A bonafide power-hitter, the first of her kind in Indian women’s cricket, Kiran Navgire spoke to Naman Agarwal about her game, her stint with the Indian team, the impact of the WPL, and her admiration for MS Dhoni in a candid interview.

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Sometimes you hear that crack off the bat reverberates across the cricket field, and you know that the ball is destined for the heavens without even looking at where it goes. Kiran Navgire announced her arrival to the wider cricket public with that same crack when she faced her first ball in the Women’s T20 Challenge in 2022.

Navgire had been selected in the Velocity squad for the 2022 Women’s T20 Challenge on the back of a record-breaking season where she had struck 525 runs in the domestic T20 competition. It included a 76-ball 162 against Arunachal Pradesh, the first – and so far, the only – 150-plus score in T20 cricket by an Indian cricketer, male or female.

She became the first Indian – male or female – to hit a 150 in T20 cricket.

There was a steely look in her eyes as she readied herself to face Bangladesh off-spinner Salma Khatun on her maiden outing with the bat in the Women’s T20 Challenge. The first ball went for an 81-metre six over mid-wicket. The fifth, at 89 metres, was even bigger. Those are distances you don’t generally get to see in women’s cricket.

And it wasn’t by fluke. Navgire had trained for it.

[caption id=”attachment_486017″ align=”alignnone” width=”718″]Kiran Navgire with a steely look in her eyes before facing her first ball in the Women's T20 Challenge in 2022 Kiran Navgire with a steely look in her eyes before facing her first ball in the Women’s T20 Challenge in 2022[/caption]

Navgire talks about her background in athletics to Wisden India, about how it made her physically stronger than other girls, a trait that she used to her advantage to set herself apart from the competition: “I have an athletics background. I used to be a thrower, which is why I have a little more strength [than other girls]. I feel that finishing games is really important, which is why I developed my batting in this manner, to hit big sixes.

“Sometimes [while finishing], the situation demands you to score more runs off fewer balls and not a lot of girls hit big. They generally play ground shots. So I wanted to be different so that people would notice me.”

People noticed her immediately. She scored 69 off 34 balls with five fours and five sixes in her first innings at the big stage. The fifty came off just 25 balls. Finally, India had found a genuine power-hitter.

She was called up to the Indian squad for the T20Is against England and was given a go in the very first match. It didn’t go to plan as she struggled her way to a 13-ball seven after coming in at No.6, and was left out of the next two games. In the Asia Cup next month, she got three more opportunities. She fell first ball in two of these, trying to swipe across the line right from the start. She hasn’t played for India since.

Navgire is honest in her assessment of her stint with the national team. She does not blame the selectors or the team management: “In the chances that I got, including in the England series and in the Asia Cup, I couldn’t live up to their expectations. They would have wanted me to finish games and get some big scores, but I wasn’t able to do that, which is why I was dropped. I can’t say anything to the management or selectors. I got enough chances but wasn’t able to utilise them, and that is on me.

“The mentality and experience of international bowlers is different, and my inexperience got the better of me. I didn’t think that they would have planned for me. I was so caught up in the experience of playing for India and travelling with the Indian team, that I wasn’t able to think about my game. I realised that at the international level, you can’t hit from ball one. There’s a huge difference in quality at the international and domestic levels. I should have figured that out.”

In the inaugural Women’s Premier League, her team UP Warriorz finished third on the points table, and lost to Mumbai Indians in the Eliminator. Navgire had a brilliant start to the tournament, scoring a 43-ball 53 in the first match that laid the platform for the Warriorz to chase down 170 against the Gujarat Giants. Grace Harris then played a blinder, scoring 59 not out off 26 balls to finish off the chase.

[caption id=”attachment_486033″ align=”alignnone” width=”928″]Navgire had a decent outing in the inaugural season of the WPL - scoring 155 runs from eight games Navgire had a decent outing in the inaugural season of the WPL – scoring 155 runs from eight games[/caption]

The innings made her realise how a player can single-handedly turn the game on its head in that fashion: “That period of 6-7 overs [Harris’ innings] opened my eyes to the fact that something like this was even possible. That one player can take the game away single-handedly like that.

“That spell of 6-7 overs was very educating for me. The kind of innings she played, the kind of shots she played, the intent she showed. What especially inspired me was that she made sure that she finished the game. It made me think that I have the strength to do the same and that is what I have been working on.”

Apart from being a match-winning innings, Navgire’s knock in that game caught the attention of the public for another reason. Her bat bore no sponsor sticker but “MSD07” written by hand, but she debunked the myth of her not having a bat sponsor: “Actually I had a sponsor even then. My contract with BAS was already signed, but the bats they had sent were two days late. So I had to play with my old bats.”

Of course, she is a fan of Dhoni: “I look up to Dhoni Sir and his style of play. Whenever I get any time to think about cricket, I think about how he used to go about his game and watch his videos. So I had written his name on one of my bats and that was one of the better bats that I had.”

After a fifty in the first game, Navgire had a dip in form and finished the tournament with 155 runs from eight games at a strike rate of 115. In the Eliminator, she was the lone woman standing for the Warriorz with a 27-ball 43 in a steep run-chase of 183 against the Mumbai Indians as others tumbled around her.

India have several home series lined up this year to start preparing for the 2024 T20 World Cup in Bangladesh. Currently out of the national team, she knows the importance of her role as a power hitter in the Indian side and is working towards a comeback with the World Cup in sight.

“I learnt a lot from the mistakes I made during my time with the Indian team, and have been working on that. I expect to make a comeback soon. World Cups are coming up and the Indian team needs finishers [like me]. So I am preparing for that.”

The Indian women’s team needs players like her, for she is the only one like her in Indian women’s cricket at the moment.