21-year-old Yastika Bhatia is an exciting wicketkeeper batter who came through the ranks of domestic cricket. She received her maiden India call-up for the South Africa series at home. Although she didn’t get a chance to play in the ODI series, the youngster was over the moon after sharing the dressing room with some real stalwarts and is motivated to do well for India.
In an exclusive interview with CricXtasy, Yastika Bhatia speaks about the reaction of her family when she got named in the Indian squad for the first time, her take on the Women’s T20 Challenge, her future goals, and much more.
Q: Women’s cricket in India received a real push after the exploits of the team in the 2017 Women’s World Cup. So did you have any particular moment like that which motivated you to take up the game professionally?
Yastika Bhatia: Actually when I was 11-12 years old, we had a practice game against the U14 boys. At that point, I had made a fifty against the boys and that was my first-ever fifty. So that was the time when I realized that I have the talent to pursue cricket professionally. That’s how I started taking cricket seriously.
Q: Was there anyone you idolized while growing up, be it from men’s or women’s cricket?
Yastika Bhatia: Yes, I watched Adam Gilchrist as he was quite a good wicketkeeper and opening batsman. So I wanted to be like him. Also, Smriti Mandhana. 2-3 years later in 2014-15 she had earned quite a good name. The way she batted in England and Australia motivated me to take up cricket seriously and I thought one day, like Smriti, I’ll also represent India.
Q: It is definitely tough to get into the national team due to the level of competition and for that one needs to perform consistently at the domestic level. Do you have any such performance for Baroda in your mind that you believe gave you the confidence that you belong to this level?
Yastika Bhatia: Yes, in 2019, I had got 145 against Haryana and our Baroda team had scored 300-plus runs. That was the first time we had crossed the 300-run mark in the U-23 Women’s one-day league. That was really a confidence-boosting knock for me. After that in the MCA camp, against all the India A bowlers, I made 64 not out. That also was a turning point in my career. After that huge opportunities opened up for me, I was selected in the India A team for Sri Lanka tour, Bangladesh tour, etc.
Q: What was the reaction of your family when they got to know that you had received your maiden India call-up? Were you expecting it to happen this time?
Yastika Bhatia: What had happened 1-2 weeks before I received the India call-up was that my dad told me that ‘I am getting an intuition that this time you will be selected for the Indian team’. At that point there were just talks about South Africa or Sri Lanka possibly touring India, but nothing was confirmed. My dad felt that this time I would get selected because I was performing continuously from three years. I had done well for India A too. I was like ‘if it happens, I am happy. If it doesn’t, I will work harder’. So when I got to know I am selected, I was in Rajkot playing against Saurashtra in the Senior Women’s practice matches. I informed my father and he was in tears. He gave me a lot of blessings and my family was happy too.
Q: When you were growing up, women’s cricket was not that booming in India. So did you or your parents face any kind of external opposition for sending you into this unique field?
Yastika Bhatia: I have been a science student and most of my family members are either engineers or doctors. So when I chose sports as a career, most of them were happy but some told my parents that ‘Where are you sending your child. There is no future in cricket. Make her a doctor, physiotherapist.’ and all those things. But my parents have always backed me. My father has been a pillar of support. There was a period of 1-2 years where I wasn’t performing well and there were people who were trying to convince my parents to tell me to drop cricket as a career. But my parents never doubted me and that really helped me a lot. Now the same people congratulate me when they see me on TV and tell me that I took the right decision to continue.
Q: How was the experience of sharing the dressing room with stalwarts like Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana? Any anecdotes that would like to share?
Yastika Bhatia: I have had a good rapport with Smriti Mandhana since I have talked to her about my game in the past. Harmanpreet used to call me ‘chotey’ in the dressing room. When I batted for the first time in front of them, they encouraged me and told me I did well. They motivated me a lot and never made me feel the gap between juniors and seniors.
Q: Although you didn’t get a chance in the ODI series, what learnings did you take with you? What changes do you think you need to make to your game?
Yastika Bhatia: I realized I need to improve my backfoot strokeplay, be it cut, pull, etc. I also need to work on my wicketkeeping and become more consistent in the coming time.
Q: What are your future goals? Also, what would you like to say about the number of teams playing in the Women’s T20 Challenge?
Yastika Bhatia: I feel the number of teams in the Women’s T20 Challenge must increase. When the last season of the tournament happened, many players from the current Indian team also had to sit out as there were just three teams. So, if the number of teams increases, naturally the matches will also increase, and then it would be easier to judge who can perform on this level. Also if I get a chance, I would surely give my best and help my team win the title. My future goal firstly is to make my India debut, become a match-winner for my team and help them win the 2022 World Cup.
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