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Feature

Renuka Singh finds her mojo ahead of T20 World Cup

With a tough 2023 behind her, Renuka's spell in the series opener would give confidence to the India management too

Renuka Singh struck twice in the powerplay and once at the death, Bangladesh vs India, 1st women's T20I. Sylhet, April 28, 2024

Renuka Singh struck twice in the powerplay and once at the death  •  BCB

Renuka Singh had been waiting for months to just feel normal: to be in the rhythm, start well with the new ball, and translate that to tangible terms in the wickets column using her swing and seam. On Sunday, everything fell in place for India's pace spearhead as she starred with a three-wicket haul to help the visitors go 1-0 up against Bangladesh in the five-match series in Sylhet.
For someone who spent most of 2023 in rehabilitation and recovery, it appears Renuka has peaked just at the right time for India, with the T20 World Cup around the corner in Bangladesh. After the visitors posted 145 for 7 on a surface that had some moisture due to an overnight shower, it was Renuka's spell that pegged Bangladesh back early in the chase after India posted what looked like a below-par total at the halfway stage.
"It feels very good because I am taking a three-wicket haul after quite a while," Renuka said after India won by 44 runs. "I was in a good rhythm and started well. When we had to bowl in the second innings, the weather had become quite good. That helped because it wasn't an easy wicket to bat on. So my plan was to bowl stump to stump and the ball would do enough."
Bowling just stump-to-stump denied Bangladesh runs. Her first wicket, off her third delivery, was a good length ball that jagged back in to trap the Bangladesh opener Dilara Akter lbw. Renuka gave away just three runs in her second over, bowling mostly good-length deliveries around off and fourth stump. Bowling her third over in a row, she cleaned up one-drop Sobhana Mostary with her seam movement. The ball shaped in off the surface and Mostary, who missed the ball completely, allowed the ball to go in between the pad and the bat and hit top of off.
In no time, Bangladesh were 23 for 2 in 4.1 overs with their captain Nigar Sultana in within the powerplay and Renuka finished her first spell with 3-0-16-2 in an excellent display of seam and swing-bowling. With Deepti Sharma and Pooja Vastrakar striking from the other end, Bangladesh were reduced to 33 for 4 and they could never recover from early blows.
Renuka returned after 15 overs, when Bangladesh were 78 for 5, to remove Rabeya Khan with a slower delivery to finish with 3 for 18 in four overs.
"I understood the pitch is going to help [fast bowling], so I kept everything simple, bowling wicket to wicket," she said. "During the powerplay, the ball swings a bit so it is easier to get the wickets. And during the death, I used the variations well."
It has not been an easy ride for Renuka since the start of 2023. She played a total of ten T20Is and picked up 15 wickets last year. At the T20 World Cup in South Africa, she was India's leading wicket-taker with seven wickets from five innings at an economy rate of 6.58. However, coming back home to WPL, she grappled at Royal Challengers Bangalore, scalping just one wicket in six innings before being sidelined with a stress injury. She then had to spend more than six months at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru to recover.
There she worked with bowling coach Troy Cooley, focussing not just on fitness but also on adding more variations such as the one that swings away, the reverse swinger and the slower ball to her arsenal. She made her India return in the home series against England in December and took seven wickets in three games, conceding just 6.3 an over. In the next assignment - Australia at home in January 2024 - she bowled 12 overs in three games for a solitary wicket at an economy of 6.75.
In WPL 2024, she struggled with consistency to eventually finish the competition with just two wickets from ten games in RCB's title-winning run. It was against this backdrop that her Sylhet spell arrived.
Since Jhulan Goswami first started inching towards her retirement, India have tried Meghna Singh, Titas Sadhu, Anjali Sarvani and Amanjot Kaur in the pace attack, although Pooja Vastrakar and Renuka have been the first-choice options. With Shikha Pandey being overlooked since the 2023 T20 World Cup, Renuka, who has now played 39 T20Is since her debut in February 2022, will be expected to play a key role in the upcoming T20 World Cup when the team returns to Bangladesh in September-October.
Renuka and India will have four more matches in Sylhet and the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka to stay in rhythm before they kick off their campaign at the World Cup.
"We definitely want to win it [The T20 World Cup]," she said. "This is a good preparation for us because the World Cup will be here. When we come, we will have an idea about the conditions, and how to bowl and bat on these wickets. So, we will be better prepared for the World Cup and we'll try to win it."

Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo