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Deepti Sharma will hope to make a big impact in her maiden WSCL campaign

On the evening of May 8, 2019 in Jaipur, Velocity were cruising in a meagre chase of 113 against Trailblazers, guided by Danielle Wyatt's aggressive 46 on a slower track. Call it the Nelson jinx or Deepti Sharma's now famous kill-them-with-smile attitude, the next seven balls threw the Velocity camp into panic. At 111/3 and having lost two of their most attacking batters - Wyatt caught by Deepti and Veda Krishnamurthy run out off successive deliveries - Velocity needed just two more in 18 balls. Easy still? Instead, Deepti clean bowled the next three batters in the space of five deliveries to, if not eventually clinch victory from the jaws of defeat for her team but, send a reminder of just how strong her comeback game is today. These are kind of performances that go on your CV irrespective of the result of the game.

Trevor Griffin, the head coach of Western Storm in the Women's Cricket Super League, was following the Women's T20 Challenge action from back home. He soon got in touch with Smriti Mandhana with the idea of recruiting Deepti for the 2019 season. Deepti's captain at Trailblazers, Mandhana passed on her teammate's number and the coach and all-rounder struck a deal over a series of WhatsApp and email exchange. The fact that Mandhana will be reprising her role with the England franchise for a second successive season would play a part in Deepti's decision making, for she had another offer to consider. Lancashire Thunder, who Harmanpreet Kaur played for in 2018, had also approached the 21-year-old, albeit ten days after Storm had already initiated talks. Deepti officially signed the dotted line during the month-long NCA camp in June.

"Absolutely! I just thought there's a familiar face there. I'll get some support with Smriti also being around. Smriti had been there last year so I thought it's for the best," Deepti told Cricbuzz of her decision to sign with Storm.

Deepti's maiden WSCL stint means the Indian representation at the UK-based league is set to double this season, with Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur reprising their roles for their respective franchises from last edition and Jemimah Rodrigues, earlier in the month, signing up with Yorkshire Diamonds. Just like Rodrigues, Deepti too will depart for the UK late on July 28, and will be available for the entire duration of the tournament.

It is, however, not the first time Deepti's name came up for deliberation in a foreign T20 league. For the previous two editions, her name was doing the rounds at the time of WBBL signings but she could get only as far as being on standby. It's this wait that makes this WCSL stint even more special for the player from Agra. She called up her family first, and then her mentor - former India cricketer and selector, Rita Dey.

It was under Dey's guidance that Deepti decided to challenge herself by moving out of her comfort zone and switching her domestic team to Bengal, ahead of the 2017-18 season. Jhulan Goswami's towering presence in that team had helped ease the decision-making process then when, in a pretty similar situation, Deepti had multiple offers to consider including one from domestic giants Railways.

At Bengal, Deepti hit the ground running. She emerged as the leading run-scorer in the Senior Women One-Day League Plate group with a tally of 313 at an impressive average of 104 in six innings to go with her nine wickets. Bengal not only made it to the finals, narrowly losing though, but also earned a spot in the Elite division for the 2018-19 season. In her second season with the new side, Deepti outperformed herself and again topped the batting charts with 487 runs this time, her all-round skills playing a vital role in Bengal's dream run to the clinch the silverware.

Amidst Bengal's soaring success, all in a year's time, what went under the radar was Deepti's transformation from a textbook scoring-in-the-V cricketer to one who now knows aggression and when to switch between the two modes. Identifying the need to expand her horizons as a batter - with the 2018 Women's T20 WC in the Caribbean only months away - Deepti was leaning towards adopting an attacking alter ego. She went back to basics under the tutelage of her brother Sumit, or Bala bhaiya as she fondly calls him. The elder brother, himself an ex Uttar Pradesh cricketer, would carefully plan and oversee sessions on the bowling machine where Deepti would work on adding and then improving her range of shots - from lofted shots to inside-out over the covers to hooks and pulls to stepping out to slower bowlers. The initial signs of this hardwork came to light when a 100-odd crowd at Alur stood up to applaud the petite left-hander who went down on one knee and slog-swept Mansi Joshi, a pacer, for a six over midwicket in the Senior Women's T20 Challenger 2018 final.

"I myself thought that there's this need to evolve as a batter, really, and spoke to Bala bhaiya about it when I went back to Agra before 2018-19 [domestic] season. See, you cannot just play in the same flow throughout. You have to build the innings and then know when to change gears."

This new intent was quickly noticed and duly rewarded as Deepti soon was able to establish herself as a permanent fixture in India's T20 lineup, just like how she had nailed down a spot for herself in the ODIs since 2016. She brushed off the disappointment of missing out on a home T20 WC berth in 2016 by easily walking into all playing XIs of the 2018 edition in the Caribbean.

This change of approach could partially also be owed to the changing demands of the team from Deepti in the national setup, especially in ODIs. Since her record-breaking 320-run opening partnership in 2017, Deepti has donned several roles in the batting order - from adhoc opener to pinch hitter to a finisher.

"When you go in the middle-order, you have to play run-a-ball. Sitting in the dug out, you have to prepare yourself for run-a-ball game, or even otherwise [depending on the situation]."

And on days batting doesn't click, like the lean patch of late in internationals, Deepti's mantra is 'keep calm and carry on'. Her extraordinary temperament and comebacks are well documented and have earned her a strong reputation from her teammates as well as rivals, who believe it's nearly impossible to shun her out of the game completely. If she doesn't get you with her batting, she'll get you with the loopy off-spin. Otherwise, there are always the sharp catches and run-outs she pulls off to remind of her usefulness in the field even on a dull day.

"See, you have three departments to contribute in. And I believe, if you fail in batting, you can always make a comeback in bowling or in fielding. So I try and forget what happened in the batting and focus on what I have at hand next. It's not easy, these comebacks, but you have to stay focussed. It's very rare that you have an bad game overall. But I don't brood over it for too long. You have to quickly switch on for the remainder of the game. I do take my lessons from it for next game, but I don't overthink what went wrong, and just think about in what way I can contribute in the rest of the game.

"I've seen Dhoni and Mithu di [Mithali Raj] do it on the field. And it's true. The more you stay calm and focussed, the more your mind can think and analyse those pressure situations better."

While Deepti may come across as a surprise pick in KSL, the dual offers are a vindication of the hard yards she's put in in adding a different dimension to her already vast skillset. If she does pull off the kind of feats she did with the Trailblazers this year, Deepti Sharma could well become a common factor in leagues around the world very soon.

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