Poonam Yadav, India’s pint-size magician

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Spotting Poonam Yadav in a crowd always requires some effort. At 4 feet 11 inches, she is invariably dwarfed by most of her colleagues in a team huddle. She can be inconspicuous in other ways too. At the time of writing, she has 144 followers on Twitter; compare that to her team-mates Mithali Raj (620,000), Smriti Mandhana (363,000) or Harmanpreet Kaur (215,000). Poonam, the No. 2-ranked T20I bowler, has no overseas T20 league contracts. But all that might change soon, if she keeps performing like she has done this year.
With 32 wickets in 22 innings at an average of 14.09, Poonam is the world’s leading T20I wicket-taker in 2018. She’s gone past Shadab Khan’s tally of 28 this year and as many of Jasprit Bumrah’s in 2016 to claim the record, male or female, for T20I wickets in a calendar year. Having featured in all of India’s T20Is this year, she has bowled the most overs – 78 – across teams and boasts the second-best strike rate – 14.6 – among bowlers who’ve sent down 50 overs or more. In the World T20 opener on Friday, she missed out on a hat-trick, but ended with a three-for to help set up India’s win against New Zealand. Against Pakistan, on Sunday, she took 2 for 22.
Save for four instances, Poonam has claimed a wicket in all of her 22 innings this year. The highlight in her stellar 2018 came during the T20I series opener against Sri Lanka, in September. With a four-wicket haul – her second in 2018 – she went past Jhulan Goswami, India’s greatest bowler, to sit atop the country’s list of T20I wicket-takers.
The milestone wicket, her 57th, was only a minuscule part of the bigger gains Poonam feels she made on that tour, and this year.
Poonam Yadav in her delivery stride ACC
With a low release point – due to her height – much of Poonam’s efficacy as a legspinner comes from the generous loop she imparts, and the pace she denies the batsmen. The slowness of her deliveries often draws an erroneous reading of length from even the most established batsmen, and forces them to generate all the power themselves, which can make her extremely difficult to get away in limited-overs cricket, particularly on slow pitches. Now she’s made an important addition to her arsenal.
“During our Sri Lanka series, Ramesh [Powar, the head coach] sir suggested I work on the faster one,” Poonam says. “Aim at the [batsman’s] feet, and stump udaa do (make the stumps fly),’ sir told me. So I bowled a lot of the faster ones in the nets.
The first one I tried, the batter was out lbw.