Punam Raut talks about why she walked, says it is ‘sport not war’

The pink-ball Women's Test in Australia didn't use DRS but the 32-year-old batter says she is clear about what is 'fair and unfair' and wants to do things correctly

Having walked, Punam Raut will happily talk about it now. The Sophie Molineux floater in the recent pink-ball Test against Australia, bounced more than she expected and took a whiff of wood around the base of the bat handle before being caught by the keeper.

The commentator was incredulous when Punam started walking back, easing her hand out of the glove, and said in four different surprised tones he could summon that she’s “oh, she’s walked….has she walked? ..whoa, she’s walked….”

Raut is equally staggered thinking back. “I was so sure the umpire would give Out. Because it was Out!” she starts. “There was definitely a noise, though it was a faint top edge. I was so sure he’d give out that I didn’t even look back the first few steps. It’s happened a few times in domestic cricket that I was given Out when I wasn’t. But this has never happened in my life. I don’t know how the umpire didn’t give it Out,” she breaks into a still-astounded laugh.

The Test match was played without the Decision Review System (DRS) and the Australian players’ appeal to the on-field umpire seemed to have gone in vain till Raut walked.

“I mean, why would anyone walk if they didn’t nick?” she continues, trying to pierce through the kerfuffle caused and debates of ‘spirit of cricket’ dredged up in the aftermath.

“Spirit of cricket has to be there, right? We hardly get a chance to play (Tests), so I think we tend to forget why we enjoy playing this sport, why we compete. You don’t want to cheat just to seal your spot,” she says. “See, I might forget the spirit here, but I truly believe, the same situation returns in life when maybe I’ll be given Out when I’m not. I’d like to be clear about ‘fair and unfair’ and do things correctly. Plus, it’s just a sport, not war.”

She has sympathy for the umpires too, though she’s still stunned she didn’t see a raised finger, amid the appeals of the three close-in fielders and bowler. “It’s tough for umpires, they can’t see everything and sometimes batters don’t walk despite knowing. Hence DRS was brought in for the Not-Outs. But in my head, what’s Out is Out,” she declares.

Raut of course understands thin margins and cut-throat competition and not giving an inch. And what she owes to the team. “Of course I understood the disappointment of team-mates. Noone likes losing wickets. That’s why I didn’t express anything to them when some asked if I was sure it was Out, even when I was sure I was,” she says delicately.

It was a good left-armer’s ball, she asserts, drifted in, straightened and shot up higher than she reckoned, and the bat face opened more than she’d want.

It wasn’t unprecedented. “I’ve seen Sachin (Tendulkar) walk. Once, Dhoni didn’t even look at the umpire and started walking back,” she recalls. “A wrong decision in a World Cup semi or final can cost a team dear so I know it’s a big moment. But what’s Out was Out,” she asserts about the overspun straighter one.

The Strike-Rate

It is in white-ball cricket, notably the upcoming ODI World Cup where Raut is now focussed. There are mutterings about her strike-rate in limited overs cricket.

Raut, though, wants to stay “practical” and maintains the biggest currency in sport stays ‘winning a match.’

“I know people love to watch only boundaries and sixes in ODIs and T20 and not a cheeky single or double or rotation of strike. But I’m sure they like to watch batters win matches as much as aggressive players. And if playing with caution or according to the situation is going to help the team win, and there are 50 overs available, we should consume all 50 overs,” she says.

She recalls an India-Pak group game in the 2017 World Cup, where India hurtled to 160-odd. “It was a pressure game against Pakistan because criticism if we lose can be next level. Batting first we made the mistake of trying to play aggressively on a pitch not assisting that kind of play. That was a lesson for me,” she says. She top-scored with 48 but it rankled.

The strike-rate dissing doesn’t faze her as much now, being a ‘veteran of comebacks’ at 32. After being out in the cold for a year, Raut had made a comeback ahead of the last World Cup, and continues drawing inspiration from her father who she says never had it easy in his life in Mumbai.

“Whenever I was attempting comebacks, he told me straight that he wanted to see the same drive and determination of the ‘u19 Punam’. He was talking about being a fighter. He would know the effort I was putting in because I would train and drop off to sleep from exhaustion. He says, whenever you give excuses for failure, that’s bad form. If you don’t make excuses, then I know you are on track putting effort,” she says.

Balanced life

Turning 32 on Thursday, Raut says she has one more year of top quality international cricket to look forward to. Yet, a certain balance has come into her life post marriage and finishing a decade and half in top-flight sport. The frequent quarantine life has tunnelled her focus into newer frontiers: learning about stock markets.

“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own finances and not depend on anyone. And I learnt a lot about different types of investments in the last year. I actually like quarantine days while others get bored. Because I learn a lot of things from youtube videos – from cooking to investing.”

She’s always been a reader, more than a music listener, and was currently glancing through ‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jai Shetty. “But most of all, I keep going back to videos of Viv Richards. I really like his strokes and I consciously try to play some – the one off the backfoot over the covers. His videos are exhilarating and I’m never bored,” she says.

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