Cricketers, apart from being known by nicknames, are also identified by a peculiar habit that forms their second nature. Steven Waugh would often carry a red handkerchief until the very end. You could spot Dhoni in his active days wearing the Morrant pads that sat comfortably around the calf muscles. Most modern day batsmen nowadays can be sighted almost habitually opening and closing their gloves after nearly every delivery. Chanderpaul‘s signature way of taking guard using the bails would become part of famous cricketing folklore. But there’s also something captivating about none other than Rajeshwari Gayakwad.
Nearly each time she jumps exchanging high fives with teammates having taken a wicket, she looks up into the sky as if signalling something up north. For some, it might be a tad bit vague. But truth be told, each time one of India’s most valuable spinners, and perhaps, among the most talented in the world affects a dismissal, she remembers her father, whom she insists watches her from the skies to this day.
There may never have been a cricketer who doesn’t have an inspiration, and there may never be such in the course of the future who won’t have an idol. But fortunate are those who have their role models around. Evin Lewis is pumped to spot his idol Chris Gayle, with whom he often opens in T20Is. Sehwag found the turning point of his life when he batted along with Sachin, his idol.
But for Rajeshwari Gayakwad- constant wicket-taker, batswoman’s confidence-buster, timber disturber, Karnataka’s finest export to women’s cricket- life’s been a rather whirlwind journey.
After completing her debut series against the visiting Sri Lankans (circa 2013-14), during which she took nine wickets from just six games, when she’d love to have embraced her life’s inspiration, she found the news of her father’s passing.
Heartbroken and dejected were the absolute polarising emotions to what she’d have felt at the completion of her maiden ODI wherein from 7.3 overs, she bowled not only three maidens, but took two wickets.
How often have we heard of a debutant emerge with bowling economy of 1.46?
Interestingly, the bowler India turns to during tough phases as also for opening T20I spells bowled every single ODI spell with her economy under 2 an over.
With a tough-to-decode loopy action that’s punctuated by flighted deliveries and those that turn in sharply, there’s nothing orthodox about the cricket of the left-arm orthodox specialist.
A cricketer whose craft is built on putting a tight lid on to the scoring, often single-handedly controlling the flow of runs from an end, Rajeshwari Gayakwad is a busy player not a goofy one who knows little about selecting the right Insta hashtags as her intent is on filtering out the unnecessary from the game; no mean words, no needless stares to the opponent either.
Perhaps credit must also be directed- but often isn’t- at just how quickly and swiftly she goes about finishing her overs, never bothering her captain with the plight of bowling an over slowly.
One saw a fine example of that in the fifth and final ODI the Proteas won, creating history on Indian soil for the very first time.
A contest that was more about du Preez and Bosch’s sweltering fifties that made lightwork of India’s ask of 189 (SA winning with 10 deliveries to spare) saw Rajeshwari Gaikwad as India’s only reason to smile.
Of the five wickets that India somehow managed on a day where it seemed the Proteas were on a run-rampage, three belonged to the mild-mannered spinner from a ten-over spell.
But truly speaking, if there’s ever a book written on just what makes spinners tick in the modern-age supporting wham-bam free-wheeling batting, Rajeshwari Gayakwad would alone constitute a chapter titled “the art of being miserly.”
While the March 17 ODI would perhaps belong to Mithali doing the bulk of India’s scoring, courtesy her 79, it was Gayakwad who bowled 4 maiden overs, ending with an economy of 1.3.
Let that sink in.
Yet, little is said in appreciation of a bowler who always puts the team ahead of her own goals. And very rarely do we see plaudits being lavished toward a bowler who once politely refused a car being presented as a token of respect by the state government, insisting the need to own a house as being her top priority.
To a country that, to this day, mocks women, despite proudly glorifying India’s image as being that of a ‘Mother,’ conveniently celebrating the birth of a boy, the arrival of a daughter not so much, Rajeshwari Gayakwad is an inspiration being a woman, and more importantly, the sole bread winner of her house.
But as you may have heard, greater things come to those who persist and so it did for India’s tireless trier.
Rajeshwari Gayakwad experienced her finest moment in the game, arguably speaking, in the grandest stage of cricket- the World Cup.
Nearly half a decade back, when she was still establishing herself in the top annals of the game, Gayakwad stuck glory for India in the must-win contest agains the White Ferns, the winner of which would march on to the semis.
Tempting Satterthwaite to come forward only to get stumped, Rajeshwari would clinch the first of her many and begin to stare down the middle order of one of the most dangerous limited-overs side at the Derby county ground.
The biggest wicket for India would be the second in coming, with Devine playing against the turn as Deepti Sharma gathered a blinder inside the ring. Not the best effort to clear the in-field. Next, a flighted but straighter one breached the defences of the dangerous Hannah Rowe. And finally, Tahuhu and Kasperek would last for just nine deliveries among them as Rajeshwari Gayakwad would spin a web of deceit and exasperation spinning India forwards in a tournament where they endeared themselves to millions.
At 30 and at the peak of her form and fitness, the headband-wearing timber-crusher is getting better with every game. Today, if you find an Indian spin attack an almost daunting challenge to overcome with Radha Yadav, Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma as its goldfishes, then one ought to remember that Rajeshwari Gayakwad is the Barracuda in the seas.
Always tempted by the desire to make an early breakthrough, always delighted by the idea to see batters on the blackfoot.
May that always be the case for one of the most committed and sincerest cricketers to have emerged on the big stage in the women’s game.