Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mystery spin in the Womens Game

This article first appeared in my column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.


Last year, Maya Sonawane was a member of the  Maharashtra team that were joint winners of the women's domestic U-19 competition. She was only 14. For her, it would have been easy to say that she was happy just being a part of the squad of fifteen. She carried the drinks,clapped hard, and cheered her team mates from the sidelines in a tense final, and enjoyed the moment when she could call herself a part of a champion team. It could have been enough. After all, she was just 14.

 It wasn't.

Today, at  just 15 years of age, with 23 wickets from nine matches, she is the 2014-15 season's highest wicket taker in the U-19 competition.


A few years ago, a local corporator in Sinnar - A town some 30 km from Nashik, the wine capital of India-  built a cricket pitch in his backyard. He wanted his young school-going  daughter to learn to play cricket. No, this school-going girl was not Maya. Maya was the girl who would watch them play on her way home from school, and  hang around and pick up any stray balls that rolled in her direction. Maya didn't really find cricket. Cricket found Maya.

 Her disarming smile and outspoken innocence meant that soon enough, she befriended the girl and her father, and started bowling to the child, occasionally having a go with her bat after she was done.  Maya's older brother soon started accompanying her, in part because he recognised that his little sister had a talent at this, but mostly just to keep an eye on his little sister. A few girls from her locality also started coming along, in part to help the corporator's daughter play, but mostly because they occasionally got a ride in the corporators car afterwards.

Soon, a few boys who represented Nashik District, learned that a pitch existed in their backyard, and started training there instead of making their daily commute to Nashik. They passed on advice on the basics of the game to the girls, and that became the first rudimentary coaching that Maya received.

At some distance from  this makeshift coaching center of excellence, stood one of Sinnar's  major attractions, the Gargoti Museum. It houses a collection of  Zeolites (mineral stones native to the area.) ''They are the stones we use to start a fire'' says Maya, when I asked her what Gargoti meant.

And already, a few stones in Sinnar had started rubbing against each other, kindling sparks of cricket-fire in their young minds.


It is impossible to miss Maya. Standing just a shade over five feet tall, you couldn't pick her out of a line up.  But give her a ball in hand, and any lay man watching her bowl will tell you that she is different. Her unique bowling action, with her head pointing downwards when she releases her wrist spinners, is what sets her apart. Her arm speed, revolutions, and bounce off the pitch will make a few quick bowlers envious.  Watching her, one immediately thinks of Paul Adams, whom Mike Gatting immortalised in the imaginations of audiences by likening his bowling action to "A frog in a blender". Except that Maya bowls right handed, not left handed like Adams did. Ask Maya about him, and she coolly replies that she has never seen him bowl! "I've heard of him, but only recently. People told me that his action is like mine!''

So popular was Maya's bowling in her hometown, that girls from Sinnar found their parents telling them  to bowl like her! And so, more than one young girl from Sinnar was trying to send down deliveries- a la Paul Adams- at the Maharashtra U19 trial nets. It didn't matter that the girls bowled off spin and medium pace, they made sure they did it like Maya!

Maya in the middle of her ''frog-in-the-blender'' action in her hometown of Sinnar


 After attending the Maharashtra state U-19 trials as a 14 year old, Maya made her first appearance for the state in the 2013-14 season, though she only played in one match. Her fitness levels, bred naturally by a childhood spent in the great outdoors of Sinnar, impressed her peers and her coaches. But her inaccuracy meant she could not force a place in the starting XI that year. Her heterodox action - the fact that she used her little finger to spin the ball, instead of her ring finger which wrist spinners generally use- meant that standard coaching manuals were of minimal help. So it came down to sheer practice and repetition.

Back home in Sinnar, Maya applied herself to trying to hit the same spot over and over while bowling. The same little finger that she used to give the ball a rip now gave testimony to the amount of hard work she had put in. A large  nodule of raw skin protrudes from the knuckle of her pinky, looking gruesomely like a parasitic growth that does not belong there.

''The seam cuts open the skin every time I bowl'', she says of the wound in the belly of the nodule, an occupational affliction that many spinners share. "Now I have learnt to take care of it with tape."

When the 2014-15 season finally dawned, the pain she had endured in her many sessions of spot bowling bore fruit. In the first match of the season, against Baroda U-19, she took 6-17 in eight overs. Her flight , dip and variations in turn mean that opposition batsmen were afraid to use their feet against her, allowing her to dominate them. Against Gujarat, she returned figures of 4-6 in three overs, including a hat trick.

She continued to shine in the All India leg of the U-19 tournament, taking nine wickets in five matches, including three in the semi final, which Maharashtra lost. The diminutive tweaker though, could hold her head up high, finishing on top of the wicket takers list, her closest competitor a full six wickets behind.

A grinning Maya proudly modelling her first  Maharashtra Sr. team kit
Now as the youngest member of the Maharashtra Sr. squad, Maya faces the prospect of having to raise her game a notch to match the faster,fitter standard of play in senior cricket. Not happy with just being the travelling baby in the team, she wants a place in the starting XI.  But she knows she will have to earn it. Her young age and diminutive frame hide the courage and hunger that she has inside her, and she isn't afraid of taking on the older girls in duels in the nets, even if it means getting hit for six once in a while.

Along with state captain Smriti Mandhana and Devika Vaidya - both still in their teens - Maya will most likely form a core of young talent that Maharashtra is nurturing. She should be a regular in the side in the  years to come. But she can think about that later. Right now she spends her energy trying to land the ball in the right areas consistently, and worries mostly about not being able to watch Chota Bheem while on tour.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sr. Domestic season 2014-15 Preview

The 2014-15 one day season will begin on the 6th of December at various venues across the country. For a look at the teams and fixtures,  have a look at my previous post (Plate division group A fixtures have changed since then, with the reintroduction of Rajasthan). The format is unchanged from last year. 
Elite Division Champions Railways have strengthened their squad with the addition of  current internationals Harmanpreet Kaur, Poonam Yadav, besides Priyanka Roy, and Shravanti Naidu. The Elite A pool could well be called the Group of Death. Giving Railways company, are Jhulan Goswami led Bengal,  who won the plate division last year, and whose U19 team recently lifted the national championship.  Then there is Hyderabad,  who are led by a new young captain, M. Shalini.  They ran Railways close in both their T20 encounters last year, and will look to go one better this time. And lastly Uttar Pradesh , last year's runner's up, and Delhi, who will be bolstered by the return of veteran Reema Malhotra. 
Elite group B also promises some close encounters,  with four of the five teams more or less equal in strength, boasting at least one player who has represented India. Underdogs Tripura will be keen to spring a surprise or two as well. 18 year old Smriti Mandhana will lead Maharashtra for the first time in the one day format, and will look to establish her captaincy credentials. Her young team also includes the U19 season's highest run scorer Devika Vaidya, and highest wicket taker, 15 year old Maya Sonawane.
In the Plate division, there are never any clear favourites, and all teams will hotly contest for the top spot in their pools, as this could mean a chance for promotion into the Elite Division next season. Shikha Pandey and Thirushkamini, fresh from strong performances in the recent home series against the Proteas, will look to carry that form into the domestic season. Their teams, Goa and Tamil Nadu respectively, along with Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh are the teams I would watch out for. Karnataka in particular, with Veda Krishnamurthy returning to their ranks, will be hard pressed not to reach the last two.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Rise and Rise of the West Indies

This article first appeared in my column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.


Anisa Mohammed (R) became only the sixth player to breach the 100 ODI wickets club, while Stafanie Taylor is currently No. 1 allrounder in ODIs. © Getty Images

My first memory of a women’s cricket team from the West Indies is watching a series they played in India in 2004. My recollection of that time is a bit fuzzy (although that might have something to do with DD Sports’ picture quality) and I cannot recall much except that Asmi Jewellers was sponsoring India Women at the time, which was big news. As for the cricket, an Indian team that was peaking brushed aside the Windes women 5-0 in the One-Day Internationals. It was, for India, a good build-up to the 2005 Women’s World Cup around the corner. For West Indies, I imagine every day was a new step on a steep learning curve for a team just finding its feet.
Fast track to 2009. It’s the ICC Women’s World Cup in Australia, and India would play the West Indies again after a gap of four years. India were not about to take this team lightly, and I watched from the sidelines as our bowlers gave nothing away to shoot out West Indies Women for 84. The total was dealt with easily enough, and another West Indies challenge to one of the ‘big four’ teams was duly brushed aside.
Jump ahead to 2011: the West Indies tour India for five ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals. I had just made a comeback into the Indian team and played in the customary warm up match. We lost, but not before stretching the visitors a bit. The Indian team was brimming with confidence, but we were in for a rude shock, as we went down in the opening game in Mumbai to a dominant and, truthfully, surprising display from the tourists.
If we thought the slow turning pitches of Baroda would give us the advantage – which they did, we beat them in the second game, only just – it was short lived as the West Indies took the leadin the third match. The fourth game at Rajkot went down to the wire despite a timely ton from Mithali Raj on a featherbed in Rajkot, but we kept the series alive.
It was down to the final match of the series, and in a tense, low-scoring game, chasing 188, West Indies couldn’t hold their nerve and collapsed for 131. The celebrations in the Indian dressing room began, but were muted, for we had just about managed to best an opponent we had never lost a duel to. For this opponent had come back with a stronger body, sharper sword and better armour.
The 2013 World Cup. India, the hosts, and West Indies would face off again, this time in the tournament opener. I danced in the stands as Poonam Raut and Thirush Kamini sent them on a leather hunt and batted them out of the game to set up a crushing win. But that was all the joy Indian supporters would get in that tournament.
As for the West Indies, in the Super Six stage, they turned the tables on Australia, another Big Four team, and usurped a place in the final, edging out holders England. Though they could not repeat their Houdini act in the final, they finished with their best ever World Cup performance. They had officially arrived, and, like their male counterparts, were not afraid to show it, with Gangnam Style celebrations telling us how much they were enjoying their cricket.
Now, West Indies have just completed a 4-0 rout of New Zealand’s White Ferns in the ODIs. Three of those four wins would qualify as crushing, and the last would be called a miracle of self-belief. Currently, they are sitting pretty atop the fledgling ICC Women’s Championship charts. They are statistically the team ranked No. 1 in the world, although the road to the 2017 World Cup is long and the journey has only just begun. But tectonic plates in women’s cricket are shifting, and West Indies, in the eyes of many, have taken India’s place in the Big Four.
Their rise, to an outside observer, has been remarkable. The West Indies Cricket Board certainly seems to take their women’s team seriously, and have appointed Sherwin Campbell, the former Test cricketer, as their coach. They appear to have a clear performance road map in place. Their selectors have on many occasions shown long-term vision. Merissa Aguilleira, the wicketkeeper-captain, has led this team for more than four years now. Out of the team that played in the 2011 series in India, ten players featured in the 2013 World Cup in India. The selectors have chosen and groomed a core of talented players, who have soaked up the experience this continuity has offered them, and have emerged as match-winners.
Anisa Mohammed, the offspinner, at just 26, recently became only the sixth player to breach the 100 ODI wickets club. Stafanie Taylor, the allrounder, is currently No. 1 in the women’s allrounder rankings (ODI). Pacers Shakira Selman and Tremayne Smartt both picked up their maiden five wicket hauls in the series against New Zealand. And everybody knew Deandra Dottin could smash the ball, but watching her bat maturely to amass 271 runs in four ODIs and three T20Is, including three half-centuries and three unbeaten knocks, will give opposition captains worldwide some sleepless nights.
Their true test lies ahead. They will carry confidence from this series when they travel Down Under, where they will need it as they face the world champions, Australia’s Southern Stars. The series, beginning on November 2 with the first of four T20Is, followed by four ODIs, will pit the two biggest-hitting sides in world cricket against each other. It promises enthralling games, and if the West Indies have their way, the Australian summer may just see more Gangnam Style celebrations.

The Format Specific preparation of Sri Lanka and South Africa

This article first appeared in my Column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.


Chamari Atapattu, the new Sri Lankan skipper, has her work cut out.
Early this year in January, when I turned out for India A in a warm-up game against the touring Sri Lanka Women, I got a good look at most of their players. We almost squeezed out a victory in that game, and I was confident our senior squad would win the One-Day International and Twenty20 International series convincingly. Then, someone in our team insightfully observed: “They aren’t here to play the one-dayers. It’s the T20s they have their sights set on.”
That was prophetic. India easily made a clean sweep of the ODIs, with Gouher Sultana, the left-arm spinner, doing most of the damage. But with their nemesis not part of the Indian T20 squad, the Sri Lankans clinched the three-match T20I series, their first-ever series win against India.
‘’It’s the T20s they have their sights set on.’’ This made sense considering that the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh was just a couple of months away, while the next 50-over World Cup was slated for 2017. This focus on the T20Is reappeared during England Academy’s tour of Sri Lanka in February 2014. The home side fielded a full-strength squad for the 20-over games, but an inexperienced one for the ODIs. Sri Lanka women’s cricket officials had a plan for their team, that much was clear, and it most likely involved at least a last four finish in Bangladesh, if not higher.
And they had the firepower too. Chamari Atapattu and Yasoda Mendis were providing the kind of hammer-and-tongs starts they needed, with Mendis doing most of the hammering. The all-round capabilities of Achini Kaushalya and Sanjeewani Weerakoddy gave them flexibility and strength in the middle order. Led by the experienced Shashikala Siriwardene and boasting an athletic fielding unit, they were more confident as a T20 side than a one-day one.
Alas, the World T20 in Bangladesh was the archetypical anti-climax for Sri Lanka. After pocketing the first group game by handing India a third defeat in four matches, the Islanders proceeded to lose their next three games, and hopes of a more substantial takeaway than a participation certificate were erased. The subsequent resignation of Siriwardene as captain completed the sinking of their proverbial Titanic, which, at the start of their journey, was unthinkable. And last week, the board launched an initial investigation into worrying allegations of sexual abuse of the players reported in a local publication.
While Bangladesh proved the unravelling of Sri Lanka’s dreams, it was the springboard into the limelight for another upcoming side, South Africa. Inhabiting the same pool as favourites Australia and strong challengers New Zealand, few would have predicted that South Africa would be the ones to make a last four appearance. They managed to beat the White Ferns in a T20I for the first time ever to force a three-way tie in the group, and thanks to big wins over Pakistan and Ireland, edged ahead on run rate. Although they ran themselves out in the semifinal, they had announced themselves on the global stage. In making only their second last four appearance in a global tournament, they had repaid the faith their administration was showing in them – Cricket South Africa had recently introduced contracts for six of their women’s players and team sponsor Momentum was backing them in a big way).
So, it was only a matter of time till South Africa pulled something like this off. Just like India’s style of play is suited to Tests, T20 best suits South Africa’s brand of cricket. To give you an idea, the team’s opponents in the semifinal, England, had been unable to hit any sixes in their group games. South Africa hit ten. The power-hitting game that the England (and India) team so covet is well established in the South African unit. When they can extend it consistently to longer, calculated innings, they could post totals that stretch the top teams. Contracts to eight more players in August was just reward for their toils and spoils in Bangladesh.
South Africa and Sri Lanka have more in common than might appear. Both appear to enjoy good support from their home boards. Both teams are looking at T20s as the battleground to announce their ascendancy. And both teams, both “T20 specialists’’, recently faced off in a one-day and T20I series in Sri Lanka, also comprising three ICC Women’s World Championship ODIs. South Africa Women were carrying the momentum of their World T20 appearance and the experience of a T20 series against England. Sri Lanka were hoping for a recrudescence of the wave of optimism with which they rode into the World T20, under their new skipper, Atapattu. So it was not surprising that the series was a closely fought one, with Sri Lanka eventually surrendering the home advantage and South Africa picking up dual series wins.
I can’t wait to see both teams in action in the 2016 World T20 in India. But the truly mouth-watering prospect is seeing how they evolve in time for the ICC Women’s World Cup in England in 2017. Will they be able to build strong ODI teams? There is time aplenty, and both teams need to use it wisely. South Africa Women can take a cue from how England built up to the 2009 World Cup. If they give their core unit of players consistent international exposure, they might see their promising youngsters bloom into match-winners, and peak in time to challenge the best in the world. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will need to rebuild under a new captain, whose biggest test will be off the field: to hold the team together through the disturbing allegations being made within their board, threatening all the progress so far.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sr. Domestic Schedule 2014-15

The fixtures for the new season are out, and apparently therre are NO t20 games this year. Here are the groups for the one day competition:


  3. UP
  5. DELHI
  3. J&K
  5. GOA
  3. ASSAM
The venues are still to be decided. these are the fixtures. The second round of matches for both division will be held from 1st to 5th jan 2015


the Inter zonals will be held from 1st to 14th march 2015. Judging by the dates, these will be played in a two day format. 

1 mar       east vs north
                 south vs west

4 mar        central vs east
                 north vs south

7 mar        central vs south
                  north vs west

10 mar      central vs north
                  east vs west

13 mar      central vs west
                   east vs south

Write up 

Monday, 1 September 2014

More TESTS, more WINS..

More tests will mean more joy for India women.

Test cricket may be the best way to move Indian women's cricket forward.

You heard me right. Test cricket.  Not the swashbuckling abridged version of cricket that is T20. I have just surprised myself by saying that. Until recently, I was a big proponent of T20s as the best medium to promote women's cricket in India. But after the Wormsley test, I gave it some thought, and I have changed my mind. Here's why.

As of today, Test cricket is the Indian women's cricket teams strongest format. 

Every team has a preferred or natural format. The Indian men's team just showed that, with table turning wins against England in the ODIs (after having had to hide under the same table in the tests). The English women's team themselves are a really good ODI side, but in T20s, you have got to give it to Australia's Southern stars. For India women, its gotta be tests.


To win a test you must be able to bowl the opposition out twice. Assuming that the wickets for women's tests would most likely be result oriented, there would be some seam, swing, bounce ,or turn . And India have the bowling options for all of the above. In Jhulan Goswami, India have an experienced pace spear head, who hits the deck hard. And Niranjana, Shikha, and Shubhlakshmi proved at Wormsley that they have the skills to exploit favourable conditions. Add the loop of  Gouher Sultana (who missed this tour due to illness) and unpredictable turn of Ekta bisht, and India have spinning options aplenty. 

But most importantly, test cricket provides the perfect cocoon to nurture India's batting strengths and, more importantly, nestle it's weaknesses. Indian batting is currently more about timing and placement than power hitting. Thats fine for tests. The longer format allows Indian batsmen to take their time to settle down, without the run rate causing any panic. They can wait for the lose ball, and the skill to put it away was always there. They can turn down those cheeky runs and bide their time. They can wage a war of attrition, and make merry when the bowers tire. For dot balls matter less in tests.

Now to fielding. After the first ODI against England this series, former Aussie all rounder Lisa Sthalekar tweeted ,''India has never given time to fielding and it shows". In the next game, the Indian girls fielded brilliantly. That's often the case with Indian fielding. Inconsistently brilliant. These small factors count for a lot in the shorter formats, but again in tests, with more spread out fields, the odd misfield is less likely to cost a team a win.

So coming back to the theory that opened the innings for this post. test cricket might be the best format to promote women's cricket in India. 'cos lets be honest. This is sport. There are no prizes for coming second. No one remembers you, no one commemorates you, and the opposition only half mean it when they say "well played" at the end of a game. They are too busy planning their party.

Nothing promotes a game better than a team that wins. A win demands to be seen. England women got the attention with back to back Ashes wins.The Southern stars won three consecutive world T20 titles, and became the highest paid female sports team in Australia. India have won back-to-back tests in England, albeit eight years apart, and I strongly feel they will win more in this format. And those wins will help the game grow. But how many will they get to play?

There has long been a perception that the BCCI will only pay attention to the women's team if and when they win. Its happened in a test, and it will happen more often if the BCCI cajole the other willing bedfellows; England and Australia; to schedule  frequent test matches. Clare Connor, visionary head of women's cricket at the ECB, recently said that the future of women's tests is hanging by a thread. India have a lot to gain by moving to preserve that future.

Of course this is not to suggest that if we do play tests, we shouldn't raise our standard in the other formats. Globally, T20 cricket is the vehicle that will drive the growth of the women's game, so India must become a world class T20 team. Athleticism and agility need to be long term occupants, not frequent guests. And sustainable power hitting must marry form and timing. This onus lies on us, the current crop of domestic players, to raise the bar.

But alongside that, the BCCI must realise what it's women's team's strengths are, and play to them.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Flashback! : The Triumph of 2006


That was the  last time the Indian Women's Team played a test match.

They played two actually. At Leicester and Taunton.

Against England. A team who had just blanked them in the ODI series 4-0.

But they had some history by their side. The last time they played a test against England in England, Mithali Raj scored an unbeaten 214, then a world record.

More records would be broken. More history would be made.

Mostly, by Jhulan Goswami.



The first test played there seemed destined to end in a draw. As a Cricinfo report at the end of the second day said "this test has got bore-draw written all over it."

India managed a lead of 75 in the first innings, only for Claire Taylor to wipe it out, stroking 115 in her second dig. England led by 270, with just under a day left for India to bat out.

India had batted laboriously in the first innings. The pitch was slow. It didn't seem too much of an ask, until India lost three of the top four for ducks. At 74-6, India seemed to have gifted England a series lead. Then all-rounders Amita Sharma and Rumeli Dhar banished all such thoughts with fighting half centuries. Along with Jhulan goswami, India's pace trio would combine to cause England much grief with both ball and  bat.(Jhulan Goswami had scored 69 in the first innigs, after a surprise promotion to bat at no. 3)

England 0, India 0.



2006 was the year that Taunton, venue for the second test, was christened the Home of Women's Cricket in England.

Jhulan Goswami certainly felt at home there.

India batted first and used two wicketkeepers to open the innings (although only Karuna Jain later donned the gloves.) The wicketkeepers gave India a watchful start. 38 runs and a blunt new ball later, Sulakshana Naik fell. Two runs later, so did Jain. 40-2. Suddenly not such a watchful start.


Anjum Chopra and Jhulan Goswami had been team mates at Air India since Jhulan was a wayward teenage  tearaway. They were two of the handful of women cricketers who Air India offered permanent jobs, and combined to script many a victory for Air India against arch rivals Railways. So it seemed fitting that Anjum  shine with the bat in this match, even if her showing was to be eclipsed by Jhulan's with the ball. Anjum Chopra made 98, agonisingly short of a richly deserved century. By the time she was dismissed, India had recovered from being 40-2 and eventually crossed the psychological barrier of 300.


The pitch was not a bowler's paradise. In India's 1st innings, Isa Guha bowled more than 40 overs. In England's second innings, Nooshin Al Khadeer  bowled 37 overs. Preedi dimri and Amita Sharma bowled 61 overs between them. It was that kind of pitch. Which is exactly why Jhulan Goswami's 1st innings figures of 13-4-33-5 were incredible.

To say she sliced through the top order is not an exaggeration. She allowed none of the top three to reach double figures. She came back to pick up the resilient Edwards, who batted low due to illness. To get a measure of the quality of her wickets we need no highlights or eye witness accounts. We only need to read the scorecard. LBW, caught behind and bowled. Beaten, edged, and knocked over. Classic fast bowlers wickets. And she was bowling fast.

At the other end, Amita Sharma and Rumeli Dhar were doing what they did best : swinging it. Each picked up a pair of wickets, again either LBW or caught behind, and the Indian fast bolwers cartel had nine wickets between them. England were blanked out for 99 in 51 overs. For the first time ever against India, England followed on.


Somewhere out there, I imagine,  is a benevolent spirit who watches in admiration over every record that is broken in cricket. The Indian Women had just summoned it. And perhaps it lingered on, having heard that Indians  are such good hosts, and I further imagine it would not have been disappointed.


In the 1st test at Leicester, Laura Newton and Claire Taylor had scored more than 200 runs between them. But at Taunton, with England following on, they were both gone. England were 34-2, still 173 runs away from an innings defeat. The Indian girls may have thought they had a foot in the door of victory. The England captain Charlotte Edwards had other ideas.

She combined with Caroline Atkins to almost shut India out of the match, with a mammoth 178 run partnership, Edwards reaching her century in the last over of the third day. They tired the Indian attack, who were toiling desperately to create history. They batted out the rest of the day, even defying the second new ball. England needed to survive day four to save the test, and had eight wickets in hand.


c Chopra b Goswami

A familiar sight on the Indian Domestic circuit. Usually at first slip for Air India, Anjum Chopra had arguably the best view of India's fastest bowler (besides maybe the batsmen ) in the  days before the BCCI took over. She was perfectly positioned to accept and edges that Jhulan's late movement drew, lest they elude the 'keeper.

Anjum's 98 runs had set up this match and given the bowlers a total to bowl at. And Jhulan's fifer had brought them this close. It seemed fitting that India's hope  be renewed on the fourth morning by Anjum taking the catch when Jhulan dismissed Edwards, after adding only five runs to her overnight score.

Edwards c Chopra b Goswami

Amita Sharma proved once again to be the perfect foil by removing Atkins, and the rest followed after some resistance, Nooshin Al Khadeer's persistent off spin claimed three well set middle order scalps, and Jhulan returned to haunt the tail.

Her 2nd innings figures read 36-21-45-5

Match figures of 49.2-25-78-10


Its hard to keep Mithali Raj out of any game involving India. Opposition teams would love to do that. Indian teams would probably love it even more, but on only a handful of occasions has the team prevented the onus from falling on Mithali. Even more rarely has she failed to deliver.

The 2nd test was India's for the taking. The target was 98. Everyone knew England had scored just 99 in their 1st innings. Anything was possible. It was a 4th day pitch. It was last innings of the Test. It was the last innings of the series. England were giving it everything. They had absolutely nothing to lose.

The experiment of opening the innings with Rumeli Dhar had failed. But the two wicketkeepers again proved useful. Runs were scored, some confident, some nervous. Suddenly, three wickets fell within three runs of one another. But Mithali Raj was still at the crease.

She scored 22 not out. Little more than one third of her 1st innings score of 65. But three times more important. India reached 98 for the loss of 5 wickets.

India won.

In 2006.

The Spirit of breaking records departed from Taunton as a thoroughly satisfied guest.


The author was neither present nor has she spoken to anyone involved in these events. The above piece has been produced purely on the basis of scorecards and reports of those times.  Any accusations of national bias and rose tinted admiration for Jhulan Goswami are altogether accurate. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

That '90s show: What the Indian women's cricket team can take from the men.

The '90s were a time when the Indian team's batting was often single-handedly carried by this man.  Its not unlike what Mithali Raj does for the women's team today.
As Virendra Sehwag stole the show with a pleasantly unexpected hundred a few nights ago in the IPL semi final, commentators were awash with praise for him. Harsha Bhogle could not stop saying how Sehwag was peeling back the years and turning back the clock. Those phrases got me thinking, not about Sehwag's wonder years in particular, but about a period a decade earlier, the '90s of Indian cricket.

If you, like me, were born around the time of India's first World Cup victory back in 1983, you only heard about it as legend. A fairy tale almost, one whose protagonists have almost all faded into the obscurity of lore (or retirement, as its sometimes known). Much like a child asking his father after a bed time story,"Daddy, what does prince charming do nowadays?", such were the lenses through which we looked upon that seminal upset victory at Lord's, wondering where those heroes are now.

By the time we started recording our earliest memories, the '90s were around, and new heroes had appeared. Flesh and blood ones. Azhar was making Hyderabad famous for its wrists, Sachin was many-a-times the only one scoring runs, Srinath was showing that he could swing it both ways, and Kumble was redefining the speeds at which a spin bowler bowled.  Along with an overseas test win, the fairy tale of 1983 was the ideal that these flesh and blood heroes aspired to.

And while I was thinking about that page in our story book when our team was famously talented and infamously inconsistent, I couldn't help feel that in many ways, our women's team of today is stuck on the same page. Most opponents admit that we (that is the women's team) have talented players, often more talent than they do, but don't have a winning team. Like the men were, we are often over dependent on one player to score the runs. We're sometimes labelled as poor chasers, like the men often were. Strong throws, athletic fielding and urgent running between wickets are more of an  exception rather than the rule, just like our creaky-kneed '90s male counterparts. And the pace bowling attack has been a one woman show for a while now. Drawing this comparison is difficult process, because it is, first and foremost, an admission of my own hand in the current state of affairs, or the lack of it.

But I am not trying to paint a bleak picture here. Lets not forget how much Indian cricket changed post the '90s. After passing through the baptism by fire of match fixing, Indian cricket slowly started building towards its peak in 2011. With the BCCI's financial backing,  professional support staff appeared, and a paradigm shift in culture was noticeable. A change in leadership, both on the field and off it, wrought a new mindset among players and fans alike. Suddenly, in the Wright-Ganguly era, we all believed. A brood of fitter, faster youngsters snapping at the senior's heels meant Indian cricket was only going one way : Up. By the time Kirsten-Dhoni took over, we were world class. 

After a string of poor performances at the international level, both home and away, hopefully Indian women's cricket's graph will follow a similar curve. The doldrums of the '90s must give way to the genesis of a new fate. The ingredients are all there. Younger, fitter players have been proving their international credentials over the past couple of years, and some prodigal talent is bubbling under the surface. Only a catalyst is required. Just as the men went from being a one man batting line up to a team with a big three and a big four, the women have the quality to find themselves similarly positioned.

The chessboard is all set for a transformation. Pawns are fast being anointed  knights, bishops, and castles. They are all guarding the lone queen's flanks in her tireless attack. But the proverbial King holds all the keys. He hardly moves on the board, yet all the others move to his tune. Here's hoping that he knows the value of his pieces.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Audience Episode 1 : Fevicol and the WT20 semi final 2014

So yesterday, I had a ball watching  India clinically oust South Africa and clinch a place in yet another world event final. Not only did I enjoy the Indian victory, but more so the humorous circumstances that I found myself watching it in. And before I outline what transpired, it struck me that we all must have our own audience episodes; stories surrounding memorable matches we have witnessed, and they would make an interesting series of blog posts. So here's the first of hopefully many more such stories. Do post your own in the comments.

After spending the afternoon at a friend's place watching a one sided women's semifinal, I decided to step out and visit the spiritual center I frequently frequent before the men's semi started. I knew I wouldn't be able to watch the second innings, as I was slated to meet my mother and brother later in the evening. So I was keen to get back soon and get cozy in front of the tv before my loving (but cricket indifferent) kin gave me a call. It so happened that I stayed in the center a tad longer than I planned, and by the time I left, play had already been called, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar had picked up a wicket in his first over, and my mind was already on my spot on the floor of my friends house in front of her tv. But since I had to meet my folks in an hour or so, travelling to and fro would waste precious overs! It was then that I spotted a tv set (actually five of them) staring at me through the glass of an electronics shop in a mall on my right.

So I took my place on the footpath among the small crowd that had already gathered there and watched a couple of overs. But being the only woman in that crowd which was starting to get agitated (Hashim Amla was on song), I thought why not just go inside the electronics store and enjoy a better view,and some free air conditioning.

Window shopping is always a pleasurable endeavour, and pretending to window shop while watching Ashwin bowl is even better. The delivery he produced to castle Amla was really something else, and my spontaneous reaction to that ball is probably what alerted a shop attendant of my real motives!

Thereafter, said shop attendant stuck to me like she was auditioning for a Fevicol commercial!  Her proximity could have given assisted shopping a bad name!

"What in particular were you looking for ma'am?"

"Umm, just some flute music..", I replied sheepishly, desperately clutching on to whatever was in the cd rack opposite me.

Purely to get her off my back,  I even turned away from the telly for a whole over and pretended to be mentally debating which cd was musically superior, Hari Prasad Chaurasia or some Indo-western dude I've never heard of( not like I know a lot about Hari Prasad Chaurasia; I had to wiki him to make sure he's a flute player, or my musical genius of a brother would never let me hear the end of it.)

But Fevicol wasnt fooled. As I drifted from flute cds to old hindi films, she promptly walked to the counter, furtively picked up the remote, and blanked the tv screens! A collective groan wafted through the glass windows, as the not-so-small-any-more crowd standing on the footpath were deprived of their sustenance. Before they realised I was the cause of their misery, I hurriedly bought myself a pair of headphones, the tv came back on, and sanity prevailed again. (That is until Amit Mishra started bowling; heaven knows what he ate for lunch! )

Then I decided to push my luck. As I was discussing the six month warranty my new headphones came with, I asked the shop owner if I could now hang around and watch the match.  Sure, he says, himself more interested in the game than the customers.  So, after flashing Fevicol a wicked imaginary smile, I enjoyed the free air conditioning for the rest of the South African innings undisturbed.  Eventually I started chatting cricket with the owner, who turned out to be a sweet fellow, and when he found out I had played internationally myself, he ordered me a cup of tea.:)

(Fevicol, if you're reading this,  please note : that's how you treat a cricket fan. Don't worry, I wont stick to my grudge against you; all's well that ends well.)

PS : Although family commitments meant I couldn't watch India bat (criminal, I know), the evening did involve me sneaking away from maternal clutches for a while and landing up in a sports shop in front of their resident tv. That was until my mother showed up to fetch me. Vile of her, pulling a small child out of a candy store like that!

(Incidentally, no one in the sports shop was surprised when I told them I just dropped in to watch the match. I love this country.)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sky and Seam : The Dreams of Shikha Pandey

It was Holly Colvin's shock announcement that she would take an indefinite break from women's cricket to pursue other career options that inspired this post. As I was reading it, one name kept reverberating in the recesses of my not so distant memory. That name was Shikha Pandey. Or as she goes nowadays, Flying Officer Shikha Pandey.

Shikha Pandey in action in a domestic match

This is not an attempt at creating India's own Holly Colvin story, although the competitive nature of the game in our country and the secondary role traditionally assigned to women in our society will ensure that we have plenty of those. Shikha's story has its own stand-alone qualities. "Dream on, little dreamer", is what her whats app status said some time back. But what does one do when ones heart and mind is big enough for not one compelling, all-consuming dream, but two?

 Shikha, like Holly, had a strong educational background. While Holly studied natural sciences, Shikha is an engineer. That itself makes her a rare breed in the Indian women's cricket fraternity, and I dare say Indian sports in general. Few have successfully balanced the dual commitments of sports and academics, particularly in India's university culture which is unashamedly in favour of the latter (Anjum Chopra and Anil Kumble are a couple of cricketers who come to mind). But the parallels between Shikha and Holly stop there. While Holly represented England at the record breaking age of 15, and was the cornerstone of their spin bowling department for eight years, Shikha, now aged 24, is yet to represent her country. But that could soon change.

 I digress. Shikha's story lies not in her numerous and commendable accomplishments in the classroom or even on the field, but in the ambitious and limitless scale of her dreams. This young girl, who dreams of wearing the India cap someday, first dreamed that she could fly. Before she wanted to bowl her inswingers for India, she wanted to be a pilot.

Shikha was always fascinated by the thought of the Air Force. The idea of flying fails to inspire no one, and for her, serving ones country was the icing on the cake. The fact that her father teaches Hindi in a Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School) in Goa, which by and large caters to children of servicemen, on a naval campus no less, could have a lot to do with her patriotic bend of mind. So the little dreamer in her started dreaming, and mapping her life out towards that dream. Engineering was her choice of route, and she was well on her way to getting there, when the audacious happened. She dreamt again. In a cricket mad country like India, thanks to the endless conversations that her father would have with her about the then Indian team, Shikha Pandey dreamt of serving her country by playing cricket.

Shikha only started playing cricket under the BCCI umbrella in the second year of her four year degree. Before that her cricketing encounters had been confined to matches with the boys in the noisy, congested gullies outside her home and on the idyllic, sandy beaches of Goa. When eventually introduced to the Goa Cricket Association, she took to the leather ball game like a fish to water. She quickly established herself as a big contributor in the otherwise small world of Goa Women's Cricket, and a love for the game had been imprinted on her soul (for further proof, see her blog). Her exploits with ball and bat saw her regularly included in South Zone sides and she soon made her first appearance in the Challenger Trophy. 

Things were looking up, and Shikha realised that she had a credible and time bound opportunity to represent the country. Credible, because her potential as a future India prospect had been established, and time bound, because she knew she couldn't play cricket forever. So, after completing her degree, she took the difficult decision of putting her dreams of flying on hold for a year, and threw in her lot with cricket.

 It looked to be the best call of her life. After a good domestic season with Goa, she was rewarded with an inclusion in the top 20 players shortlisted for a home series against the visiting West Indes women. She also played against them, representing India ‘A’. She was just one step away from wearing that coveted India cap.

 In the long off season that followed, she spent her days studying for her Air Force entrance exams, and her nights dreaming of what the future may hold in store. A tour to England was scheduled in the coming months, and her engineering bred logic told her that they would need an extra pace bowler, especially one who could swing the ball. So she waited, and she hoped. So all-consuming was her ambition, that she considered putting all other plans, including her Air force exams, on immediate hold if she was needed in England.

But the uncertainty of sports is supreme. She did not find herself on the plane to England, and the year she had given herself had not yielded the kind of returns that she had hoped for. Fate had told her that her time had not yet come, and perhaps she had deluded herself by dreaming these two compelling yet conflicting dreams. So, she did a Colvin, and hit her books with a determined mind and a heavy heart, knowing that a demanding Air Force career meant she may never be able to play cricket again. 

She did crack the entrance exams, and although she could not pursue her ambition of becoming a pilot, was drafted into the demanding and technical role of air traffic controller. This was a conscious decision, for after completing a yearlong training programme designed to reinvent cadets into officers, she could have chosen a comfortable administrative role on the ground. This would even have given her some breathing space to play cricket again. But she wasn't the types to take the easy way out. She wanted to be in the thick of things, even if that meant a posting in a busy fighter base in north India; farther from home, with more workload, night shifts, and an almost foreign climate (for someone used to the sun and sand of Goa). But she chose the road less traveled, her choice synonymous with her favourite Frost poem. And so it was, that with her family watching, she was re-christened; and in a way reborn, as Flying Officer Shikha Pandey.

And she wasn't finished yet.

There are bookworms, and there are cricket worms, the latter being the more stubborn of the species. Shikha never gave up on her dream of playing for India, and her kit bag was a queer and conspicuous companion whenever she traveled. Queer, for you rarely see them around Air Force bases, and conspicuous because, well anyone who has seen a cricket kit bag knows what I’m talking about. With the cooperation of the Services Sports Control Board, and guidance from senior officers and other Services sportspeople, she managed enough leaves to play the domestic season. In her first season back after joining the Air Force, her time away from the game was painfully visible. Her second, however, showcased a player posing difficult questions to the selectors.

In the first game of the season in the new Elite-Plate format, Shikha scalped five wickets against a hapless Haryana. And in the T20 leg, she shone with both bat and ball to help Goa qualify for the Plate group knock outs. All season long, her performances had impressed both the selectors and her superiors, and when the former picked her in the probables for the World T20 in Bangladesh, she was felicitated by the Chief of Air Staff on Republic Day, the only lady officer to receive that honour. 

The end of the recent domestic season meant back to work for Shikha; a return to the fast paced and exciting world of night flying and sorties. But she could not get her mind off the upcoming World T20. She yearned to know what cards fate would deal her this time, seeking clarity and perhaps closure. When the call did come, she was thankfully off duty, and didn't have to return to her post. She had been included in the Indian women’s cricket team for a bilateral series against Bangladesh, followed by the World T20 there (Team List here courtesy of Sportskeeda). Her fellow officers shared in her joy as they saw her off, and her parents beamed as she met them in Goa, where she would prepare to help try and reverse India's fortunes in women's cricket. 

This post represents a hope that girls all over the world will learn that like Shikha, and also dual international Ellyse Perry, we needn't bury one dream to chase another. We needn't neglect academics to play sports. And we need not be afraid; the real world is a scary place, but its big enough for all our dreams.

 P.S. : At the time of publishing this post, Shikha has played all three T20 matches against Bangladesh and is now looking ahead to the World T20. 

With her debut, she became the first Goa Cricket Association cricketer, male or female, to represent the country.  It also makes her the first Services employee to play for India, although she has not represented the Services in domestic cricket as they do not field a women's team. Here's hoping her selection will change that. 

Shikha being felicitated by the Goa Cricket Assn.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

11 yards down : Womens One Day season review

As I get down to writing this post (finally! ), the women's cricket season is at the half way mark, with the one day matches all concluded. Here's a very quick run down of the highlights!

The season began with a mixture of optimism and cynicism about the new format (see my last post). I for one, am not going to complain. Yes, my team played one match less than we did last year, but we played all our matches against more competitive teams than last year, so quality wins over quantity. The system works well for a team that finishes in the top two of a pool, which isn't a given anymore, as opposed to last season. The competition can only be good for women's cricket. The introduction of Kukaburra balls gave the pace bowlers more teeth (*wide wicked grin), and rarely did a couple of wickets not fall in the first 10 overs.

I liked the fact that the top four teams in the Elite group play another round robin league stage (The Super League), but would love for the the winner to be decided by a final rather than points. Not nice to have an annoying thing like net run rate deciding who wins, a final would be a lot cleaner.

Railways came out on top in the Elite division, remaining undefeated, mostly thanks to the efforts of their bowlers. Ekta Bisht (27 wickets), Shubhlaxmi Sharma (18) and Gouher Sultana (28) were the wreckers in chief. Southpaw Shweta Jadhav notched up the only century in the elite division in the league phase, while Anuja Patil and yours truly  picked up five-fors. Uttar Pradesh took the second spot after a three way tie was resolved by NRR.

The Plate division did not have the luxury of round robin matches. The top six teams played each other in knock outs, with two teams getting byes in their quarter finals. Bengal finished winners, leading an East zone 1-2, with Odhisa second.

The inter zonals were held at Baroda, where spinners wreaked havoc on the red soil pitches. Low scoring games, early wickets and late surges were a common feature of all the encounters. Central zone defended their title, winning all their round robin matches. North zone, on the back of some brilliant bowling by left arm spinner Priti Bose, clinched second spot.

Ranchi hosted the Challenger Trophy, marking the first major women's tournament to be held at that ground. This tournament ;which used to be a collection of the 45 best cricketers in the country split into three teams; changed its format last year with an U-19 team replacing India Green (my thoughts on that later). In the final, India Blue chased down India Red's total of 183 easily to win the trophy. The stand out of the tournament though, was India U-19 captain Smriti Mandhana, who roared back into form after an indifferent senior season. Her 91 and 96* guided valiant chases, although both innings ended in losing causes. But they did quash any doubts about her ability to score big at the senior level.