Sushma Verma has established herself as India's first-choice wicketkeeper since making her debut in 2014. However, her contribution as a batsman has been minimal, largely because she has hardly had opportunities to prove herself. Prior to Sunday, she had batted just eight times in 22 ODIs, facing a grand sum of 56 deliveries, off which she scored 13 runs, a strike rate of 23.21.
She batted at No. 8 or lower in seven of those eight innings. The last time she batted before Sunday, she was sent in at No. 10, even below Ekta Bisht, no more than a tailender. Until the Pakistan game, India's third at the World Cup, this hardly mattered thanks to robust contributions from the top order. But on a sticky wicket with the top order having a rare off day, the team needed Verma to overcome her battles, and she did.
Promoted to No. 7 ahead of the more-accomplished Jhulan Goswami, who has a reputation of being a big hitter, Verma exhibited tremendous composure and match awareness to make a 35-ball 33 to help India recover from 111 for 6 to 169 for 9. Her 34-run stand with Goswami for the seventh wicket, significant in the context of the game, earned plaudits from her captain Mithali Raj.
"At that point in time, when we were losing wickets, it was important to slow down a little," Raj explained of Verma's promotion. "On a few occasions in domestic cricket, when our Central Zone side was in similar situation, she bailed us out. We expected her to play that role and she did until the 48th over. Those boundaries were also very crucial.
"Her partnership [with Jhulan] got us to 170. We were looking for 170 when we lost the top four. When you play such matches, it's important to continue the momentum but not every day will the same batters will score runs, so I'm happy someone has stood up to get those runs. It's important we got this opportunity to reflect on our batting order."
Opportunities have been rare for Verma in domestic cricket too as she started her career with Himachal Pradesh and moved to Railways for better cricketing prospects. But moving to a more-established outfit also brought about a fresh set of challenges. Playing in a team that has a star-studded batting line-up that boasts of Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Punam Raut has largely meant that a berth in the top order, which she may have been guaranteed at Himachal, has been non-existent.
In the entire 2016-17 season, she had four opportunities to impress, twice each in the one-dayers and T20 competition. She managed 21 in those four knocks. It's a role she has taken awhile getting used to, but one she has grown to accept, Verma said. "The team management has been working a lot on the lower-order batting. We have been getting equal attention as the top and middle order. I was waiting for this opportunity.
"I've understood I will have minimum balls to face, I need to make maximum impact. Today, there was such an opportunity. It's not that I'm confident only because of wicketkeeping. For me, the main concern and focus is to score as many runs as possible in as little balls as possible."