Like any other budding cricketer, Pooja Vastrakar loved the gully version of the game. Among the first to notice his talent was Ashutosh Srivastava, a local cricketer coach in Shahdol, a small town in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh.
Srivastava saw a child smoking sixes on bowlers double his height. At first, Srivastava thought Pooja was a boy because of his cropped hair.
“It must be 2010. I used to work at a local cricket academy in Shahdol. I saw her playing in Shahdol municipal ground. I saw a child hitting sixes in cricket with a tennis ball. I asked one of the kids, who is my boy, the response was ‘mister ye toh ladki hai’. I was amazed by his punching power”, Ashutosh Srivastava shared on Vastrakar’s first voyage with The Indian Express.
— BCCI Women (@BCCIWomen) March 6, 2022
The next day, Srivastava asked ten-year-old Pooja if she was interested in playing cricket. Pat replied, “Cricket mera passion hai.” But Srivastava had one condition. He told her department that she would only train with the boys and not play with the girls.
“She was way too good for girls her age. I put her in the boys’ team. She used to play U-14 cricket with the boys. When she started playing with the boys , it turned out that she was the best among the boys in her age group too,” laughs Srivastava.
“What sets Pooja apart from the rest is her confidence. The energy is just next level. She’s not afraid of anything,” he adds.
Sunday against Pakistan in India’s opener against arch-rivals Pakistan, Pooja showed his fearless cricket.
What a spectacular performance by the Indian girls against Pakistan.
It was a beating, and in great style.
Pooja Vastrakar with a valiant sleeve, the all-around great show of ever reliable Sneh Rana and exceptional Rajeshwari Gayakwad with the ball.
ChakFrom India #IndvPak pic.twitter.com/CyAy04phTt
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) March 6, 2022
When Pooja Vastrakar came on at bat at No. 8, India were shocked at 114 for 6, losing five wickets for just 18 runs. The intrepid youngster took on Pakistan. It looked like India’s tail was about to end quickly, but Pooja Vastrakar had other ideas. .
She faced the Pakistani bowlers from the start. It wasn’t just big shots, but the way Vastrakar and Rana ran, converted those into twos and twos into threes that was commendable. Vastrakar showed his senior pros Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, who were struggling to start, the importance of strike rotation.
The two shining stars of India – Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar. Together ; they battled for the best 7th wicket partnership in ODI. What a day to go down in history. Well done ladies; to ensure an Indian victory #CWC22 #INDvPAK @cricketworldcup @BCCIWomen @SnehRana15 pic.twitter.com/7pMAqssPna
— Anjum Chopra (@chopraanjum) March 6, 2022
Back at Shahdol, Srivastava was unimpressed with his ward’s performance.
“I have seen her play such innings so many times. For Madhya Pradesh U19 team, she used to hit in the middle order. Last year during JS Anand Trophy (Senior Women’s Tournament), organized by MPCA, she broke two hundred doubles and scored 150. She is ruthless with the bat,” Srivastava recalled.
Like any Indian athlete, Pooja has had his share of struggles. Just a month after joining Shahdol Academy, she lost her mother. A distraught Pooja wouldn’t make it to the academy for a month.
“I was not in Shahdol. When I came back, a fellow coach said that she would not come to the academy for a month. I immediately went to her house. Usha (Vastrakar), one of her sisters, assured me that she would never come and miss a single practice session,” he says.
Brilliant victory for #TeamIndia!
Sneh and Pooja’s partnership got us back in the game when we were 114 to 6. The best thing the two of them did was cleverly rotate the strike and convert 2’s to 3’s and not fail to put the bulk deliveries.
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 6, 2022
Pooja is the youngest of seven siblings (five daughters and two sons), and Usha, who was passionate about athletics, made sure she would never skip her workout.
“When our mother passed away, Pooja was only 10 years old. She was devastated and when Mr. Ashutosh came to our house and told us that she was a gifted cricketer, I decided that she was going to pursue her career. passion. We are very proud of his accomplishments,” says Usha.
Pooja’s father, Bandhan Ram Vastrakar, a retired BSNL employee, is very happy with his daughter’s performance but is worried about her injury.
“I hope it won’t be too serious and that she will be fit for the next game. Since the age of 4 she has been playing cricket. I never thought she would continue to play for the club. ‘India one day, but she always I knew it. Whenever she asks for money to play cricket, I’ll tease her why she’s wasting her time in cricket. She used to say : “aap dekhna India khelungi (one day I will play for India),” says Bandhan Ram.
“I hardly did anything for her. At first it was Mr. Ashutosh, who helped her. Then when she was chosen for the Madya Pradesh U19 team, she started to earning money and never asked me for anything. She even helped me with money during her sister’s wedding,” a proud dad recounts.
Vastrakar was deservedly named Player of the Match for her excellent shot. “I’m very happy with my first Player of the Match award, in my first World Cup game. The plan was somehow to try to get to 200. I like to hit in pressure situations, even in domestic matches. I said the same to Sneh (Rana), to keep the partnership going. The batters told us the wicket was slow, so the target was 200, but we we didn’t hit differently,” Vastrakar told broadcasters after the game.
Vastrakar was injured but according to the Indian team’s physio it is not a cause for concern.
“The physio said the injury will heal quickly and I’ll be back soon,” the 22-year-old said.
India next face New Zealand on March 10.
Many congratulations @BCCIWomen on a comprehensive win over Pakistan and start the World Cup on a spectacular note. Good game. I wish the girls the best for the upcoming matches. #IndvPak pic.twitter.com/y61tmzIODL
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) March 6, 2022
India: 244/7 in 50.0 overs (Pooja Vastrakar 67, Sneh Rana 53 not out; Nashra Sandhu 2/36, Nida Dar 2/45); Pakistan: 137 in 43.0 overs (Sidra Ameen 30, Diana Baig 24; Rajeshwari Gayakwad 4/31, Jhulan Goswami 2/26)
India extended their unbeaten run against Pakistan to 11 games in the ODIs.
The 122-point stand between Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar is the highest stand for the seventh wicket of the Women’s ODIs. It is also the first century partnership for the seventh wicket of the Women’s World Cup.
Pooja Vastrakar became the first player to score a half-century beating at age 8 at the Women’s World Cup.
Mithali Raj has become just the third cricketer and first woman to feature in six World Cups, joining iconic Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistani great Javed Miandad.
Jhulan Goswami has become the second highest wicket taker in the Women’s World Cup, the veteran pacesetter is just one wicket behind Australia’s Lyn Fullstone (39).