She made headlines and all for good reason. The 23 year old cricketer from Jaipur Priya Punia took India to win against South Africa on a day Mithali Raj completed 20 years of her ODI cricket. By doing so, she became only the seventh Indian to register a fifty-plus score on ODI debut. Priya received a big shout out for an impressive 83-run stand for the first-wicket with her opening partner Jemimah Rodrigues (55) in pursuit of a below-par 165. The country cheered for this young girl who showed composure, ambition and pursuit for excellence.
Young and Restless
Priya Punia was born in Rajasthan on August 6, 1996. She has finished her studies from Jesus and Mary College of Delhi. Her first love wasn’t cricket, it was Badminton. She used to play badminton in her teens with friends and also enrolled to explore cricket at the age of nine. This early start would bloom into a full fledged interest.Surender Punia, Priya’s father loved cricket and urged his children to explore the sport. During the time her father – in the government services – was posted in Delhi, she joined the academy in the national capital just before entering her teens. While working in Delhi, he initiated Priya’s interest into cricket and enrolled her at the famous West Delhi Cricket Academy in Paschim Vihar under Rajkumar Sharma, who has given Virat Kohli to the world. Priya’s brother is also a cricketer.
Priya took cricket training from Rajkumar Sharma for seven years in Delhi but she got her break. According to Women CricZone, she got an opportunity to play for India A against the New Zealand team in a 50-over tour match in Bangalore in June 2015 before she was 19. She had earned that call-up on the back of a strong 2014-15 domestic season. She later made an appearance in T20 versus Hyderabad for Delhi women’s team in 2016 at Bangalore. She also made it into Delhi’s senior side at the One Day Championship.
Priya took cricket training from Rajkumar Sharma for seven years in Delhi. Rajkumar is also famous for training Indian captain, Virat Kohli.
Priya’s career was now on track and her parents wanted to do everything for her to focus on it. But as it happens often in government services, Priya’s father was posted out and was asked to return to Jaipur. He collected his savings and put it in making a cricket ground for his daughter to practise. “Since my father has a government job, there are obviously financial issues,” Priya tells Women’s CricZone. “But whatever papa can do, he does. He has also been my personal coach ever since we moved out of Delhi.”
All that investment paid off as Priya honed her skills and showed promise with every passing match. In 2018, the Indian women’s cricket team took her in as a new batsman in its order.
She debuted opposite Australia in Mumbai. In December, Punia was asked to join the Indian women’s T-20 team travelling New Zealand.
When Priya Met Mithali
Sometimes there are comparisons of how Priya’s batting style resembles, Mithali’s. Priya considers India’s skipper as a mentor and sounding board for her strategy and approach. As a result of that Priya turned into a more diverse and multifaceted player. According to cricketer Reema Malhotra, Priya’s biggest strength is that she is “technically very sound to counter all challenges” and has “improved significantly as a fielder which was unexpected in such a short notice.”
Facing adversity head on
Priya’s struggles have been both personal and some professional. As her father was in the government services, the family had to spend a lot to keep up with training costs. Her father also took a loan to get the cricket pitch going for her practise in Jaipur. In her early training period, Priya fell ill, she had a fracture and also suffered by jaundice which put her back by a few months.
However, the 22-year-old’s struggles weren’t merely limited to practice facilities or selection. On arriving in Jaipur, she was struck by jaundice and only three months later, she suffered a fractured thumb. When her faith began to waiver, Surendra stepped up as both mentor and coach.
Father takes loan, daughter pays it off
When Priya Punia’s father was worried about his shift from Delhi to Jaipur and the impact it would have on his daughter’s sport. He decided to construct a cricket pitch himself. Surendra set course to construct a pitch for his daughter. According to this report, Surendra auctioned his property, took loans and purchased a plot of land meriting Rs 22 lakh.
He wanted to set up a proper practising net and pitch for his daughter. In many ways Priya struggles were turn into success when she got inducted into the Indian team.
What Priya has never been short of is belief and self confidence. The trust of her family and the mentoring of her father has been instrumental in her rise.
Saumya Rastogi is an intern with SheThePeople.TV