When Yastika Bhatia was in quarantine for a fortnight in Australia before the One-day International series began, she forwarded videos of her playing the guitar to her father. She had picked up the instrument when in lockdown during the second Covid wave.
On Sunday, Harish remembered one such video he had received on his phone.
“She sent one of an old Bollywood song, ‘Papa kehte hai bada naam karega,’” he says, laughing as he describes it. “And now she has.”
Harish woke up at 4 am, a good 90 minutes before Yastika was to play her third-ever match for the national team. When she came out to bat in the second innings, Yastika scored 64 runs off 69 deliveries in the Indian women team’s highest-ever successful ODI chase.
The win snapped Australia’s world record of 26 ODI wins on the trot, a streak which comprised wins over the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, and world champions England. Though the Indians had already lost the three-match series, the win in the final game on Sunday would give them a much-needed boost. There is a Test match next week and three T20 Internationals to follow.
Opener Shefali Verma had chipped in with a steady 56 off 91, and so did Deepti Sharma and Sneh Rana with 31 and 30 respectively. But Yastika played a central role and laid the foundation for a famous win.
In Sunday’s innings, Harish saw the result of the thousands of throw downs he and her personal coach Santosh Chaugule would launch at the makeshift-nets at home. Former India wicketkeeper Kiran More helped her develop power-hitting.
“She’s a very complete player, the approach and technique are very good,” explains More, who worked with Yastika for two months ahead of the Australia tour. “There’s a long way to go and she’s just played three games. It’s a good start though.”
Former national team coach WV Raman had contacted More and asked him to meet with Yastika in April.
“We did some work on her technique and some drills on power-hitting. Indian girls need power, compared to the foreign girls who are generally stronger,” he adds. “But she’s a very good student and she had the talent. The areas she wanted to work on we did, like hook shots, square cut, hitting long as well. I told her what she needs to do on the international stage.”
For those aggressive strokes on Sunday – she notched up nine boundaries – Harish credits More’s work. At the same time, he remembers the early morning sessions with his daughter when the pandemic struck last year.
“The society we live in was very helpful. They moved a few vehicles around in the parking area to help us set up a makeshift batting net,” he recalls. “We couldn’t use the hard leather ball because it could get noisy and a lot of residents are elderly, so we practiced with tennis balls. The bounce was sudden and unpredictable, but that’s what Australian pitches can be like. And you need to have quick wrists to work in those conditions. Training with Chaugule sir really sharpened her batting reflexes, and then Kiran More’s help polished it further.”
Apart from working on her batting and wicket-keeping skills, she also upped her fitness levels.
“She had a fitness trainer as well who would conduct early morning sessions over Zoom calls,” says Rajkuvardevi Gaekwad, chairman of the women’s selection committee at the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA).
“She’d spend an hour every morning locked in her room doing her fitness drills. And she’d do all this without the need to prod her. She’s been a very self-driven person. Like how she’d finish a match while on tour, head back to her room, freshen up and start studying without anybody telling her to.”
The young left-hander has been an A-grade student all her life. She’d get only 15 days to prepare for her Class 12 Board exams but scored 89 percent.
It was a surprise at the time, but when Harish looks back, it wasn’t unexpected.
“She’s always been fond of learning. Either it’s something in cricket, or something else. She learnt the guitar recently because of the second lockdown. During the first lockdown last year, she signed up for online classes and learnt French,” he says.
Her journey in cricket started when she was five. She and her elder sister Josita would train together and eventually played for the Baroda U-19 team. Josita, however, decided she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Yastika though was certain about cricket.
She’d go on to captain state Under-19 and Under-23 teams before getting the call-up to the national team. She’s played three matches for India so far, but Sunday’s knock in a record run chase was her best.
“She’s quite a jovial character when she’s not playing. No doubt the win today would spark something in her, but I’m sure there might be a few celebratory guitar sessions in the team hotel tonight,” Gaekwad adds.