“My father would come with me for practice initially and always wanted me to bowl. But for reasons unknown, I always wanted to be a wicket-keeper. As a child, I would only sit behind the wickets, and not bat or bowl,” opens up the Indian Women’s Cricket Team player Taniya Bhatia.
Encouraged by her father Sanjay Bhatia, who was a back-up keeper for Punjab, Taniya Bhatia ventured into the world of cricket as a seven-year old and looks back at her journey that had its fair share of obstacles and challenges in an exclusive interview with The Bridge.
Unlike the words of discouragement that aspiring women cricketers face in India, Taniya was always pushed towards the sport. “My father wanted me to become a cricketer from a very young age. He saw the talent I had as a seven-year old, and enrolled me in an academy soon after. However, he wanted me to become a bowler. Unfortunately or fortunately I never grew tall enough to become a fast bowler, so my coach asked me to keep pursuing wicket-keeping,” reminisces Taniya Bhatia with a laugh. Meeting Adam Gilchrist a few years later further strengthened her passion for keeping.
“I always looked up to Gilchrist, and he was my idol whilst growing up. My childhood coach knew of my craze for him, and I met him at Mohali when he was associated with Kings XI Punjab. Though we did not interact much as I was still a child back then, I was always in awe and I wanted to ape him – both as a keeper and a batter.”
Realizing that her daughter’s love for cricket was soon turning serious, Sanjay shifted coaching at the DAV Senior Secondary School at Chandigarh’s Sector 8, where Yograj Singh was at the helm. Training under him opened up new experiences for Taniya, and she is profuse in her praise for the former Indian cricketer. “The lessons that you are taught as a youngster always stay on with you, and I was blessed to have learnt from the best. Yograj Sir always recognized my talent, and pushed me harder towards glory. I had to train with boys even as a nine-year old, as he felt that it would be easier playing cricket with girls if I had trained with boys my age.”
This, she says, helped her develop an aggressive body language and a strong temperament, which came to the fore when she faced a slump in her career a few years later.
After training at the DAV Academy for four years, Taniya appeared for the Punjab trials as an 11-year old, and was selected immediately.
She found herself playing for the senior Punjab side at just 16 years of age, and soon after she was called up to play for India A as well.
However, the runs dried up for her from the next season, which meant that she lost her place from not only the A team, but from the side that was to play in the Challenger Trophy as well. She was not in the fray for the 2017 World Cup selection, and self-doubt soon crept into her game.
“I just felt that I was not good enough, and wanted to quit cricket. I was not even fit for domestic cricket, and I seriously pondered over my future as a cricketer and my morale was low. This is when my parents supported me and asked me not to lose hope. They helped me get back to the field, and I slowly started focusing more on my skills and fitness. I did not compromise and worked harder. I was determined to not let ten year’s worth of practise go down the drain, and that is when I became mentally tough.”
Elaborating on the need for mental fitness in sports, Taniya states that her lowest phase taught her the importance of handling anxieties in the right manner. “At this level, almost everyone has similar skills. But what differentiates a great player from a good one is how they tackle pressure and tough situations. You need to constantly back yourself, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and once I became more aware of my shortfalls, it was easier to improve and get back up.”
Through this journey, it was her parents’ undying support that never left her. As Sanjay was posted out of Chandigarh for seven years, it was her mother who made sacrifices and ensured that Taniya Bhatia never missed even a single practise session.
The cricketer recalls her mother’s role in her life and owes all her accomplishments to her. “I owe everything to my mother. As my father was not in Chandigarh, my mother would drop me and pick me up everything after my training. She never even went to her relative’s house, as that meant I would have had to miss training sessions. She was initially reluctant about me playing a male-dominated sport, of course like all mothers would be – but once she gauged my talent, she never backed away.”
Taniya’s crowning glory arrived when she was finally selected for the Indian T20I team that faced South Africa last year in the Rainbow Nation.
The 21-year old recounts the moments minutes after she got the news. “I was on a flight when the team was announced, and I was surprised to see so many messages and phone calls. I had never received so many messages, so initially it was just a blur. The first person I called was my mother, and we both shed happy tears. That was a very special moment for both of us.”
The cricketer signs off by stating the importance of the brand Fast&Up India, which caters to her nutritional needs on a day-to-day basis. “As I am in a very rigorous field, where we need to be out in extreme weather conditions for over 8 to 9 hours, the nutritional supplements that Fast&Up India provides has helped me a lot. It allows me to keep going and though there is a lot of fatigue in this sport, their products help me re-energize myself and keep track of my requirements as well.”
Though Taniya is only 40 international games old – having played 31 T20Is and 9 ODIs, she has been touted as a player to watch out for, and if she carries on with the same vigour, she is sure to stamp her name in history books