Shikha Pandey is slowly taking over from Jhulan Goswami as one of the leading pacers in the team and as a mentor to youngsters in the team. © ICC

Pandey is slowly taking over from Jhulan Goswami as one of the leading pacers in the team. © ICC

India Women were close to beating West Indies Women in Mohali and qualifying for the Women’s World Twenty20 semifinals last year when Jhulan Goswami was run out going for a second. Had Shikha Pandey been more aware she would have sacrificed her wicket and Goswami, who was hitting the ball well, would have continued. India eventually fell short by three runs.

The incident still rankles Pandey.

“That was probably a big mistake that cost us the game. If she was there and I was run out we could probably had won the game,” Pandey told Wisden India on Wednesday (February 15). “You learn when you make mistakes. If you are not making mistakes then you are not learning. I have had nightmares with that. I just want to forget about that.”

An air traffic controller with the Indian Air Force, absorbing lessons from tough experiences and moving on have become second nature for Pandey.

South Africa Women had exploited the Indian seamers in a warm-up game of the Women’s World Cup Qualifier 2017 in Colombo to win by six wickets. Picked as the lone pacer in a Super Six match at P Sara Oval on Wednesday, Pandey returned career-best figures of 4 for 34 to facilitate India’s 49-run win that almost confirmed their berth in the World Cup later this year in England.

She dedicated her maiden four-wicket haul to Devika Palshikar, India’s former fielding coach who is currently in charge of Goa, Pandey’s state team. “We planned to bowl more on the stumps because they are good with cuts against anything outside the fourth stump,” said Pandey about her strategy. “If we pitched it on the stumps then it was all dot balls. Devika ma’am has been a big help in me not being that one-dimensional inswing bowler and has installed a lot of confidence in me.”

Pandey changed her approach from the game against Ireland Women, where she took two wickets including that of Kim Garth with a superb yorker, and stuck to one side of the pitch in her second and third spells when Mithali Raj set an 8-1 field.

“The Ireland batters were standing very much inside the crease. The South Africans, to negate the swing, were standing way out. Initially, I bowled full and got hit for a boundary, so I bowled at the stumps and in good length. Anything that was short was also being punished and there was hardly any assistance from the pitch in the afternoon,” she explained. “You have to be really accurate when bowling to a 8-1 field and not give any scope for the batter to manoeuvre you. Yes, it is defensive at times but bowling dot balls is also a way of getting wickets.”

Pandey now has seven wickets in the tournament, and has struck within her second over in all the three games she has been successful in. She reckoned her spell of 10-1-36-0 against Sri Lanka in the first game has been her best in the tournament so far.

Purnima Rau, the coach, had told Wisden India that this tournament was a chance for new seamers to impress in the absence of Goswami, out with a muscle tear on her right shoulder. Pandey has emerged as the leader of the pace attack, but had not really put up an impact performance before this game.

It would be easy to believe that when youngsters like Mansi Joshi did well, Pandey dropped one notch in the scheme of things. But she gave a fresh perspective to the scenario. “I am always happy when a medium pacer takes wickets, to tell you the truth. As a subcontinent team, I actually feel the pressure more when a spinner takes wickets. I fight for medium pacers to play in the team,” she said. “(Against South Africa) we had three spinners and Deepti Sharma, who is a batting allrounder. I was like I have to prove a point by taking wickets as probably that will allow a young medium pacer a chance.

“Jhulu di was my roommate during the preparatory camp in Alur. She told me that now I don’t just have to look into my game, but also guide youngsters as the kind of exposure they have had is minimal. So now I speak to the medium pacers a lot. This is my dual duty right now.”

“I am always happy when a medium pacer takes wickets, to tell you the truth. As a subcontinent team, I actually feel the pressure more when a spinner takes wickets. I fight for medium pacers to play in the team. (Against South Africa) we had three spinners and Deepti Sharma, who is a batting allrounder. I was like I have to prove a point by taking wickets as probably that will allow a young medium pacer a chance.”

That Pandey has played in 17 of 22 One-Day Internationals for India Women since her debut in August 2014 has been because of her all-round skills, allowing India to make up for the absence of Amita Sharma, who took 87 wickets and scored 926 runs in 116 ODIs in nine years.

In only her third game, against South Africa, Pandey took three wickets and made 59 from No. 4 in a six-wicket win. She followed that up with another 59 in a losing cause two days later.

“My advantage is I can bat. The day I scored that half-century against South Africa I knew I can do it, and I am made for it. Before that I still had a lot of doubt, but those two fifties were like transition for me,” she remarked. “It is easier to debut for India, but to cement your place and be consistent all throughout is very, very difficult. At this level, when you know other teams are coming hard at you, you have to be a step ahead.”

Pandey’s batting intelligence was on display against South Africa once again. Her run-a-ball 21 (three fours) and a sixth-wicket partnership of 29 with Devika Vaidya took India to 205 for 8. Her first boundary was cheeky as she shuffled against Shabnim Ismail before opening the face of the bat at the last moment. It foxed the wicketkeeper who moved to her left even as the ball went to the third-man fence.

“When I saw she was going to bowl a yorker, I just wanted to put my bat because with her pace if it clears the wicketkeeper it will clear the boundary. Even if the ball was old, she was getting it to rise with good pace. I just tried my luck and it worked out well,” said Pandey. “Whatever batting time I get I tell myself that I have to prove a point. I also can probably bat higher, but I am a team person – whether it is to whack the ball or bowl in the Power Play. You have really work hard to bat higher for the kind of competition within the team. So, the work is in progress.”

The faster the progress, the better the rewards are going to be.