‘Feel Bad For Wicketkeepers, There’s a Perception That Anyone Can do Their Job’: India Wicketkeeper Sushma Verma

Wicketkeepers are often unfairly judged. In modern-day cricket when bowlers are also encouraged to work on their batting skills, it is almost a miracle that a wicket-keeper manages to retain a place in any playing XI, as long as he is in good form with the bat. Don’t be a regular contribution either.

So shouldn’t a wicketkeeper be judged solely on their primary skills first? Well, the direction in which cricket is moving might be a thing of the past. And it is a fact that Sushma Verma, India’s women’s wicket-keeper, admitted sometime back that after falling out of favor with the national selectors, she returned to domestic cricket and worked hard to improve her batting skills.

In Sushma’s own words, her wicketkeeping has ‘never been an issue’ and with strike-rate being the talk of the town across formats these days, the 30-year-old worked on that particular aspect with a focus on playing the finisher’s role.

Wednesday was the culmination of his ‘hustle’ as he was recalled to India’s T20I squad, having last played in the format for the country in 2016.

In a recent conversation with News18 CricketNext ios sports, Sushma, who captained Himachal Pradesh in domestic cricket, spoke on a wide range of topics.

Excerpts:

You had a good domestic season, especially in T20s. Tell us about your preparations and what were your goals?

Well, if we are focusing on the challenges, I would like to start by talking about the Inter-State T20 where the tournament started two months back. For me, getting into the new role was very different. I usually bat in the middle order but this season I have been asked to open for Himachal Pradesh. So, as an opener, it was a very different experience. It was good to experience how runs are scored while batting at the top. You have a lot of time compared to playing in the middle. The situation is quite different. Initially, it was different but I was well prepared and confident about the role. I went unbeaten a couple of times and that helped my confidence.

You don’t have much time in T20 – things change when wickets fall. The bigger picture is that I have to return (to the national system). After that when the zonals started, my role was different. I was back in the middle order again. I scored around 180 runs and was not out in one of them. So felt good I knew my role would be that of a finisher and I tried my best.

Mentally, I am prepared that I will get to play only 4-5 balls and have to maximize them. While chasing, you have a chance to end the match (in that case). So in the final (zonal), I had that chance. At the other end, the way Yastika (Bhatia) was playing, there was scope for it to take some time. So initially I played it carefully. I was very happy to finish the game. If I come back to the Indian team, it is possible that I will get the same role.

So how confident are you about your India recall? (This was before the BCCI announcement)

It depends on how consistent I am performing and finishing games. As of now, my thinking is that the Indian team needs someone who is playing at a good strike rate, especially in the T20 format.

And when you talk about wicketkeeping, I never thought there was anything lacking. In batting however an additional edge was needed – hitting with a better strike-rate. So I have worked on that in the last 3-4 years. It has come really well this season. Getting selected is not in my control but very focused on the process. Everyone wants to play at the top level. The movement continues.

Wicket-keepers are often judged by their batting. Is it not unfair?

I used to ask myself this question when I used to get dropped. Of course, you get selected after performing well with the bat and behind the stumps. Tania (Bhatia) was also picked when she scored runs in domestic cricket. The Indian set-up is different – you may not find your preferred batting position as the team’s requirements may be different. I used to ask the same question you asked after getting dropped.

Wicketkeeping is a very thankless job and very few people recognize this skill.

I have worked with a lot of coaches, support staff in various tournaments, but I have rarely found such a connection where a wicketkeeper is valued purely on wicketkeeping abilities which is a primary skill. So it depends on how you are backed and this is true not only for Indian setup but also in domestic. I feel bad for wicket-keepers because it is thought that just about anyone can do the job, when in fact, you need top-notch skills to play the role well. It’s mentally burning.

BCCI recently announced pay parity in match fees. Your thoughts on development?

I am very happy with this. The cascading effect of this decision is that it will encourage many more girls to take up sports as a career due to financial security. But I think one more change should be made. Things will get even better if this same pay structure is implemented in domestic cricket as well. Women cricketers who play only domestic cricket, I think they are still not financially secure. But it is heartening to know that a lot of parents are now more confident that if their daughter does well in cricket, she will be financially secure.

There will be a women’s edition of IPL from next season as well.,

Very excited. I remember the days when men’s IPL started. We weren’t sure about the kind of cricket that was being played. First 2-3 seasons, IPL was also different (what it is today). So, same level of enthusiasm. And not just because there is a competition for women, but also because of its potential impact, especially on our international team. We have already started playing better cricket in the last 4-5 years. That might help us tackle the last hurdle like we (India) keep making finals (in ICC events) but somehow not able to win tournaments.

Two veterans of Indian cricket Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami said goodbye to their international careers in 2022. How was your experience playing with him?

I feel very fortunate to have got the opportunity to share the dressing room with him and it is something that the next generation will not get to experience. I think both these players have carried on with the game for so long and continue to set new benchmarks for women’s cricket. However, being in such a system is not easy. For example, in men’s cricket, everything is settled but these two have seen changes almost every year, probably from the day they started playing. And then he did that and maintained his position at the top.

I was very close to Jhulan Of, I have seen his work ethic. He was so disciplined and well organized. It seemed like they had all the time in the world to do so much! It never felt like he could be pressurized. Even though he is going through a tough time, it never shows on his face. Maybe this is the experience. This is what I learned from him: keep it simple, be disciplined and be determined towards yourself and your team.

You have been leading Himachal Pradesh for a long time. You are a senior player now. Do you think captaincy adds more pressure?

I have been asked this question many times. I don’t see it as pressure but consider it a privilege. You are getting a chance to lead your state and then you have to be on top, set an example by performing well and take everyone along. From day one, if I can remember correctly, there were probably only two seasons when I wasn’t captain. Perhaps this was the period when all the senior players left the setup and our batch became part of what is playing now. Leading a group of cricketers with whom I was already playing was a bit easier. I have been with him 24×7 so there was a strong bonding with him. It was like family. I have never felt that I am a senior.

There is a raging debate going on, at least on social media, about Rishabh Pant vs Sanju Samson. If one is selected, the other is dropped and vice versa. How do you look at it as a wicketkeeper?

To be honest, I don’t know about it. I think for wicketkeepers in general (playing), it all depends on what kind of support staff they have as well as what the team management and captain want. It also depends on the opponent, the conditions and what skills you are supporting. There may be days when you need Rishabh Pant or maybe in some other match, he is not needed. So it depends on what exactly is the requirement.

As a sportsperson, I feel this hype is more from outside and not among the sportspersons. They understand that not everything will be in their favor.

In my case also, I used to feel that wicketkeeping is something that is being neglected. But it all boils down to reason. Maybe some wicketkeeper is playing ahead of me because he is a better batsman. So why don’t I level up too?

Of course, there must be a clarity. There should be a conversation, informing them about the reason(s) why they are playing or not playing.

Is it true that you wanted to be a journalist? Are there any plans to return to studies?

It (plan) has changed. Now, I am financially secure, working as a police officer in Himachal Police. At that time, I did not know whether I would get a chance to play for India one day or not. I consider myself an ‘accidental cricketer’. I didn’t plan to become a cricketer, but once I got the opportunity, I gave my 100 per cent to the game. At that time education was equally important. So I did my Mass Communication, and appeared for my first semester exams. After that, I started playing for India and then finding time to come back (to study) was difficult. But I never wanted to be a journalist, maybe watching Anjum Chopra on TV as an expert inspired me to maybe do commentary one day. But yes, after cricket these options are available.

I came across a social media post of yours asking for suggestions on the best place to open a cricket academy. Can you elaborate on this please?

Till the time you are playing, all your time should be devoted to cricket alone. This is the need of the hour. This is not the right time to do all this but yes, I wish to work in this direction in future. In Himachal, Dharamshala is the center – international stadium and all. It is not easily accessible which is understandable. But there are a lot of talented individuals in the state – both male and female. I feel there are not enough quality centers here (in Himachal). So I think people like us should do something in this regard. My aim is that the children of Himachal should not have to struggle to find quality coaches. But right now I am completely focusing on my game. I myself am practicing in Chandigarh. That’s all.

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