A photograph of Radha Yadav's first cricketing accolade takes pride of place in the front room of her 225-square-foot home in Kandivali, Mumbai. The picture, sellotaped in places along the periphery, shows Yadav, who is India's joint highest wicket-taker in T20Is since the start of 2019, flanked by her parents, holding a winners' shield and trophy.
"That is from my first inter-school tournament," Yadav, a 19-year-old left-arm-spin-bowling allrounder, says on the phone from Australia, where she is set to play her second T20 World Cup. "I ran out Jemimah [Rodrigues] in the final. It's a special keepsake, because both Jemi and I now play for India, but more so as it reminds me of the hardships my family has been through before cricket became our way out of it."
Yadav's cricket journey proper started when Praful Naik, who would go on to be her first coach, spotted her playing tennis-ball cricket with boys in the compound of her apartment building.
"Praful sir convinced my dad to let me train under him, for free," Yadav says. "Papa agreed because only a few days earlier I had found out that the Shiv Seva Ground [in the neighbourhood] holds nets for girls. I realised girls too play cricket. I had pleaded with Papa to enrol me [in the set-up] there, but he said it was beyond his means."
Like millions of lower-middle-class migrants before him, Yadav's father, Omprakash, moved to Mumbai from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in pursuit of a better future. But with the ever-soaring cost of living in India's financial hub, it became increasingly tough for him to make ends meet with the income he earned from selling milk from a makeshift stall on a footpath outside the family's house in the suburb of Kandivali.
"When I saw Yadav at the Baroda nets for the first time, her body language and attitude brimmed with positivity" Geeta Gayakwad, chair of the Baroda women's cricket selection panel
Though it hurt, Yadav, 12 then, saw the merit in her father choosing two square meals a day - "and sometimes just one" - for their large family over spending money on his daughter's cricket. "Papa's decision didn't make me stop loving cricket," she says. "I just quit dreaming about training in whites like those [other] girls."
The Indian men's 2011 ODI World Cup win at home inspired a generation of Indian kids to take up cricket. Yadav, whose house is a stone's throw away from a gymkhana named after Sachin Tendulkar, was one of them.
"Growing up, I never heard much about Mithu di [Mithali Raj] or Jhulu di [Jhulan Goswami] because mostly the men's matches were on TV all the time," she says. "But after India won the 2011 World Cup, it became a huge craze for me. I wanted to play in front of fans, at a stadium, so I started trying out everything: left-arm fast bowling, spin bowling, batting, and even wicketkeeping - just because [MS] Dhoni made it look so good."
At about this time, Naik's arrival proved a godsend. Under his tutelage Radha's talent and aspirations got direction. Soon enough she made the step up from tennis-ball cricket to the leather-ball version. Omprakash began to sell vegetables, and some grocery items, at his milk stall, hoping to spend the extra income on cricket equipment for his daughter.
"It's not just me or my wife - all her three older siblings have played a role in Radha's growth," says Omprakash, 55. "My older daughter, Sonee, used to be an even better cricketer than Radha, but she sacrificed her own career to help Radha make hers."
In 2013, Naik had Yadav move from Anandibai Damodar Kale Vidyalaya, her first school, to Our Lady of Remedy High School, where he was the coach at the time. The decision paid dividends soon. Yadav, in her first tournament at any level, featured in Our Lady's win over St Joseph's Convent High School (Rodrigues' team) in the final of the inter-school championship that year.
"I was still not convinced that I should become a bowler," Yadav remembers. "I used to hate bowling." Naik and Kiran Kambli, another local coach, suggested she make left-arm spin her primary skill.
A maiden call-up for the Mumbai Under-19s came in 2014-15. For that one season, Yadav and Rodrigues, who made their international debuts together on the 2018 tour of South Africa, played on the same team. Yadav then moved to playing for Baroda, where Naik shifted base in 2016.
"It's funny that Jemi and I used to dislike each other as kids," says Yadav. "Now we are slightly more mature, so we have become good friends." The two teen allrounders' paths crossed again when Yadav, leading Baroda, made a hundred and a fifty in two matches against Mumbai at the 2016-17 BCCI inter-state U-19 tournament.
"When I saw Yadav at the Baroda nets for the first time, her body language and attitude brimmed with positivity," Geeta Gayakwad, the chairperson of the Baroda Cricket Association women's selection committee, says. "She has always been an enterprising girl, so I gave her the responsibility to lead the U-19 side."
"I wanted to finish it off myself. Many a time earlier in domestic games I failed to do that, so I wanted to channel that disappointment into getting the job done this time" Yadav on the final of the Women's T20 Challenge in 2019
Under Yadav, West Zone became the 2016-17 BCCI U-19 inter-zonal champions, which earned her the captaincy of the Baroda U-23 side later in 2017, and of the Baroda senior side in 2018.
"It was only when she started competing at a higher level," says Gayakwad, "against the India players, say, at the Challenger Trophy, [that] her desire to be a better allrounder grew, as did her aggression, which is quite similar to her captain Harman's."
At the Women's T20 Challenge final in Jaipur last year, a sensational fifty by Harmanpreet Kaur ended with her being dismissed with her team, Supernovas, still needing seven runs from four balls.
"I was actually happy that Harry di got out," Yadav says, chuckling. "Because I wanted to finish it off myself. Many times earlier in domestic games I failed to do that, so I wanted to channel that disappointment into getting the job done this time."
With nearly 14,000 spectators on the edge of their seats at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Yadav scored twos off three consecutive balls, and with the scores tied, sealed the chase with a four off the final ball. "It's my favourite moment" she says. "Harry di keeps telling me every now and then, 'You walked onto the field that day as though as you had already done the job in your head.'"
As with Kaur, Yadav's aggression with the bat is rooted in method. "I visualise a lot," she explains. "Say, I want to fly and take this blinder in a real match situation, make that difficult stop, bowl that wicket-taking delivery, and so on… when I am able to pull it off, my excitement comes out as aggression. When my form falls, I visualise even more to overcome self-doubts."
With the ball in hand, save for her first two international assignments - a bilateral series against South Africa away and a tri-series at home against Australia and England - Yadav has seldom looked ill at ease in her 32 T20Is. She achieved a career-best No. 2 T20I bowling ranking late last year and was one of three Indians on the ICC's 2019 T20I Team of the Year.
"The jump from domestic to international cricket felt like a storm," Yadav says of those first two series. "I wasn't a skillful bowler at the time and would try out too many variations."
Realising she needed to raise her game in all three disciplines, she worked on making her action "more compact", increasing her upper-body strength, honing her catching and ground fielding, storing the "same type of deliveries in my muscle memory", keeping things simple, and most importantly, believing in her strength: self-belief.
"I consider myself a wicket-taking bowler. I can contain when needed, varying my pace and lengths," she says, "but I back myself to go for wickets every time." She has taken at least one wicket in each of 21 matches on the trot - second only to Australia quick bowler Megan Schutt (23 matches in a row).
Yadav says that her three India head coaches in the two years since her debut - Tushar Arothe, Ramesh Powar, and now WV Raman - have helped give her perspective. "Raman sir, for example, says, 'Learn to put all your successes and failures behind and focus on the future.'"
"Maybe these ups and downs were all meant to be part of Radha's journey. Maybe she was destined to be emboldened by adversity" Yadav's father, Omprakash
Some days, advice of that sort helps her gather her thoughts. On others, reflections on a past riddled with hardship act as a motivator.
"The only thing I think of every time I leave for my tours is my Papa's smile. He has hidden so much pain behind it all these years," she says. "The only way I can honour his sacrifices is by trying to be the best allrounder I can be."
This year, Yadav was promoted to Grade B (Rs 30 lakhs; about US$ 42,000) in the BCCI central contracts structure. When she earned her first board contract, worth Rs 10 lakhs, last year, she bought her father a small grocery shop. More recently, she made the down payment on a three-bedroom apartment in Baroda, where the family will possibly move next year.
Might Yadav have been a lesser cricketer had poverty not put a spoke in her wheels? Or might she have thrived had her family been prosperous enough to have afforded to put more resources into her cricket? "When she was born prematurely in the seventh month, the doctors had reservations if she would survive," Omprakash says. "A few years later, when we wanted to enrol her in an English-medium school in Borivali [a neighbouring suburb], they rejected [our application] because my wife never went to school. Maybe these ups and downs were all meant to be part of Radha's journey.
"Maybe she was destined to be emboldened by adversity," he says as he and his wife, Amravati, walk towards their shop, Radha Mini General Store.