Meet Veda Krishnamurthy, the Kadur karateka-cricketer

Meet Veda Krishnamurthy, the Kadur karateka-cricketer

Veda Krishnamurthy's strokeplay, hovering seamlessly between brutal and elegant, leaves spectators gaping and makes her one of the most dangerous batters in contemporary cricket.

Updated: September 13, 2017 5:53 PM IST | Edited By: Shruti Hariharan

An innings close to my heart

The 2015-16 tour of Australia was special in more ways than one. No Indian team had triumphed in a bilateral series in Australia. The women played in the afternoons on the same ground where the men played in the evening on the same day. In other words, two India versus Australia T20 International series took place on the same days at the same grounds.

Australia put up a formidable 140 for 5 in the first match at Adelaide. Mithali fell in the second over when India s turn came. Veda walked out to join young Smriti Mandhana. Let alone at No. 3, Veda had never batted at No. 4 in international cricket at that point.

When I learnt I will be batting at No. 3 a day before the match, I was shocked, she recalled. She found encouragement from coach Purnima Rau and from a legend.

As Mithali and Smriti prepared to stride out, Jhulan approached Veda: Just go and play the way you always do. Do not play a submissive innings: go and attack. If it comes off, it will favour us. If it does not, well, just try your best.

It was not a one-off incident. Jhulan always backs us and is very supportive. If she feels a player has got the ability to make it large for the team, she ensures to back that player, Veda told.

Veda was sufficiently buoyed when she walked out to bat. Of course, there was an early blow that of Mithali s wicket to overcome. There were the twin responsibilities of marshalling the innings she was the senior of the two girls out in the middle as well as ensuring the asking rate did not mount.

Veda responded by counterattacking. I just wanted to get the runs as quickly as possible, she admits. She hit three consecutive fours off Grace Harris in the seventh over. And by the time she fell for a 32-ball 35, the target had come down to 67 runs from 49 balls. Harmanpreet and Anuja Patil ensured there were no hiccups.

That innings is very close to my heart, Veda maintains. It was not her greatest innings, but perhaps the most difficult and impactful of her career. Three days later Mithali became the first Indian captain to win a bilateral series in Australia, hours before MS Dhoni.

Veda rises

Veda scored a well-paced unbeaten 61 against Sri Lanka later that year. This was followed by a 24-ball 36 not out against Bangladesh and a 19-ball 24 against Pakistan in India s unsuccessful Women s World T20 campaign.

West Indies came later that year. They folded for 131 in the first ODI before reducing India to 36 for 4. Veda walked out and calmly sealed the match with an unbeaten 52, leaving Mithali stranded on 46.

That was the easier of the two. She emerged at 52 for 3 in the third match. The score read 103 for 4 when Harmanpreet fell. And a new responsibility fell upon Veda, for she now had to shepherd debutant Devika Vaidya.

Veda did to Devika what Mithali had done to her: When Devika came to bat, I was very nervous because it was her first game and she is a youngster. The first and second delivery that she faced, a catch was dropped. I advised her to not score runs and give the strike to me as much as possible. After two more deliveries she stepped out and played through the covers. I realised she was here to play. That shot boosted my confidence. I immediately advised her to play the shots she likes and not to give second thought.

Familiar, is it not, to the many Mithali-Veda partnerships?

As for the match, India reached 199 for 6 before Rajeshwari spun out West Indies for 184. Two days later Veda scored a 46-ball 50 in a T20I.

Ecstasy and heartbreak

Veda smashed 31 in 27 balls during the chase in the final of the 2017 World Cup qualifier against South Africa. That innings got buried under the crucial fifties of Mona and Deepti Sharma and the heroics of Harmanpreet.

Harmanpreet and Veda added 38 in 37 balls that day. Five months later they got together to pull off yet another mini-partnership. Veda waited in the dugout as Harmanpreet delivered a blow unrivalled by an Indian in a World Cup knockout match.

As Harmanpreet sent the balls spiralling into the orbit, Veda was busy practising dance moves, even influencing Mithali for a while...

While @ImHarmanpreet was entertaining us on the field at Derby yesterday, @vedakmurthy08 & @M_Raj03 were entertaining us off it! #WWC17

Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) July 21, 2017

Veda came to her elements once her turn came. Harmanpreet dominated the stand, but she played her part, and the pair added an unbroken 43 in 22 balls, Veda scoring a 10-ball 16, nudging ones and twos and getting two fours. Australia were knocked out.

Before that, of course, she had played that innings against New Zealand, the one that had defined her more than any other but then, we have already discussed that in detail.

The target in the final, 229, was well within reach. Smriti fell for a duck and Mithali was run out early (in bizarre fashion), but Punam and Harmanpreet brought things under control. India needed 91 runs in 99 balls when Harmanpreet fell. The match was theirs to lose.

The roles were obvious. Veda would keep the asking rate under control. Punam would anchor the innings. And they proceeded.

Veda started by dispatching Laura Marsh past mid-off. And when Alex Hartley was dismissed through cover, India took note wasn t this an indication that she was in ominous form?

She almost lost her wicket when she holed out to Heather Knight at cover. The catch popped out inexplicably, just like that. Thus reprieved, she opened up, unhesitatingly lofting Shrubsole off consecutive balls for fours through off.

With 39 needed from 46, there was no way India could lose. Shrubsole did get her revenge when she trapped Punam leg-before later in that over, but India were definitely on top.

Veda put to rest whatever doubt was left off the first ball of the next over, off Hartley. It was almost inevitable, that shot: she stepped out and made that angular movement towards leg, making room, and sent it over extra-cover. Yes, the Veda Krishnamurthy shot.

She lost Sushma Verma, but India needed 29 from 33, and Deepti was around...

Then Shrubsole bowled one outside off, at reduced pace. Was there a rush of blood? Was the cross-batted heave over mid-wicket predetermined? I wanted to finish the game as quickly as possible. I just kept backing myself to play the shot and it did not turn out to be the way it was expected to, Veda explained.

Shrubsole had probably anticipated the Veda way of going about chases. She had possibly baited Veda into going after her. She was confident that Veda, a naturally aggressive batter, would go for the kill. And Natalie Sciver, much to the despair of Veda and her fans back home, did not spill the catch.

Would she have played the same shot, had she had another chance? I would have definitely chosen a better delivery to play that shot. When I saw the replay I knew it was not meant to be played that way.

A mere 9 runs separated India from the title.

Of work ethics

Unlike batting and bowling, where one can gauge quality from scorecards, fielding (especially ground fielding) is nearly impossible to judge without actually watching the sport. The general aloofness of broadcasters towards women s cricket had thus left the fans unaware of Veda s brilliance.

The catch that made Veda an instant star was of Asmavia Iqbal, caught off Ekta Bisht in the 2016 Asia Cup. Seldom has Indian cricket boasted of someone who could make slip catches look so nonchalantly easy: Veda did not even consider stooping till Ekta had released the ball; Asmavia, in an effort to cut, almost middled the ball; and Veda, never bothering to get on to her haunches, simply flung herself to her right and came up with a catch millimetres off the ground.

Asmavia was left predictably flummoxed.

Boom #asiacup2016#bleedblue#teamindia

Veda Krishnamurthy (@vedakmurthy08) November 28, 2016

Once again, there was no telecast back home. Veda herself had to tweet it for her countrymen.

But slip is not the only position Veda has mastered. She used to be a specialist slip fielder, but the demands of limited-overs cricket have pushed her to the edge of the 30-yard circle. She is equally agile at cover and mid-wicket, and as the overs progress, she retreats even further, to the fence.

Even when she is not a part of the XI, she is the automatic choice as substitute fielder, and she invariably stands up to the challenge, as she did in the league match against England in the 2017 World Cup. When Anya Shrubsole went for an almighty heave, Veda sprinted in from deep mid-wicket and covered many a yard before flinging herself forward to come up with an outstanding catch.

Veda acknowledges the importance of hard work when it comes to fielding. She insists on building a muscle memory: One cannot really train to take good catches. It all depends on that spur of moment. You cannot replicate anything. It is important to take a certain number of catches when you practise every day. It helps your body get adjusted accordingly. It requires not extra efforts while fielding in the match. It just comes naturally.

She assigns a similar success mantra to the cover-drive. As mentioned above, opportunities to bat up the order were scant in that star-studded batting Karnataka line-up. For Veda (and Vanitha), team practice sessions in those days were invariably restricted mostly to fielding. They got to face about fifty balls a day in the nets.

The bowling coach also wanted the duo to practice the cover-drive, making them go through the shot a thousand times a day, for two months. They hated the process, but years later, Veda is grateful: Thanks to those sessions, mine and Vani s cover-drives are technically perfect.

No, no one in international cricket can combine the elegance of Mithali and the power of Meg Lanning in the cover-drive the way Veda can. It is not easy to combine correctness, grace, and power in one stroke.

The signature inside-out shot over cover, on the other hand, comes naturally to her: I never practised that shot. It was a shot that I started playing and people recognised it. I capitalised more on it and it came off naturally.

A post shared by Veda Murthy (@vedakrishnamurthy7) on

What lies ahead?

Despite the final disappointment, the World Cup campaign had come off well for India. What waited back home had, however, surpassed all expectations.

We never expected such warm reception, Veda admitted. We were pretty surprised to be received with so much love. It is a new beginning for women s cricket in India and people now wants to watch more of us.

As for the fans, Veda takes to social media, where the lighter side peeps through. Labelled both selfie queen and joker of the pack by teammates, it was obvious that she would. However, while she uses social media to unwind, there is also an effort to get to know what people think about me .

Australia and England have both launched franchise-based T20 leagues for women. While Women s IPL does not seem feasible in near future, Veda is enthusiastic about opportunities in both tournaments. It will help me grow as a player, she says, but at the same time it is not the ultimate goal.

One wonders what the ultimate goal is. Winning a World Cup for India? A Test match? More, perhaps?