Soumya Tiwari is the only player from Madhya Pradesh to be announced in India A squad for the quadrangular series that will also feature India B, West Indies, and Sri Lanka. She is also named the vice-captain of the team. Leadership comes naturally to this swashbuckling right-handed top-order batter and right-arm off-spinner, as she has led her state U19 team and has also been the captain for the ZCA and Challenger Trophy matches.
Soumya shares her cricketing journey, the tips she got from one of India’s leading all-rounders Pooja Vastrakar and many more with Female Cricket.
When did you start playing cricket?
I started playing cricket at the age of 11. It all started during my school summer vacations. I played with boys in my colony. Slowly I developed an interest in the sport and asked my parents to enrol me in a cricket academy. However, they did not seem enthusiastic about taking me to a cricket academy immediately. On the other hand, my elder sister sensed my growing interest in cricket and immediately took me to a cricket academy. I joined Arera Cricket Academy in Bhopal, and my coach was Suresh Chenani sir. After joining the academy, in the next two to three months, we had district U19 trials. I did well in that and was selected for the team, which marked the start of my professional cricketing journey.
Tell us about your early days in the cricket academy.
Since childhood, I have always had a boy cut. The day I joined the academy, all the players and even the coach were confused about whether I was a boy or a girl (smiles).
In a lighter vein, the players at the academy made fun of me. I vividly recall my first day at the academy. I was bowling in nets to a boy. He struck the ball hard, which came back to me at an incredible speed. I was caught entirely off guard, and the ball hit my face. If I look back at that day, that was not a great start. I had thoughts of giving up bowling. But later, I picked myself up and was determined to be a better player. Back then, I was the only girl in the academy.
Since you were the only girl in the cricket academy, you must have played most of your cricket with boys. Can you tell us more about it?
My coach always encouraged me to play against boys not only in the nets but also in the matches. I played many age group tournaments against boys. I have also played against senior boys. Playing against boys has helped me improve my game. You get to learn a lot from them.
Their intent and approach toward batting, bowling and fielding differ. For instance, in batting, you can play balls coming at you at different speeds since they vary their pace beautifully. In bowling, you have a very low margin of error since you will be taken to the cleaners if you don’t hit the right areas, and finally, in fielding, it is challenging to sneak those easy runs when the ball goes to them. They are quick on the field. In hindsight, I am glad I got many chances to play with and against boys.
When did you break into the Madhya Pradesh state team?
I was 13 years old when I made my debut for Madhya Pradesh U19 and U23 teams. In the same year, I was also a part of the probables for the senior team. Just before the state selections, we had a fitness camp for which I was selected. However, due to some reason, I could not make it to the state team. I knew I could play for the state. So, I worked hard on my fitness and concentrated on my batting. Initially, I was more of a bowler. But I decided to add batting to my repertoire. It paid rich dividends as I made it to the state team in the subsequent state selection trials.
Which has been your best performance to date?
There have been quite a few. I have had six wickets with the ball and around 40 runs with the bat in a boys’ U15 match. Then in division matches, I have had a couple of five-wicket hauls and a century and half-century. At the state-level matches, in a one-day game against Uttar Pradesh, I accounted for two wickets and scored 72 runs. But if I had to choose the best performance, it would be the one in Challenger Trophy. I scored a century in my debut Challenger Trophy one-day match.
You have been a successful all-rounder at the domestic level. Did you face any downs in your cricketing journey?
There was a challenging period in my cricketing journey where I was not getting runs. I was playing practice matches, and in 10 consecutive games, I failed to score in double digits. I had yet to learn what was going wrong. I spoke to my parents and coach. They just asked me to focus on my strengths, spend more time at the crease, stress on strike rotation, etc. I went to bat confidently in my 11th game and, to my delight, scored 110 runs.
India’s leading all-rounder Pooja Vastrakar also plays for Madhya Pradesh. Did you get a chance to play with her?
I have played with Pooja di in the division and state matches. Whenever I played against her in division matches, my target was to get her wicket. I have been successful twice against her so far. Getting an Indian player out always gives you confidence. On the flip side, I have also had the opportunity to play with her. We have batted many times together for the Madhya Pradesh senior team. I enjoy batting with her since I learn much about the game and opposition from her. She has advised me how to build an inning and play according to the match situation. Also, while bowling, she is always there for you and helps you with your strategies. She insists on bowling to your strengths and not to batters’ weaknesses. Apart from batting and bowling, she has given me many fitness tips. She has discussed breathing techniques to be used while running, how hand movements should be while you are sprinting, etc.
Recently you were named as the vice-captain of India A team that will play a Quadrangular series including India B, West Indies, and Sri Lanka. How does it feel?
Honestly, I did not imagine that I would get the opportunity to become the vice-captain of the India A team. Now that I have been given the responsibility, I am motivated to do well and grab all my chances. Fortunately, I have had the experience of leading teams in the past. I have been the captain of Madhya Pradesh U19 and led my teams in ZCA matches and Challenger Trophy.
How are you preparing yourself for the Quadrangular series?
I want to focus on my strengths. For instance, if I am good with ground shots, I will employ them more in my batting. I want to hit the right areas and keep things simple for my bowling. You can’t have any strategies or plans before the start of the tournament since we have never played against West Indies and Sri Lanka. It will be a different ball game altogether as they have never faced us and vice-versa.
With the inaugural ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup just around the corner, how excited are you, and when did you come to know about it?
I came to know about the World Cup six months back. I am very excited about the tournament. However, I am not looking too far ahead. I want to take it one day at a time and focus on short-term goals. So far, things have fallen into place. I have performed well in the state matches, followed by good outings in ZCA and NCA games. Having made it to India A for the quadrangular series, I want to give my best in the upcoming series.
Who is your role model?
Which is your favourite shot?
Which is the most difficult bowler that you have faced?
Which is your favourite food?
Anything in Paneer
Which is your favourite movie?
Any sports-based films
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.