The term unorthodox is defined as something that is “contrary to what is usual, traditional or accepted”. In cricket, the word is often used to describe a player whose technique is unlike anything detailed in a coaching manual — something that is unconventional.
Within the Indian women’s team there is very little, if any, unorthodoxy. Mithali Raj epitomises a classical batter, Smriti Mandhana is as graceful as they come, and Harmanpreet Kaur, although extremely powerful, loves to hit straight through the line. When it comes to using pace and angles, Veda Krishnamurthy can play a deft touch or two, but it is Anuja Patil who is the master.
In a line up full of players who like to hit the straight field (read, the ‘V’), the right-hand batter’s unconventional methods add another dimension to the Indian batting group. She is as cheeky as they come — what she lacks in power, she makes up with inventiveness. Patil can play every variety of the sweep, enjoys the scoop and finds ways to score in areas you never imagined. She works the field beautifully, picking the gaps and running hard between the wickets. Although she may not be the most visually pleasing player, she is certainly effective.
Patil is your typical modern day player — aggressive, street smart and extremely confident. She likes to be in the thick of the action and revels under pressure — that is her USP.
Within the domestic circuit, Patil is known as the master of the chase. Her temperament is almost unflappable. She has nerves of steel. No matter how dreary the situation may seem, the all rounder walks in to bat with an innate self-belief that she can overcome anything. Her competitive edge, and a deep desire to win mean that when she is batting, her team is always in the game.
In January 2016, Maharashtra faced Hyderabad in a T20 match in Kolkata. Patil, who took the new ball for her team, picked up three wickets with her off-spin to help restrict Hyderabad to a paltry 92. On a sporting Eden Gardens pitch, what should have been a straight forward chase, turned into a nightmare for Maharashtra. They were reduced to 5 for 28 in 9.3 overs — Mandhana, Devika Vaidya and Shweta Mane all back in the hut. Patil was the only recognised batter left, and also the senior-most player in the team — if Maharashtra were to get over the line, she would have to play a major part.
She found an able ally in Mukta Magre, and together the two built a partnership. They started off stealing singles, and once Patil got her eye in, she took the attack to the spinners. The right-hander played a flurry of sweep shots, and when the leg-side field was packed, she opened up the off-side — going over extra cover, and also slashing the ball through point. Her 39-ball 37 took Maharashtra home with two wickets and three balls to spare. It was an absolutely terrific knock under pressure — one that underlined her grit, self belief and never-say-die attitude: qualities that define her.
The 26-year-old, who is a T20I specialist, has seamlessly carried this ability to finish games into the international circuit. Through her 42-match T20I career, India have won 15 (out of 21) games while chasing. In these matches she has assumed the role of a finisher, scoring 166 runs at an average of 55.33 and strike rate of 105.73.
Patil plays a feisty game. Whether with bat, ball, or in the field, she likes to get under the opposition’s skin. If you are in the opposition’s ranks, she is like that irritating itch you can’t get your mind off, or that annoying little cousin who always wants to play. If you knock down one of her skills, she will come back at you with the other two — and when she does get the better of you, she makes sure to let you know. She typifies India’s new generation of fearless cricketers — the kind that are ultra competitive and always in your face.
Often someone who bowls in the Power Play, Patil attempts to choke the batters with her fast, skiddy off breaks. She has a slightly round-arm action, and undercuts the ball, firing it into the stumps. An extremely intelligent bowler, she uses the lack of turn to her advantage. She also varies her pace, trajectory and angle of delivery to keep the batters guessing — forcing them out of their comfort zone.
Going into her third T20 World Cup — she played in the 2012 and 2016 editions previously — the all rounder is one of the more experienced members of the Indian squad. She will play a key role in the team’s campaign. As one of India’s lead spinners, she will be expected to do a bulk of the work. She has been very good at holding one end up — her career economy rate of 5.96 is proof of that — but now, India will want the off spinner to take a few more wickets as well. She will be the perfect foil for Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma, the more ‘orthodox’ spinners in the line-up.
With the bat, the right-hander’s responsibilities have almost doubled. Since India have chosen to go into the tournament with a rather raw (read, inexperienced) lower-middle order, Patil’s role as ‘finisher’ will be even more important. After promising performances against Sri Lanka where she scored 99 runs at a strike rate of 125.31, including her maiden international half century, the team will be hoping that Patil will carry that form into the mega event.