I'm not giving up just yet: Punam Raut
The WPL might have disappointed veteran India cricketer Punam Raut in only giving her a place in the commentary box, but she insists her fight is not over.
A few days ago, veteran India cricketer Punam Raut shared a video of her batting in the recently concluded MCA Cricket League. This was a rare instance; she does not usually share her performances.
Take a look at her social media profile, you won't see a lot of cricket videos, at least not from recent times.
Having played for India for the last time two years ago, the 33-year-old batter from Mumbai had been hopeful of being part of the inaugural Women's Premier League (WPL) earlier this year but was not picked in the auction. Instead, she was one of the commentators with Jio Cinema.
"I was certainly disappointed when I couldn't play in the WPL, but when I was approached for the commentary, I couldn't say no. It was great to be a part of something as iconic as this tournament," she tells The Bridge.
Punam Raut might have moved to the commentary box after being spurned in the WPL auction, but she is confident that she has a few years of cricket left in her still.
The recent videos on her profiles might be a declaration of that intent - including the one from the MCA League, where she was helping out the team of her childhood coach, a team including players as young as 12 years old.
"This tournament was one-of-a-kind," she says.
Organised by Mumbai Cricket Association, the first edition of the MCA Cricket League, which began in March, witnessed more than 50 academies. Punam Raut represented Sportsfield Cricket Club.
"My coach asked me if I could participate and help out youngsters in the team. I immediately said yes. Most players in the team were young, say, around 12 years. They have never played in a competitive atmosphere.
"There are many young players to keep an eye on. They are all talented... Also, the tournament turned out to be a good one for me before the domestic season starts," she says.
Because the league partially coincided with the WPL, Punam had to juggle a lot of responsibilities at one point - responsibilities to the young girls who relied on her batting at Sportsfield CC, responsibilities to India's cricket viewing public from the commentary box, and to herself.
When asked about juggling WPL commentary, her performances and gym, she says that the travel and traffic were something she didn't enjoy.
"It was a different... a full-packed schedule for me. Thankfully, all our matches were in the morning. I would reach my place after commentary in the early morning, rest, workout, play for my club, and return to commentary in the evening... I had to do this to stay fit and in touch with the game. It was difficult initially because of the traffic and travel, but everything worked out well in the end."
However, at the next WPL, she wants to be involved in a playing role.
A classical batter
This was not the first time Punam Raut had stepped out to help youngsters. Recently, she moved on from Railways - Indian cricket's most successful team - to represent the Uttarakhand state team. Since Railways usually rotate players, she knew she might not get a lot of opportunities to prove herself.
"I wanted to play all the games and showcase what I got. I had to take a tough decision to move. When Ekta (Bisht) also wanted to move, we decided to play for the same team, and that's how we ended up in Uttarakhand".
Apart from Punam and Ekta Bisht, former India player Mansi Joshi also moved from Railways to Uttarakhand in the last edition.
"There were a good bunch of youngsters and a few internationals as well. It was nice to share our experiences with the upcoming players," Punam says.
Punam Raut is one of the few cricketers who has been around for more than 10 years now. She made her international debut in 2009, the same year when Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur also debuted.
A regular in the team in the last decade, she played her last match for India in June 2021, making a characteristic 61-ball 32 in an 8-wicket defeat to England. A player in the classical mold, it can be argued that Punam Raut lost out as the game became faster.
"The game has evolved a lot after 2017. Those days, it wasn't easy to get sponsors and everything. Today, a lot has changed and changed for the good. Also, it feels like we are moving a lot towards the shorter format," she says.
Talking about the strike rate factor, she says, "I would love to finish the game for the team. I'm more of that player, but I do know I have to change my game a bit, and I'm constantly working on that.
"I've been working on the endurance part. This will help me in my running and also in producing powerful shots. In the beginning, it was tough, but I'm doing well now. The MCA Women's League, Inter-Railways tournament has helped me too".
Punam played 6 matches in MCA Women's League and notched up 239 runs with a 137.13 strike rate. In the Inter-Railways tournament, she made 89 runs from 3 appearances with a 107.23 strike rate.
"I know I have been constantly scoring 50s and 60s. Sometimes, we have to play according to the situation. At my Academy team for MCA Cricket League, I had to play through because the youngsters in my team needed help".
Talking about youngsters, she says that these tournaments will play a major role in youngsters' lives, now with the prospect of graduating from the WPL.
When Punam Raut began her cricket career, the domestic structure used to be very different. BCCI conducted multi-day tournaments too, something that has stopped completely as more T20 leagues have come up.
"Our game is moving towards a shorter format, but I feel multi-day tournaments are a must. Playing in those tournaments will help youngsters to get their techniques right. If you see Harmanpreet Kaur or Smriti Mandhana, they have better technique compared to those coming up. Also, we are comparatively playing more Tests these days."
When asked what it would be if she could change one thing in the BCCI domestic structure, she stresses the importance of live streaming.
"I think BCCI should provide live streaming, at least for T20 matches. With WPL around, these video clippings will be useful for the scouts to pick out the right players. I feel many domestic players missed a WPL contract because of that".
The scorecard alone cannot tell you the full story, she says. "Not always you go in and hit every single ball. Sometimes, when you have to play according to the situation, it will reflect on the strike rate, and bowling economy rate."
At 33, Punam has seen many of her contemporaries ride into the sunset. But she insists her fight continues.
"I have been working hard this season. My fitness and my power game have improved. I'm consistent in scoring good runs so far. I'm just not ready to give up yet. This season is going to be challenging for me."
The women's domestic cricket season will begin this October with the Senior Women's T20 Trophy.