Match Analysis

Pooja Vastrakar once again proves she is the X-factor

The seam-bowling allrounder's match-winning spell of 4 for 12 derailed Trailblazers' chase

Annesha Ghosh
Annesha Ghosh
Pooja Vastrakar had a game to remember, Supernovas vs Trailblazers, Women's T20 Challenge, Pune, May 23, 2022

Pooja Vastrakar had a game to remember  •  Pankaj Nangia / Sportzpics for IPL

On the eve of the 2022 Women's T20 Challenge opener, Supernovas and India T20I captain Harmanpreet Kaur named Pooja Vastrakar, among others, as one of the success stories of the tournament that has struggled to find its meaning and purpose.
Beyond her miserly 2-0-9-0 in the inaugural one-game edition in 2018, Vastrakar's performance in three outings across the two editions she played in didn't have much to write home about, though.
A little over 24 hours on from Harmanpreet's assertion, however, Vastrakar returned her best T20 bowling figures - 4 for 12 - in Supernovas' 49-run victory at the MCA Stadium. In what was the biggest win by the run margin yet across the tournament's four seasons, the 22-year-old from Madhya Pradesh added a new chapter to a spectacular comeback story that began unfolding last June.
In the past one year, Vastrakar has proved time and again she is the X-factor that can decidedly tip the scales in India's favour, no matter the format or match situation. A top-shelf bowling allrounder and swift mover in the field, Vastrakar lent credence to the claim with her performances on the 2021 tours of England and Australia, and then in the bilateral series against New Zealand earlier this year before the ODI World Cup.
In the only T20I India have played since - a standalone fixture on their New Zealand tour - Vastrakar opened the bowling and gave away just two runs in her first two-over spell while sneaking in a maiden too. She finished with 2 for 16, picking up the wickets of Amelia Kerr and Lea Tahuhu to cut short two budding partnerships.
A similar efficacy with the ball was on view in the ODI World Cup in March-April, too, the seamer drawing on her ability to hit the deck hard, hurry the batters on, mix her variations up and alter her lengths.
Her four-for against Trailblazers on Monday wasn't much different in terms of execution, even in the face of the offensive the opposition unleashed early in their chase of 164.
"I was focused on pitching the ball in my areas and getting the team a breakthrough as early as I could," Vastrakar, the Player of the Match, said after the game. "I had a lot of fun bowling on this surface because when we were training here, I realised hard lengths could have a big role to play."
Trailblazers had hammered 34 in the first four overs before Harmanpreet brought Vastrakar on. Before heading to her run-up mark, Vastrakar had a long chat with Harmanpreet about the field setting. The conversation gave the impression that an elaborate ploy, hatched over the last week, was about to unfold.
"I had a lot of fun bowling on this surface because when we were training here, I realised hard lengths could have a big role to play"
Pooja Vastrakar
A tight first five balls, worth only five runs, followed. And on came another raft of field changes: long-on pushed back, short third man pulled in. The invitation had been sent to Matthews to launch Vastrakar over cover. And the West Indian import tried doing just that. She charged down the ground, shuffling to the leg side marginally, and attempted to flat-bat Vastrakar inside-out. But in vain.
The shortened length and the bounce Vastrakar would consistently extract - more pronounced than any other Supernovas quick - on the night had Matthews chip an edge to the keeper. After snapping the breezy 39-run stand, Vastrakar removed Smriti Mandhana and Sophia Dunkley in her next over, thanks to almost carbon-copy, low catches by Priya Punia.
In the 12th over, Vastrakar rounded out her night with the wicket of Salma Khatun, who chipped one straight to Sophie Ecclestone at cover.
"It was quite windy throughout, so we had a chat during the innings break that we must try to limit them in the powerplay," Vastrakar said. "After that, our focus was to be on cutting down the boundaries and staying consistent with our wicket-to-wicket lines."
Harmanpreet singled out Vastrakar for swinging the momentum towards Supernovas with three strikes up front.
"Pooja did a great job for us," Harmanpreet said. "That's what we were expecting from her. I think bowling in these conditions helped her. I am really happy with the way she bowled."
And it wasn't with the ball alone she left her imprint on Supernovas' win. Vastrakar scored 14 off 12 balls and added 27 off just 19 balls with Harmanpreet for the sixth wicket, bringing in some of the form she showed in the recently concluded Senior Women's T20 League where she tallied 183 at an average of 36.50 and strike rate of 118.83.
"She's a phenomenal athlete," Vastrakar's Australian team-mate Alana King said. "It's great to have her on my team and be training alongside her. She runs in and bowls hard and fast every bowl.
"And she gives it a good whack [with the bat] as well. It was awesome to see her clean up. She bowled exceptionally well today and really got us back into the game when things were drifting away."

Annesha Ghosh is a freelance sports journalist. @ghosh_annesha