Few stories in sport resonate so deeply as the ones about the prodigiously talented, the underachiever or the prodigy's descent into underperformance. Few spheres of life cut through fluff and are as unforgiving in its treatment of the 'could-have-beens' as sport. In team sports in particular, continuing inability to make good on the promise of potential invites little mercy. But there is also the other dominant narrative - of teams supporting the failing, talented athlete time after time, in the hope of the punt coming off someday.
The career of India middle-order batter Veda Krishnamurthy, whose match-defining 11-ball 20 not out in India's 18-run win against Bangladesh at the T20 World Cup on Monday, was described as the "turning point" by her captain Harmanpreet Kaur, lends itself to both these storylines.
A fifty on ODI debut in England at 18, a gift for marrying flair with power, a background in karate to underpin her breathtaking fielding skills, and an unbridled fearlessness in approach marked the arrival of a batter in 2011 who had had very few precursors in Indian women's cricket. The pluck that's now become the hallmark of India's current teen brigade - the Jemimah Rodrigueses, Shafali Vermas, and Richa Ghoshs - had precedence in a teenaged Veda, herself something of a descendant of the Harmanpreet Kaur line of daring, if not aggression.
However, in an international career spanning 121 appearances, 73 of those in the shortest format, and despite a WBBL season, captaincy experience on a recent A tour to Australia and several domestic tournaments under her belt, Veda, more often than not, has flattered to deceive.
Since the start of the international home season in March 2018, she has played only five of India's 21 ODIs, an average of 8.40 against the visiting Australia and England sides costing Veda her spot in the Mithali Raj-led ODI team. By contrast, her 31 appearances in India's 42 T20I matches during this period speaks for the measure of faith Kaur, the T20I captain, and the Indian management invested in her leading into this World Cup.
Batting in positions from Nos. 3 to 7, Veda has repaid that trust to some degree with 10 unbeaten knocks, including one fifty, in these 31 innings, but her 10 single-digit dismissals, a strike rate of only 105.76 and just one 30-plus knock in this period also betray a serious want in both fluency and consistency.
Most recently, after scoring 15*, 5, and 57* in three T20I innings on the tour of the Caribbean in November and top-scoring among the Indians on the A tour to Australia the following month, her form fell off again as she returned single-digit scores in the first three games of the recent T20I tri-series, which also featured hosts Australia and England. An omission from India's last two games, including the final, thus followed.
A week on from the final of the tri-series, where a middle-order collapse was unsurprisingly at the heart of yet another Indian defeat, Veda's return to the XI at the expense of the in-form spinner Radha Yadav in the tournament opener against Australia, begged questions of the move. A bowling allrounder, Radha's ability to bat under pressure has precedence in a thrilling chase against international bowlers at the 2019 Women's T20 Challenge, but her services with the bat have seldom been put to use on the international circuit.
"Veda is one of the experienced players on the team, and we bank a lot on her" Shikha Pandey
In that game against Australia, Veda scored only an unbeaten 11-ball 9, but her innings proved crucial in the 32-run stand with Deepti Sharma that ensured the momentum stayed with India heading into a defence of 132 in front of a record 13,000-plus crowd. Veda's selection alone, not to mention Poonam Yadav's match-winning four-for later in the game, underscored India's belief that their bowling attack, comprising three frontline spinners and two quicks, was potent enough to win games on their own at the World Cup. What needed propping up was a collapse-prone middle order that, in the recent past, has either imploded in chases or failed to provide flourish in the death overs when setting a target.
"It's just about executing a few things in the game and considering the order I bat, the role I have been given, it's very difficult to say that it [my contribution] will not be as good as the other top-order ones [batters]," Veda told reporters ahead of the second match against Bangladesh. "It will be about the last push I can give to the team. If I can do that in the games going forward, it can be a huge plus for us because our bowling attack has been great. It's just about getting those 10-15 runs on the board, so the bowlers have the extra cushion."
On Monday night when Sharma's departure in the 17th over left India with only 113 on the board and another 19 balls to play, Veda seized the opportunity to inject impetus in the innings with a 20-run blitz at No. 7. Relying largely - and unsurprisingly - on well-timed slog-sweeps, she carted Bangladesh left-arm spinner Nahida Akter for three fours in four balls in the 18th over.
The second one of those - an inside-out cover drive that flew beyond the reach of long-off - had the touch of pristineness that would ever so seamlessly lend itself into a sidebar in some of her best, belligerent innings of the past. The splendour of the stroke, often described by Veda as a favourite, came to be associated at varying phases of her career with a Veda in full flow, before flagging form and the movement into and out of the team seemed to shorn it off her arsenal altogether.
It was fitting, therefore, that the inside-out four would coincide with the announcement at the WACA Ground of the record 5280-strong crowd, the highest for a standalone women's game at the venue. This was the first time India were facing Bangladesh after losing to them in the closely-contested Asia Cup final in June 2018, and Veda played her defined role to perfection, ensuring India had enough to avert a third straight loss to Bangladesh.
"Veda is one of the experienced players on the team, and we bank a lot on her," medium-pacer Shikha Pandey said after the match while Veda obliged tens of selfie-hunting fans outside the press conference room. "The runs that she can get in the last few overs make a lot of difference, like the way they did today, and I'm really happy she got those runs for us because that will do a world of good to her confidence and for us as a team."
As India fly to Melbourne, where they take on New Zealand on Thursday, trust Veda to be at the centre of the frolic on board the plane, buoyed by her own exploits on Monday night and the prospect of facing a team she played a part in knocking out in the preceding two world tournaments.