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On Jhulan Goswami’s retirement, Renuka Singh shows she is ready to carry the baton

India seamer from Himachal Pradesh's remote village has had a promising start to her international career and can swing the match single-handedly in the team's favour.

India's Renuka Singh celebrates with Yastika Bhatia after taking the wicket of England's Sophia Dunkley. (Reuters)

Deepti Sharma running out Charlie Dean on the non-striker end might have helped India clinch a historic whitewash at Lord’s in Jhulan Goswami’s farewell series, but the player of the match was Renuka Singh.

Renuka, 26, is still very new in international cricket but has given glimpses that India’s fast bowling is in safe hands and she is ready to carry forward the baton from Jhulan Goswami.

In Jhulan’s final match, it was Renuka’s opening spell burst of 4 for 29, which opened the gates for India. She dismissed Tammy Beaumont, Emma Lamb, Sophia Dunkley, and England skipper Amy Jones.

The wicket of Dunkley has become a trademark Renuka dismissal — pitched up, wobble seam and then it jags back, a certain Tahlia McGrath can attest.

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Renuka relishes bowling in English conditions, and with 11 wickets, she was India’s leading wicket-taker for India in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Wicket pe ghaas aur thoda sa seam movement milta hai toh mooh mey paani aa jata hai (I start salivating if I see grass on the surface and a little bit of movement),” Renuka had told Indian Express before the ODI series against England.

In India’s opening match against Australia in the Commonwealth Games, Renuka ran through the eventual gold medallist’s top four, removing Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, captain Meg Lanning and Tahlia McGrath in an impressive spell of 4-0-18-4. Even though India lost the match, Renuka came close to almost single-handedly winning the game for India.

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The other impressive facet about Renuka’s bowling is her wicket-taking abilities with the old ball. At Derby, in the second ODI, Harmanpreet Kaur stole the show with her scintillating 111-ball 143, and Renuka’s 4-57 went unnoticed. In that match, Renuka struck with the new ball, by removing Emma Lamb and Sophia Dunkley and then returned in her second spell to remove dangerous-looking Danni Wyatt, and Sophie Ecclestone to pulling the reins on England’s chase.

In her seven ODIs, Renuka has bagged three four-wicket hauls, including back-to-back against England in the recent series. In the T20Is, she has 15 wickets in 14 games with an impressive economy rate of 6.23.

Player of the Match India’s Renuka Singh poses with her medal. (Reuters)

In the few games she has played, Renuka has become Harmnapreet Kaur’s go-to bowler, just like once Jhulan was to Mithali Raj. Renuka had shown that India won’t have to worry with the new ball after Jhulan Goswami’s retirement.

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It is still too early to compare Renuka with Jhulan, but their journey to cricket has been more or less the same. Both of them started playing cricket with friends and cousins like any other child, breaking the occasional window. It is streets where they picked up the pace, just to be able to play with the boys who only wanted to bat. One was doing it on the plains of Chakda, West Bengal, while the other was traumatising boys in Rohru, Himachal Pradesh.

“I used to play with my elder brother (Vinod) and his friends, and normally in the gully cricket, no one wants to bowl. I became a bowler and when they taunted me for bowling slow, I started bowling with the run-up,” recalled Renuka.

Renuka has bowled with Jhulan in four games and modestly says she would never be able to fill the massive boots of Jhulan Goswami.

India’s Renuka Singh Thakur celebrates with Pooja Vastrakar after taking the wicket of England’s Tammy Beaumont . (Reuters)

“In Australia, when Mithali (Raj) di gave me my debut ODI cap, Jhulu (Jhulan Goswami) di, was the first to congratulate me. She said ‘make me proud, take loads of wickets.’ I replied ‘Aapke aadhe tak bhi pahunch jaun wahi badi baat hai (If I reach half what you have done, it will be a big achievement),” said Renuka, when asked about taking over from Jhulan Goswami.

“There will never be another Jhulan Goswami. Many girls like me have started playing cricket because of her. What she has done to Indian women’s cricket is phenomenal,” she added.

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Renuka’s inswinging deliveries have troubled all the top batters so far; even her childhood coach had earlier told this newspaper that ‘Inswing is her real weapon,’ but Renuka she was really struggling with her inswing when she joined the senior team.

“I was with the team in the ODI World Cup, and I was struggling to bowl the inswingers. Coach (Ramesh Powar) spotted a few technical flaws, and I worked on certain things such as run-up, wrist position, and I regained my touch,” she said.

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“Next target is to increase my speed. It is something that I am working on,” she added.

It would be an uphill task for Renuka to replicate what Jhulan has done over the years. It is going to be a long road, but the seamer has certainly got all the ingredients to excel at the highest level.

First published on: 25-09-2022 at 12:11:03 pm
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