Between a fifty and a duck — Kiran Navgire’s harsh introduction to professional cricket

A healthy crowd was present for the night fixture on May 26 at the MCA Stadium in Maharashtra for the Velocity vs Trailblazers league game. Velocity was the strong team on paper, packed with names like Shafali Verma, Deepti Sharma, Laura Wolvaardt and Kate Cross. However, chants and placards were reserved for a different name — Kiran Navgire.

At the pavilion end, one section was dominated by a bunch of children in Velocity jerseys. In that sea of purple sat a couple — a woman wearing a traditional green silk saree and a man wearing a white kurta, dhoti and Nehru cap — Navgire’s parents Prabhu and Latha. Seated by her father’s side was Gulzar Shaikh, her first coach.

Touted as a finisher, Navgire, 27, did not get an opportunity to bat in the side’s first game earlier in the week. So when she swirled her bat and walked out to the middle that day, with Velocity having just lost Yastika Bhatia, the anticipation peaked.

Navgire, and everyone present, had to wait for the strategic time out to end to get to the striker’s end. As Salma Khatun — who Trailblazers captain Smriti Mandhana relied on for breaking or keeping partnerships in check — tossed the ball up, Navgire went down on one knee and slog-swept it for six over deep midwicket.

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Kiran Navgire announced her arrival on the most important of stages with a true-to-character six.   –  Sportzpics/IPL

 

Full of confidence

“What a way to start in the Women’s T20 Challenge,” Natalie Germanos gushed in commentary. “Oh, oh, oh,” Deep Dasgupta could be heard exclaiming in the background — almost in sheer disbelief that pressure could be diffused in such a nonchalant manner. In the stands, Shaikh was not surprised. He knew Navgire was there to make the chance count and had been given an assurance before the game. 

“On the day of the match against Trailblazers, we had a conversation. I told her that, after everything, you are on the same platform as others. Pressure is understandable. She then said something that stuck with me. “Sir, mera fifty 100 percent hai (a half-century from me is confirmed).” I warned her against being overconfident, but she again said, “Fifty maroongi zaroor (I will hit fifty for sure).” When I saw that first ball six, I knew that she was not going to take that chance lightly and that she’ll hit wherever she could. She won’t stop what comes naturally to her,” Shaikh told Sportstar.

It was celebration time for the Navgire family — for her, her parents and siblings — this was a realisation of her dream.

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The right-hander started out initially in athletics and was a prolific javelin thrower — an inkling that seeped deeper into her thanks to encouragement from her father. She got admission in a college in Baramati and during her time there, she participated in an annual women’s invitational cricket tournament organised by Azam Sports Association. That’s where the organisation’s president P. A. Inamdar spotted Navgire and brought her under the Azam Academy fold. 

“One of the main things we did then was to sit Kiran down and explain that there was a Pune Cricket Association for which she needed to play. Above that comes Maharashtra Cricket Association. She did not know these things. She did not know that cricket could become a career,” he added.

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Dr. P. A. Inamdar, President Azam Campus and Mrs.Abeda Inamdar with Kiran Navgire and Gulzar Sheikh   –  Special Arrangement

 

Big picture

Shaikh says that Navgire always lives in the moment. “During the senior women’s T20 trophy, she would call me every day. After that unbeaten 162, she called me and she was very happy. I remember telling her that she has not achieved anything yet. Her journey has just begun. She shouldn’t be happy about it just yet. Even when she hit that debut fifty in the WT20C, she called me saying the same thing and I also responded the same way, that nothing will come off just this score, there’s still a long way to go. We know her true potential. So, I revisited that delivery off which she got out. It’s important to sit her down and talk to her about this stuff. If we get happy with just the things going right, there is the worry that she’ll stop and stagnate. So, I told her that we can’t get happy here; we need consistent performances that will guarantee consistent opportunities. Then we can sit back and celebrate.”

This was hard to explain to her parents. The moment Navgire reached her fifty and raised her bat, her dad was spotted dancing in the stands along with the 50-odd children from Azam who had come to cheer one of their own. Her parents went across the stands to where Shaikh was sitting and gave him a tight hug.

In the very next game — the final of the four-match tournament — that emotion turned on its head. Navgire came out to bat with Velocity needing 166 against Supernovas in its bid to win its maiden WT20C title. Verma had fallen first and Bhatia fell soon after. Navgire had Nattakan Chantham, a specialist batter from Thailand who hadn’t found her feet with the bat this season yet, for company. To add to the pressure, Navgire copped a blow to the helmet from a Deandra Dottin bouncer. With over 8000 people watching and cheering her on, the intensity, perhaps, got a little too much for her.

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How Navgire was set up by Dottin and Ecclestone   –  Sportzpics/IPL

 

Reality check

Dottin mixed up her length but kept the line tight, occasionally catching Navgire off guard with an offering outside the off stump, to strangle the batter at the crease. Ecclestone then came in with a deceptively quicker short delivery and the aggressor in Navgire bit the bait. She came down the track, in an attempt to repeat what she did to Khatun a few days ago, but missed. The ball went past her bat and knocked the stumps. 

“Kiran’s father got up and came out of the seating area. He was so affected by that dismissal. He was sitting right in front and came off to the back,” Shaikh says.

Far from the rosy arrival on the big stage, her very second outing was a reality check, a reminder of how high euphoria can carry the player and how numbing the lows can be.

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“I think Kiran’s concentration got shaken a bit because of that hit and that might have caused a few of those dots, too. She was nervous after the game when she called me. This situation will keep coming, so we have to help her learn how to recover. She needs to look back at those 13 dot balls because they had variety. The bowlers mixed their deliveries up to her. Some were bouncers, others were slower ones; she got yorkers and good length deliveries, too. It seems like the wicket that fell plus the dots got to her. We will certainly discuss this,” Shaikh says.

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Kiran’s parents Latha (in the orange and blue saree) and Prabhu (wearing the white cap) seen cheering their daughter on during the Women’s T20 Challenge.   –  Sportzpics/IPL

 

Learning to adapt

It’s not like Shaikh or the coaches who came after him didn’t try to hold back her aggression a bit. Whenever she was taught to stick to her defences, her run flow would choke.

“At the start, Kiran had only one thing on her mind: to hit the ball out. We explained to her that just clearing the boundary is not cricket. She needed to have a few defensive shots in her arsenal too to round off her style. She tried to rein it in a bit but it ended up affecting her form,” Shaikh says.

In 2021, Navgire played in a local tournament in Baramati and scored 210 runs in a T20 game and that opened up a world of possibilities for her.

“She used to easily manage 20 runs off five balls, 30 runs off 10 balls but just this won’t take her anywhere. She needed to stick on and bat more. She was getting out only to catches mostly and was bowled very rarely. So, she needed to build her innings. This drove home the point about sticking around in the middle and thinking out long innings. She has learned how to convert those small knocks into more meaningful contributions. I guess that lesson assumes importance again now,” he adds.

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While her own process will be to hit the nets and work on where she went wrong, dedicating at least two hours in the net to iron out the creases, with the Sri Lanka tour and the Commonwealth Games around the corner, Shaikh hopes selectors are keeping an eye on his star student. 

“Her role is one of a finisher, anyway, so even if we are a bit ambitious and look at the Indian set up, she might get a look in. There are so many established names. For her, it’s all about cashing in on opportunities, no matter where they come from, and she is mentally prepared even if she gets less time or fewer opportunities. She has to be. There isn’t another option,” Shaikh says.

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