Pooja Vastrakar’s journey: From playing with boys in MP’s Shahdol to clinching a winner against Pakistan

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All-rounder, 22, slammed a 59-ball 67 and put on a match-winning stand of 122 runs with Sneh Rana for the seventh wicket against Pakistan in the tournament opener.

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Shared News: March 7, 2022 7:08:18 am
Pooja Vastrakar of India bats during the women’s world cup cricket match between India and Pakistan at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui (Source: AP)

Like any other budding cricketer, Pooja Vastrakar was fond of the gully version of the game. Among the first to notice her talent was Ashutosh Srivastava, a local cricket coach in Shahdol, a small town in Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa district.

Srivastava saw a kid smoking sixes off bowlers double her size. At first, Srivastava thought Pooja was a boy because of her cropped locks.

“It must be 2010. I used to work at a local cricket academy in Shahdol. I saw her playing at the Municipal ground in Shahdol. I saw a kid smacking sixes in tennis ball cricket. I asked one of the kids, who is this boy, the reply was ‘sir ye toh ladki hai.’ I was amazed by her power-hitting,” Ashutosh Srivastava shared Vastrakar’s early journey with The Indian Express.

Next day Srivastava asked a ten-year-old Pooja if she was interested in playing cricket. Pat came the reply, “Cricket mera passion hai.” But Srivastava had a condition. He told his ward that she would only train with the boys and not play with girls.

“She was way too good for the girls of her age. I put her in the boy’s team. She used to play U-14 cricket with the boys. When she started playing with the boys, it turned out that she is the best among the boys of her age group as well,” laughs Srivastava.

“What defines Pooja from others is her confidence. The energy is just next level. She is fearless,” he adds.

On Sunday against Pakistan in India’s opening match against arch-rivals Pakistan, Pooja displayed her fearless cricket.

When Pooja Vastrakar walked in to bat at No 8, India was reeling at 114 for 6, losing five wickets for just 18 runs. The fearless youngster took on Pakistan. It felt like India’s tail was set to wrap up quickly, but Pooja Vastrakar had other ideas. Vastrakar (67 off 59b; 8×4), alongwith Sneha Rana (53 not out off 48b; 4×4), put on a world record partnership of 122 runs for the seventh wicket and turned the tide in favour of India.

She took on the Pakistan bowlers from the word go. It was not only big shots, but the way Vastrakar and Rana ran, converted those ones into twos, and twos into threes that was praiseworthy. Vastrakar showed her senior pros Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, who were struggling to get going, the importance of strike rotation.

Back in Shahdol, Srivastava was not overawed with his ward’s performance.

“I’ve seen her playing such innings so many times. For the Madhya Pradesh Under-19 side, she used to bat in the middle-order. Last year, in the JS Anand Trophy (Women’s Senior Tournament), organised by MPCA, she smashed two double hundreds and one score of 150. She is ruthless with the bat,” recollects Srivastava.

Like any Indian athlete, Pooja had her share of struggles. Just a month after joining the academy in Shahdol, she lost her mother. A distraught Pooja would not visit the academy for a month.

“I was not in Shahdol. When I came back, a fellow coach said that she is not coming to the academy for one month. I immediately went to her house. Usha (Vastrakar), one of her sisters, assured me that she will not miss a single training session ever,” he says.

Pooja is the youngest among the seven siblings (five daughters and two sons), and Usha, who was into athletics, made sure that she would never skip her training session ever.

“When our mother passed away, Pooja was only 10. she was devastated and when Ashutosh sir visited our house and told us that she is a gifted cricketer, I made up my decision she is going to pursue her passion. We are very proud of her achievements,” says Usha.

Pooja’s father, Bandhan Ram Vastrakar, a retired BSNL employee, is very happy with his daughter’s performance but is worried about her injury.

“I hope it won’t be too serious and she will be fit for the next match. Since the age of 4, she has been into cricket. I never thought that she would go on to play for India one day, but she always knew it. Whenever she asks for money for cricket, I will tease her why is she wasting her time in cricket. She used to say, ‘aap dekhna India khelungi (One day, i will play for India),” says Bandhan Ram.

“I hardly did anything for her. Initially, it was Ashutosh sir, who helped her out. Then when she was picked for the Madya Pradesh Under-19 team, she started earning money and never asked anything from me. She even helped with money during her sister’s marriage,” says a proud father.


Vastrakar was rightly named the Player of the Match for her excellent knock. “I’m very happy, about my first Player of the Match award, in my first World Cup game. The plan was to somehow try and get to 200. I like to bat in pressure situations, even in domestic games. I told the same to Sneh (Rana), to keep the partnership going. The batters told us that the wicket was slow, so the target was 200, but we didn’t bat differently,” Vastrakar told the broadcasters after the match.

Vastrakar picked up an injury but according to the physio of the Indian team, it is not a matter of concern.

“The physio said that the injury will heal quickly, and I’ll be back soon,” the 22-year-old said.

India next face New Zealand on March 10.

Brief Scores

India: 244/7 in 50.0 overs (Pooja Vastrakar 67, Sneh Rana 53 not out; Nashra Sandhu 2/36, Nida Dar 2/45); Pakistan: 137 in 43.0 overs (Sidra Ameen 30, Diana Baig 24; Rajeshwari Gayakwad 4/31, Jhulan Goswami 2/26)

India have extended their unbeaten run against Pakistan to 11 games in the ODIs.

The 122-run stand between Sneh Rana and Pooja Vastrakar is the highest stand for the seventh wicket in Women’s ODIs. It is also the first century partnership for the seventh wicket in the Women’s World Cup.

Pooja Vastrakar became the first Player to score a half-century while batting at 8 in the Women’s World Cup.

Mithali Raj became only the third cricketer and the first woman to appear in six World Cups, joining the iconic Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistani great Javed Miandad.

Jhulan Goswami became the second-highest wicket-taker in the Women’s World Cup. The veteran pacer is just one wicket behind Australia’s Lyn Fullstone (39).