Her father’s dream: Himachal pacer gets maiden call-up for women’s T-20 cricket team

Renuka Singh Thakur's keen interest was noticed by her uncle Bhupinder Singh Thakur, he suggested to the family that Ritika get enrolled at the HPCA women’s residential academy at Dharamshala.

ON TUESDAY evening, as 25-year-old fast bowler Renuka Singh Thakur’s name was announced as part of the Indian women’s T20I cricket squad for the three match T20I series in the Australia tour starting next month, the Himachal cricketer made an emotional call to her mother Sunita at her village Parsa near Rohru.

Renuka had lost her father Kehar Singh Thakur at the age of three, and as she was given a maiden call-up to the Indian women’s T-20 team, she remembered her father’s passion for cricket and longing to see one of his children play for India.

“It’s an emotional day for me and I cannot describe the feeling of being selected. My father loved cricket like anything and had named my elder brother Vinod after his favourite cricketer Vinod Kambli. While I was too young when my father died, maybe it was his passion and guidance which saw me playing cricket at our village. I am sure he will be cheering from the heavens when I board the flight to Australia and get a chance to don the Indian jersey,” said an emotional Renuka, while speaking with The Indian Express from Bengaluru.

While her father worked in the Himachal Pradesh Irrigation and Public health department at Rohru, his death in 1999, meant that the family’s responsibility fell on the shoulders of Renuka’s mother Sunita. She joined the department as a class IV employee in 2000 and as a young Renuka showed interest in playing cricket at the village ground near the Kundi Nullah, Sunita would encourage her daughter. “My husband wanted both his kids to play sport and see them doing the country proud. After he died due to an illness, it was tough phase for the family. But I never stopped my son and daughter to play any sport. While I used to work at Rohru, Ritika would spend her time playing cricket with her elder brother Vinod and his friends at the village ground. Sometimes, she would go to other villages to play cricket. Later, when she was selected for the HPCA Academy, it meant that she stayed away from us but seeing her selected today in the Indian women’s team is a reward for all those days,” said Sunita.

Renuka’s keen interest was noticed by her uncle Bhupinder Singh Thakur, who belongs to the same village and works as a physical education teacher at Government College in Shimla. He suggested to the family that Ritika get enrolled at the HPCA women’s residential academy at Dharamshala. “Renuka would always call her brother and cousins to play at the village ground and would bowl to them for hours, be it summers or winters. When the HPCA Academy trials were announced, we decided to send him there and it’s the hard work of her and her coaches which has seen her making it to the Indian team,” said Bhupinder.

At the HPCA Women’s residential academy in Dharamshala, a brain child of former BCCI president Anurag Singh Thakur, Renuka would get a chance to train under HPCA coach Pawan Sen and strength and conditioning coach Veena Pandey. While Renuka would soon play for Himachal U-16 and U-19 teams, the youngster would play for the senior Himachal team too and emerged as the leading wicket-taker in BCCI Women’s One-Day tournament in 2019 with 23 wickets.

The same year saw Renuka being chosen for the India A women’s team tour to Australia apart from being named for the India A team for the quadrangular series including Bangladesh, Thailand and India B, in which she picked up three wickets in four matches. “When she came to the HPCA academy in 2009, she was very fit. Normally, girls from Rohru belt are very fit and she always wanted to be a fast bowler. We worked on her fitness and also made her run cross country twice a week to build her stamina. Slowly, she gained pace in her bowling and her biggest strength has been her control over line and length and inswingers. In 2016, she took a hat-trick in a U-19 match against Karnataka and it motivated her a lot. Recently, we have worked on her bowling leg-cutters and I am sure if given a chance, she can perform well for India,” said Sen.

This year Renuka has picked up a total of nine wickets in the BCCI Senior Women’s One DAY Trophy in March and is looking forward to bowl in Australia, a country known for its fast pitches, if given a chance under the T20I captaincy of Harmanpreet Kaur. “While I could only play in one match during the India A tour to Australia in 2019, bowling in the nets as well practice pitches there too made me understand the conditions. The pitches in Australia offer bounce and good movement and hopefully I can utilise it when given a chance,” says Renuka, who idolises Punjab women cricketer Harpreet Dhillon and is also a fan of former Indian pacer Zaheer Khan.

Another HPCA cricketer, Mohali-based Harleen Deol too has been named in the Indian women’s T-20 squad. As for mother Sunita, watching her daughter don the India jersey will be the biggest joy. “Whenever she gets the chance, I will be cheering for her and it will be the proudest moment for my late husband too,” said Sunita.

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