As India turns 70, we celebrate Eight For Eighty - the eight sportspersons who we feel will carry the torch for the next decade.
The story so far
At 17, when her Uttar Pradesh teammates were contemplating a future in the game, Deepti Sharma was already an India international. The journey there was made possible because her family, particularly her brother Sumit, encouraged her to pursue a dream that he couldn't fulfill. What began with the odd throw from outside the boundary to the nets, where her brother trained - he played for UP at the Under-19 and Under-23 level - turned into a passion. Two years on, Deepti is a record holder for the highest individual score by an Indian - achieved in May 2017 when she smashed an unbeaten 188 against Ireland - and left her imprint as one of the most promising all-rounders during the course of a path-breaking World Cup 2017 campaign.
Sumit's academy at the Eklavya Sports Stadium in Kanpur is also were Hemlata Kala, the current chief selector of the women's team, coached. Deepti caught Kala's eye with her natural flair. As a 13-year old, she was allowed to train at the Under-19 nets, where she towered over the rest. This gave her family the confidence, so much that Sumit, who wanted his sister to have access to the best training facilities, gave up his corporate job and teamed up with local coach Vipin Awasti to start a cricket academy. Today, they have over a 100 trainees to whom Deepti is an inspiration.
Deepti has gained the respect of her peers and seniors in such a short span that it's hard to think beyond her when current captain Mithali Raj says the next leader should be guaranteed to play the next two World Cups. The authority with which she convinced her captain to effect field changes, not just while bowling but at different stages of the game - none more so than during the World Cup semi-final in July when Alex Blackwell threatened India with a late surge - exhibited her maturity and understanding of situations. With Raj and Jhulan Goswami on the last leg of their storied international careers, Deepti is part of the youth brigade that is at the forefront of what could be a new era of women's cricket in India. While she isn't contracted yet to any T20 franchise, a Women's Big Bash League contract can't be ruled out ahead of the tournament's third season later this year.
"At different times during the World Cup, we found ourselves under pressure. Whenever I looked at Deepti, she had the look of someone wanting to embrace it. That was a revelation for me. She was quiet, but the calmness she resonated was simply unbelievable for someone playing in her first major event."
--Tushar Arothe, India coach