Podcast: The Pocket Dynamite ft. Taniya Bhatia

At just 22 years of age, this pocket-sized dynamo from Punjab has already featured in 50 T20Is and 15 ODIs for India. She is brilliant not only behind the stumps but also in front of them. Though her father saw her as a medium pace bowler, she proved that it was only and only wicket-keeping that runs through her body. Like father, like daughter, she is a safe deposit vault behind the stumps. She is a bunch of talent and there is no taking away that she has a bright future ahead of her. We are talking about Taniya Bhatia, who recently graced the Female Cricket Podcast during which Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the dashing wicket-keeper bat from Punjab.

 

Taniya Bhatia. Women's T20 World Cup 2020
Taniya Bhatia. Women’s T20 World Cup 2020

 

Excerpts from the Podcast

1. How are you spending time at home during this lockdown?

After the long tour, I needed a break. But I didn’t expect that the break would be for so long. I have been spending time with my family and watching TV shows and movies that I missed over the years. I have also started practicing Yoga.

2. Moving on to cricket, at what age did you start playing?

I started playing cricket from the age of four in my colony. Hailing from a family of cricket lovers and cricketers, I was likely to become a cricketer myself. My father, uncle, and brother are all cricketers and they are all wicket-keeper batsmen. By the time I was eight, my father had put me in Yograj Singh’s cricket academy, since he did not like me playing cricket just for fun. I remember I was the only girl among 200-300-odd boys. Back then I had short hair and it was difficult for the people looking from outside to identify whether I was a boy or girl (chuckles).

3. Tell us about your early days in cricket.

Initially, my mother was reluctant to let me pursue cricket because she believed that for a secure future, education is the only must. Thankfully my father who was a cricketer himself back in his youth supported my passion. I joined Yograj Singh’s cricket academy at the age of eight and in three years I gave trials for Punjab U-19. Back then we had no U-16 and U-23, so it was just U-19 and seniors. At the age of 11, I played for Punjab U-19 and by the time I was 13, I was selected to play for the senior state team.

 

Taniya Bhatia's early days in Cricket
Taniya Bhatia’s early days in Cricket. Pic Credits: Indian Express

My performance in the domestic circuit was acknowledged and I was fast-tracked to play for India A when I was all of 15 years of age. I represented India A against New Zealand in Bangalore. Actually it is quite interesting, that my father wanted me to become a fast bowler, but I ended up being a wicket-keeper. I vividly remember my father and Yograj Singh used to make fun of me when they used to discuss that I was too short to become a fast bowler and may be wicket-keeping is a better option (chuckles).

4. How did you strike a balance between academics and cricket?

Being into sports from a very early age, it was important for me to strike a perfect balance between academics and cricket. I never took studies lightly. I always believed that academics were important. Fortunately, I got good grades too (smiles). I remember when I had my 12th boards, I missed the NCA camp. My school and college were very co-operative and helped me pursue my passion.

5. Tell us about the day when you met your role model and inspiration; Adam Gilchrist, for the very first time.

I was just eight years old when I met Adam Gilchrist for the first time when he was practicing at the PCA. He used to play for Kings XI Punjab back then. I was very fond of him since the day I started playing cricket. I have grown up watching his wicket-keeping videos on YouTube. I not only wanted to become a wicket-keeper like him but also evolve into an individual like him. That particular day I went to the stadium and was watching him from far. At that time I did not have the courage to go and speak to him. But Gilchrist being the way he is, came up to me and had a word. He was very humble. He asked me about my well-being, what do I do, etc. I answered, “I am a wicket-keeper.” Fast forward to 2020, when we were in Australia to play the T20 World Cup, Gilchrist appreciated my work and it was like a dream come true. I had never imagined that this would happen.

6. How has your mother played a pivotal role in bringing you up as a cricketer?

My mother, who was never into any kind of sports, took a lot of effort for me during my growing up years. I remember there was a period of 10 years when my father was away for work and my mother had to shoulder the responsibility of me and my two siblings. She left no stone unturned as far as my cricket was concerned. She took me for practice and looked after my diet. She was my pillar of strength. She prioritized my cricket over everything and in the process made many sacrifices. My brother and my sister used to envy the attention I got from our mother (chuckles). Today they are happy, though my sister sometimes brings it up how I was pampered in my childhood.

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Taniya Bhatia with her family members
Taniya Bhatia with her family members

 

7. After taking quick strides in state and zonal level cricket, there was a slight slump. How did you make your comeback after that?

As I mentioned earlier, I started playing for Punjab U-19 when I was 11, then by the time I was 13 I was already in the senior state team. I played the Challenger Trophy when I was 15. Though this transition happened in a quick time I learned things the hard way. Soon I realized that talent can get you so only so far and if you want to play for your country you have to go that extra mile.

It was during that time I came in touch with Vanitha VR (India and Karnataka Player). I remember during one of our domestic matches, when we were playing against Karnataka, after the match, Vanitha caught up with me and we discussed cricket.

She said, “You have the potential to play for India. What are you doing? Why are you wasting your time?” Her words still ring in my ears. Since that day, I decided to strive harder and not solely rely on my talent.

Vanitha played an important role in shaping me into what I am today. She altered my diet and exercise routine. I even used to go to Bangalore for skill training and stayed with her and her family. I was inspired by her fitness and dedication. I will forever remain indebted to her.

8. You made a strong comeback and were awarded an India call. Can you tell us about that day when you got selected for the India T20 team?

Taniya Bhatia receiving her Debut Cap by Smriti Mandhana
Taniya Bhatia receiving her Debut Cap from Smriti Mandhana

 

I remember I was on a flight to Delhi, where we were supposed to play a domestic match. As soon as I landed, I checked my phone and to my surprise, my phone was flooded with missed calls and congratulatory messages. My joy knew no bounds. I could not wait to break this good news to my family. I called my mother first. Luckily all of them were together and I could share my happiness with them at once. They were emotional perhaps reliving each and every day of my childhood.

9. Once you were picked up for India, you had an ice-breaking session. Tell us about that.

Everybody in the team knew that I was kind of a shy person. Taking undue advantage of my timidness, my teammates made me sit in the middle with them encircling me. Then they asked me to speak how I felt about being picked up for India. Honestly, I was shivering. Mithali di was sitting right in front of me and the words simply refused to come out from my mouth. Everybody had a hearty laugh. Actually I had prepared a few lines but that day I was “stumped”. Later somehow I gathered courage and managed to speak for 10 minutes, which seemed eternity to me.

10. You made your ODI debut in Sri Lanka in 2018 and in the second ODI, you scored a handy half-century. Tell us about your experience batting with Mithali Raj?

In the second ODI that we played against Sri Lanka, we were struggling at 66-4 when I came in to bat. At that time, Mithali di was batting at the other end, which somehow helped me to ease my nerves. Seeing her at the other end made me feel calm and confident. When you are batting with the legendary Mithali Raj you have to just do what she says and you will sail through. Together we stitched a solid 76-run. I remember during the innings at one point in time Shashikala came into bowl and I struggled to score off her. Seeing that, Mithali di came up to me and asked me to try the sweep. The next ball I didn’t see where the ball pitched, I blindly swept, and to my fortune, the ball went to the boundary. Mithali di, standing at the other end could not control her laughter and came up to me to my pat my back (smiles). I scored 68 off 66 in that match.

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Taniya Bhatia playing her ODI Debut match vs Sri Lanka women. Pic Credits: ESPN Cricinfo
Taniya Bhatia playing her ODI Debut match vs Sri Lanka women. Pic Credits: ESPN Cricinfo

 

11. How did you feel when you were picked up in the Indian squad for the 2018 T20 World Cup in West Indies?

I was very excited as I was going to play my debut World Cup for India. By the time the selection was announced, I had quite settled down in the Indian team and it was time for me to prove myself. I was looking forward to playing in the Caribbean.

12. Lastly, tell us about your T20 World Cup final experience

I had an exceptional World Cup as a wicket-keeper. It was indeed a career-defining event. The mega event garnered tremendous attention from media and fans all over the world. After our first match against Australia in which I pocketed four dismissals, I received a lot of appreciation.

The final of the World Cup where we had over 86000 people at the MCG was unequivocally one of a kind of a day. Chasing a mammoth total, I was sent up the order at number three to make use of the powerplay.

Unfortunately, I was hit and I had to make my way back to the dugout. My wicket-keeping was good in that match and I was actually pumped up to perform well with the bat. However, things turned out differently. In the hindsight, there were a lot of positives from that match and it has definitely helped me grow as a person.

 

Poonam Yadav caught celebrating wickets
Poonam Yadav caught celebrating wickets. Pic Credits: ICC

 

Questions sent to us from friends and fans on Instagram and Twitter:

How many times do you look into the mirror? (Question from Jemimah Rodrigues)
Anytime when I am not playing cricket, I find a mirror (smiles).

Which is your favourite cuisine?
Italian and Chinese

What is your nickname?
My mother calls me Tanu, my teammates call me Bhatia, and Jemi calls me Bhat. Veda and Jemi are good at coming up with names (chuckles).

Which bowler from men’s cricket would you like to hit for a six?
Mitchell Starc

When the team is in bad shape, how do you keep yourself calm and motivate others?
I am mentally strong. I keep my focus and ensure that my teammates remain motivated. I try to lift their spirits up. Being a lively person by nature, I don’t like to stay quiet behind the stumps.

Do you like watching TV shows/movies?
Yes, I like watching TV shows and movies. I keep my phone aside when I am watching those.

Do you still keep setting your hair? (Question from Taniya Bhatia’s school friend)
Yes, I do that secretly.

Which is your favorite Bollywood movie?
It keeps changing. Recently I watched Malang and I liked it. I also liked Dangal and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. I still get butterflies when I am watching the last scene of the latter’s movie.

I am 22 years old. I want to pursue a career in cricket. Can I start now? And how?
Age is just a number. It is never too late to start anything that you love doing. If you are passionate about the sport and can put in the dedication into training you will be able to achieve your dreams. If you work hard you can cover-up. Proper guidance, consistent routine, and training like a professional will help you.

Who is your favorite wicket-keeper?
My all-time favorite wicket-keeper is Adam Gilchrist. I also like MS Dhoni and I look up to Sarah Taylor as well.

Who do you love to keep wickets for the most; spinner/fast bowler?
I like keeping to the fast bowlers when I am standing at the stumps.

In which position do you like to bat?
I am comfortable batting in any position. I will bat wherever my team requires.

What do you like/dislike about the post-match press conference?
The thing that I like about the press conferences is that you get to speak your heart out especially when you have performed well. The thing that I dislike about press conferences is sometimes the journalists tend to get too personal.

When you started there were a lot of contenders competing for the position of wicket-keeper in the Indian team? What made you still stick to wicket-keeping?
I never thought about contenders. My father was a wicket-keeper and wicket-keeping was in my blood. Though there is always competition, I see to it that I compete with myself and work on bettering my game.

To listen to the complete podcast, click on the following links:

Listen on Google Podcast, click here

Listen on Spotify, click here

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This article was transcribed by Juili Ballal.

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