W Power 2024

Deepti Sharma: Carving a place in the Indian cricket team

The 26-year-old is the only Indian to feature among the top 5 in ICC's T20 and ODI world rankings for all-rounders, and is also the only Indian to have been selected for ICC's T20I team of the year

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Mar 19, 2024 05:07:16 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 01:52:48 PM IST

Deepti Sharma: Carving a place in the Indian cricket teamCricketer Deepti Sharma Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan For Forbes India ; Hair And Makeup: Manju; Stylist: Esha Kothari; Assisted By: Kaveri Halder
The only time Deepti Sharma appears somewhat perplexed during a 30-minute Zoom interview is when she’s asked to pick her favourite cricket skill: Bowling or batting. “Yeh bahut mushkil hai bolna [can’t really say],” she says. “Sirf yeh kyun, main toh fielding bhi enjoy karti hun [why just these, I enjoy fielding too].”

If Sharma’s answer betrays her love for cricket, cricket too loves her right back. The 26-year-old is the only Indian to feature among the top 5 in ICC’s T20 and ODI world rankings for all-rounders, and is also the only Indian to have been selected for ICC’s T20I team of the year. In January, during the T20I series against Australia, she completed 1,000 runs and picked 100 wickets in the format, becoming, again, the only Indian woman to achieve the twin milestones.

Recently, Sharma created history in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) by becoming the first Indian player in the tournament, and second overall, to pick up a hat-trick. Her all-round prowess came to the fore in the match against Delhi Capitals, where Sharma picked up four wickets for 19 while also scoring 59 runs, helping UP Warriorz (UPW) to a one-run win in a humdinger.  

Deepti Sharma: Carving a place in the Indian cricket teamBut it’s not just the shorter versions that Sharma is proficient in—in December, she single-handedly defeated England in a Test match in Mumbai, taking nine wickets across two innings and scoring a half century in the first; her bowling figures were the second-best by an Indian woman after pace legend Jhulan Goswami.

Perhaps no surprises that the girl from Agra, who plays domestic cricket for Bengal, has been named the BCCI’s international cricketer of the year for the 2022-23 season, for the second time in four years.

Sharma was fortuitously spotted by former cricketer Hemlata Kala, when one of her throws from the sidelines of a practice game she had gone to watch as a kid knocked over the stumps planted about 45 m away. As she completes a decade in international cricket this year, she has not only become a mainstay in the Indian team, but has turned the table on gender stereotypes, inspiring ‘Sharmaji ki beti’ as the new idiom for excellence.

“The 2017 ODI World Cup semifinal match is remembered for Harmanpreet Kaur’s unbeaten 171 that destroyed Australia, but if it wasn’t for Deepti building a partnership at the other end and turning over the strike, Harman might not have been able to do what she did,” says Lisa Sthalekar, ex-Australia captain, commentator and a mentor with Sharma’s WPL team UPW.   

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Yet, despite her towering achievements, Sharma’s glut for cricket hasn’t waned. Asked to choose between a century and a five-wicket haul, if she could have only one against her name, she picks the former—not because bowling is any less dear to her, “but because if I score a century,” she says, “I would be promoted further up the order, which will give me more time at the crease and help me score more runs.”

More is something Sharma chases not just in her matches but practice sessions as well. “It’s great to have options,” she says. “I always prepare myself to hit three shots for every ball that I face. In bowling too, I hone my skills for all the three phases of a match—powerplay, middle overs or death.” During off seasons, she amps up her practice sessions to extract more out of them. “I want to improve my game in quick time.”

“Deepti is a competitor. Whenever the team is under pressure, she rises to the occasion,” says Sthalekar. “When she is bowling, you can see she likes to get into a battle with the opposition. She won’t let go of the ball, or if it’s hit back to her, she will fire it back to the wicketkeeper. Such a competitive trait has to come naturally, you can’t train people to acquire it.”

Also read: Shreyanka Patil and Asha Sobhana: The RCB spin duo are here to stay

“I told you I love challenges,” says Sharma. That’s why, she adds, she’s never burdened by the pressure of expectations. Instead, she enjoys marshalling youngsters, just like her seniors, Goswami and Mithali Raj, did to her in her early years. “They calmed my nerves and eased me into international cricket, now I want to pay it forward. I like it when the coaches ask me to guide youngsters, especially spinners. I enjoy the leadership role,” she smiles.

With two high-octane tournaments—the T20 and the ODI World Cups—lined up over the next 20 months, Sharma will have a billion hopes riding on her. But she is confident. “The dream is to win. The team has improved considerably. It’s only a narrow margin that has separated us from trophies. I believe winning them is only a matter of time.” 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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