka Singh broke Australia's back with the new ball  •  Associated Press

In India's first outing at a global event in the post-Jhulan-Goswami era, Renuka Singh, 26, displayed all the qualities that India thought they would miss with the new ball: swing, seam, accuracy, large heart.
The four Australia batters she nipped out weren't ordinary wickets. They were of world-beaters who have made a mockery of bowling attacks the world over. Alyssa Healy: one of the hardest hitters of a cricket ball in the women's game. Beth Mooney: one of the most versatile batters. Meg Lanning: scorer of more white-ball hundreds than any other woman batter, and owner of the most ferocious cut in the game. Tahlia McGrath: among the best young talents in the game currently.
It was meant to be a trial by spin, but Australia's top order was undone by seam, quite spectacularly, by a rookie, all of seven games old in T20Is, who simply stuck to the very basics coaches impress upon. Of bowling to your strengths, being accurate, and allowing the surface to do the rest.
Healy was out nibbling at a delivery she could have either left alone or cut. Mooney played down the wrong line. Lanning was in two minds of whether to bring out her trademark cut or simply steer the ball behind square, only to be caught at point. McGrath didn't perhaps know that inswing is Renuka's most potent delivery, and was in no position to drive one that bent in wickedly to beat the inside edge and flatten leg stump.
Last year, Renuka had burst through against the same team in Australia. Back then, she was slightly slower, giving batters a little more time to make adjustments against her. Between last October and now, Renuka has worked on becoming fitter and stronger, and has added a couple more yards of pace.
Prior to the Commonwealth Games, India had two 10-day camps either side of a tour of Sri Lanka, where she picked up seven wickets in three ODIs, including a career-best 4 for 28.
The camps were intense, with a set daily agenda. The fast bowlers were divided into different groups. Each group was put under a dedicated trainer, who logged in their workloads, their bowling speeds, their spells. A dietician worked through their food charts; every gram consumed was meticulously charted. Every evening's recovery session was planned to the T.
Then there were simulations and video analysis of every practice session. This extra emphasis on developing a young fast-bowling group had been in the works for two years, from when WV Raman took over as head coach in 2019.
"I've been working on my fitness for the past month," Renuka said after picking up her T20I career-best 4 for 18. "We had a dedicated fitness camp, and I've worked on speed, agility and endurance; I'm a fast bowler so those are really important skills. That has helped me a lot. I try and hit hard lengths, so that you can get help from the pitch. That has worked for me. I'm predominantly a swing bowler. The more I swing the ball, that much more help I'll get."
Renuka hails from Himachal Pradesh, a state known for its hilly terrain and adventure sport. Until 2008, there was not a single academy in the state dedicated for girls. That changed after Anurag Thakur, the former BCCI president, developed a state-of-the-art facility in Dharamsala the following year.
At 15, Renuka, who was at an age where she had to decide between pursuing academics or trying her hand at sport, was among the first batch of trainees at the academy. At 17, she broke through into the HP senior team.
Now, HP is far from a champion team in the women's circuit. Most players say landing a Railways gig is their ultimate aim. It offers them a competitive environment apart from guaranteeing several perks such as paid leave, government accommodation, a pension scheme, a monthly salary, and training equipment.
Renuka too had a similar dream, and it came true in 2021 when she got a job in the Railways. Within eight months of her playing in the set-up, she made her T20I debut in Australia last year, and has since become a regular member of the Indian team.
The debut came on the back of an impressive Senior One-Day Trophy, where Renuka picked up nine wickets in five games. But it wasn't until she picked up four wickets in her first spell against Karnataka in the final, like she did against Australia, that word spread of this seamer with excellent control and the skillset India had been on the lookout for.
If the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand gave Renuka an opportunity to apprentice under Goswami, the safety jacket has come off at the CWG. The start has been promising, and India will hope Renuka continues to thrive.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo