Sunday, 10 May 2020

The year gone by...

In the now, a year often feels like an eternity. But when you look back, it feels like it went in a flash. This past year has been a bit like that for me. I struggled to get through it, but now, I don't quite recollect why.

12 months ago, to this day, the first issue of the Women's CricZone Magazine was released. While I was not officially part of the organisation, having scrambled to help put together the first issue, I felt very much a key member of the team.

A month earlier, when Yash Lahoti, CEO and co-founder of the organisation, had called to ask whether I was willing to take up the task of putting together the magazine, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

As a child, when I first started following women's cricket - cue the pictures of Mithali Raj in her floppy hat grinding England to the ground on her way to 214 - I knew that all I wanted to do was make sure people knew the women's team was playing. I couldn't quite fathom why they got so little attention for playing the same game that the men did with just as much passion and dedication. They had to be seen - they more than deserved it. So, when Yash asked me if I would join, I had no hesitation in saying yes.

Thus a month of scurrying ensued - sleepless nights, early mornings, endless conversations, hundreds of emails and much panicking. It was insane. But not once during the process did I ever question why I took up the challenge. There were two things pushing me on - the fact that this was for women's cricket, and the support of Sidhanta Patnaik.

It was in fact Sidhanta's idea to start the magazine. He threw the idea to Yash, who upon his suggestion, came to me with a plan - something for which I will be forever grateful.

A lot has happened since that evening on May 10, 2019. For one, India have become a force to reckon with in T20Is, Australia dominated the year - surprise, surprise - and oh, 86,174 people watched the T20 World Cup final between India and Australia at the MCG! So yes, women's cricket is gaining popularity (and fast). Looks like we got our timing just right with the decision to release when we did. Trust Sid to do that!

To everyone involved in the creation of the first two issues of the magazine - thank you! Each one of you has been wonderful to work with. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would ever get to interact with such incredible writers. I'm still a bit starstruck!

To all the cricketers - past, present and future - as I have said before, what we do is for you. Our aim at Women's CricZone is to provide the best possible coverage of the women's game. This magazine is dedicated to each and every one of you, all around the world, playing at every level. We see you, we're watching, and we believe all your efforts count.

Finally, to all the fans and followers of the women's game - thank you for your support. Here's to many more years of entertainment!

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Mignon du Preez - forever Captain Fantastic

(Originally published on June 22, 2016 on the Wisden India website).

It’s one thing to read about players’ insecurities and listen to their stories, but it’s quite another to actually see their struggles, however briefly, in person. 

I met Mignon du Preez once. For precisely 22 minutes. Despite South Africa’s disappointing campaign in the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 2016, she was smiling, upbeat and more than willing to have a chat. Never in my wildest dreams did I think meeting her would have a big impact on me. After all, since when have medium pacers idolised batters?

 It’s funny how, sometimes, the shortest interactions can have the deepest effects on people. For me, that moment came on March 29, 2016 at around 4pm at a hotel in Bangalore. I was there to interview du Preez, the then South African captain, a day after her team’s last league match against Sri Lanka Women in the tournament. 

It was one of my first interviews as a journalist with an international cricketer. I was excited and a little nervous too. After all, here was someone who had scored a double hundred in a 40-over match as a teenager, a century on Test debut, led her team to its first semifinal in a world tournament only two years ago ... and was arguably one of the best fielders in her team. What’s not to be nervous about? 

Quick clarification before I go any further: Mignon du Preez was never my idol. She was never a player I looked up to. She wasn’t someone I modelled my game on or aimed to emulate. She wasn’t even someone I saw much of till South Africa toured India in 2014. 

I had, of course, heard a great deal about her and was looking forward to watching her team play in the World T20. South Africa had risen quickly through the ranks and their captain had played a massive role in the ascent. Series victories against India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies meant South Africa were certainly dark horses coming into the tournament. But three losses against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka meant they were knocked out in the league stage to end a poor campaign. 

Losses often come with disappointment and frustration, but as is the South African way, du Preez always found a ray of hope. The smile never left her face and the belief never left her voice. 
I fell in love with the du Preez of the press conferences. She was gracious, positive, hopeful and brutally honest. She accepted responsibility for her team’s performances, and did not shy away from the fact that she, personally, needed to lift her game if South Africa were to put up better performances. She instantly became someone I wanted to be like. All of a sudden, du Preez became my hero. 

I can’t imagine going through a tournament with scores of 12*, 13, 10, and 0, having my team lose and still answer (some ridiculous) questions with a smile. I was having a tough time myself, dealing with a rather disappointing domestic season after the highs of the preceding one, and was searching for some inspiration. As it happened, du Preez provided just that. 

She looked at the bright spots, all the good things that had happened — Sune Luus’s five-for against Ireland, Shabnim Ismail’s fiery spell against Australia, her “world-class” bowling attack, and the rise of Dane van Niekerk and Trisha Chetty as a dependable opening pair. 

She spoke of things like individual improvement, team goals, the battles she fought as a player, and what her team has to look forward to. Her thoughts, beliefs and choices as a leader appealed to me. There was a vulnerability in her eyes that allowed me to connect with her. She may have been a star, but she was human after all. 

In those 22 minutes, she became the kind of player and leader I wanted to be. In 22 minutes she turned things around and inspired me to continue to work hard in pursuit of my dreams. By the end of the conversation, South Africa's jersey no. 22, Mignon du Preez, had become my hero. 

A sportsperson’s career is bound to be full of ups and downs. There are going to be times when you are struggling and not in the best of mindframes. Those are the hardest times. To have to face the media in those situations can only make things worse. 

But du Preez was special. 

On the field, she was still the best, even claiming what I believe was the catch of the women’s tournament to dismiss Suzie Bates. She was sharp with her fielding and bowling changes. With the bat, she looked all at sea against the spinners — pretty much a sitting duck — but you could tell there was still some fight left in her. 

Back then, I had absolutely no idea that du Preez had any thoughts of stepping down as captain. From everything she said that day, it seemed like she was in all truth the leader of the South African team. She had a clear vision and goal and backed her players to the hilt. 

The decision took me by surprise. It’s obviously something she has thought long and hard about. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe in Dane van Niekerk, South Africa will find the inspiration they dearly need. Maybe, with the weight off her shoulders, du Preez will be able to showcase her true potential. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Remembering a mentor

It’s strange how some people make such a significant impact on your life in a short space of time. Sidhanta Patnaik was one of those people for me. He was a friend, a mentor and an inspiration— someone I turned to for advice on all things writing and many things cricket.

I first met Sidhanta in August 2015 when I joined Wisden India. In his own words, “We may not have gotten off on the best foot, but the more we talked I think it is fair to say that we realised we were more alike than we first thought.” 

His passion for domestic cricket and the women’s game was something I greatly admired. He pored over scorecards and dug through the archives to find a scrap of information that someone may have missed. That anyone could be so incredibly thorough and meticulous when it came to his work, I thought, was incredible. What was most impressive though, was his willingness to ask questions. He didn’t presume to know everything.

When I first started out as a journalist, I was lucky to have been surrounded by so many incredible writers at Wisden India. To be honest, I was intimidated. Sidhanta may have picked up on this, because soon after we began talking and developed a solid rapport, he made sure to guide me every step of the way. He had come in as a rookie and built his portfolio brick by brick before he became one of the most respected journalists around, so he understood what I was feeling.

He encouraged me to come with him when he interviewed people— Purnima Rau, Harmanpreet Kaur, Nuwan Zoysa and Rumana Ahmed. I took notes on the kind of questions he asked, and how he picked out the smallest details and highlighted them in his stories. In fact, having interviewed Harman, Sidhanta asked me to write the profile. ‘You saw her even before she became the superstar she is today. There are details you can bring out that no one else will,’ he told me. It was a piece that gave me a lot of confidence because he had signed off on it, and it meant so much when he sent me a special congratulatory note the following day.

Another thing that Sidhanta taught me is that it is okay to be critical of people. Being critical is not the same as being vindictive. As journalists, it is our job to point out the flaws, otherwise we are more like cheerleaders or public relations officers. If the game is to improve, it is up to us to help change the way people see/ write about it, he often said.

We connected as followers of women’s cricket— we bonded over the game, the players and the possibility of development. Quite aptly he became the face of women’s (print) coverage in India— a constant in the changing landscape of the game. He brought to the notice of the country (and the world) the heroes— past and present— of the women’s (and men’s domestic) game.

It was the little things about Sidhanta that stood out for me. He had the knack of building a deep connect with most people he met. Most players I know hold him in high regard— he was more than just a journalist trying to find a story; he became a friend.

He was always ready with advice, and always knew just what to say. Most recently, only a few days before his passing he had texted me about my future plans. When I told him I wasn’t sure about whether I should continue to play he simply said, ‘Keep plugging away. The light is always there.’ It was something that gave me a lot of heart. They are words that I will carry with me always.

He scaled many peaks as a journalist— covered ICC World Cups, U-19, men’s and women’s; wrote for numerous publications, and co-authored a book. That he filed one of his best pieces from the ICU makes me smile— typical Sidhanta, fighting the odds to get a job done because he was consumed by an idea.

As a colleague, he was one of the best; as a friend, he was my guide, and as a person, Sidhanta will always be my inspiration. He never let the pain show, always asked how everyone else was doing, deflected attention and was one of the finest people I met. He leaves behind a rich legacy.

As he wrote late last year, “Age is actually a number, and to measure longevity through the number of years we spend on earth is not an ideal way to substantiate quality. It’s about knowing what you want to do and dedicating yourself to that completely.”

He was so full of life and always incredibly positive. I was lucky to have known and spent time with him.

I am forever indebted to you, Sid. You gave me opportunities when I thought there were none, and you were my guiding light every step of the way. I will be thinking of you every day.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

India v Zimbabwe: Talking points

India faced Zimbabwe in their final group match of the Women's World Cup Qualifiers and duly trounced them by nine wickets at the P. Sara Oval on Monday (February 13). There were as many as three changes in the Indian XI with Mona Meshram, Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Soni Yadav coming in for Thirushkamini, Deepti Sharma and Shikha Pandey (all presumably 'rested' ahead of the Super 6 stage). Zimbabwe were bowled out for a paltry 60 and India chased it down with 41 overs to spare—well before lunch.

The leggie
Poonam Yadav may have missed the first match of the tournament, but ever since her return to the playing XI against Thailand, she has made the most of every opportunity with the ball. The diminutive leg-spinner from Uttar Pradesh outfoxed the Zimbabwean batters with her loop, turn, variation and accuracy. She used her newly developed googly to good effect, picking up five wickets for only 19 runs, taking her tournament tally to 10 wickets in three games.

The ‘keeper
In a cricket match, it is the wicket keeper who is seldom noticed, unless of course she misses a chance. Anju Jain, one of India's finest 'keepers, once told me that the mark of a good ‘keeper is not just soft hands and quick movements, but also the ability to fly under the radar, because that means you are doing a wonderful job! On Monday, Sushma Verma was outstanding with the gloves, taking three impressive catches while standing up to the spinners-- two off the bowling of Rajeshwari and one off Poonam. Although the commentators mentioned her often, it was all good stuff… In a game without camera’s and replays, she would most definitely have flown under the radar!

The fielding
The Zimbabwe batters may not have really challenged India with the ball, but Mithali Raj’s side didn’t do themselves any favours when they dropped two straightforward chances in the field. The two fast bowlers, Mansi Joshi and Soni Yadav, were the culprits, making lazy efforts to first reach the ball and then take the catch. Zimbabwe weren’t able to take advantage of the dropped chances, but going into the Super Six stage, India will face better teams who are used to playing the One-Day format and will have the ability to use such chances. It’ll probably be easier for India if they don’t always make their bowlers take 12 or 13 wickets a game, and for that, they will really need to lift their fielding standards.

Two standouts
Mary-Anne Musonda, Zimbabwe’s No.3, was easily their best batter on show, scoring a 60-ball 26 with four boundaries. From the moment she walked out to the middle she looked confident and ready for the challenge. Musonda batted with a sense of authority, putting away the bad balls and keeping the good ones out. She was certainly a cut above the rest.
The moment of the day though, was when Precious Marange walked in to bat. She strode to the crease with Zimbabwe in deep trouble at 35 for 5 having just lost Musonda. Marange though, simply smiled, gloved punched her partner, took guard and proceeded to deposit her first delivery over the mid-wicket fence! Rajeshwari, the bowler, couldn’t help but laugh and look a little astonished—‘Where in the world did that come from?!’

Opener No.5
After her stint with the gloves in the previous match, Veda Krishnamurthy was given yet another role by the Indian team management—this time as their opener. (India's fifth opener in this tournament after Deepti, Mona, Thirush and Harman). The right-hander set the tone for the chase, taking 13 runs off the opening over. She was clearly in the mood to finish the game quickly, but that didn’t mean she was simply looking to pummel the ball. Veda played some exquisite shots in her 16-ball 29—the cover drive and the late cut down to third-man, my favourites! If she hadn’t got out (caught at mid-off), my guess is India would have reached the target in seven overs (at the most)!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

India v Ireland: Talking points

Match two of the World Cup Qualifiers for India and another easy victory. This time, they trounced Ireland by 125 runs at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo on Friday (February 10), but to be honest, I think India will be disappointed with the way they played. A solid opening stand was followed by some tame batting at the back- end of the innings that took some sheen off an easy win.

The openers
For the second match in succession Deepti Sharma held her own as an opener, scoring a fluent half-century, but this time she had the company of MD Thirushkamini (who replaced Mona Mesham from the first game), the 26 year-old left-hander, who has been in and out of the playing XI for the last 12 months. The pair strung together a 174-run partnership against an Irish attack that didn’t really look like they had the firepower to take wickets. At the start, it was Thirush who played the more attacking role with Deepti taking her time to settle in. Once the 19-year old reached her half-century she began to accelerate, taking some pressure off her senior partner who seemed to have suddenly lost her timing.
The pair played some exquisite shots both down the ground and square of the wicket—Thirush’s straight drive off Amy Kenealy, and Deepti’s powerful hoick over mid-wicket off Kim Garth (that came out of nowhere), probably the pick of them.

Thirushkamini and the ‘World Cup’
There is something about Thirushkamini and the World Cup. She may not have set the world alight in her first appearance in the world tournament in 2009, but in 2013, Thirush became the first Indian woman to score a century in the World Cup when she reached that mark against West Indies in India’s opening game of their campaign. It was her first game in almost 18 months, having missed the previous season due to injury, and the left-hander made a strong statement with a fantastic hundred. Once again, with her place on the line, Thirush smashed the hapless Ireland bowlers all around the park on rout to her second ODI century. Her unbeaten 113 (146) included 11 fours and four sixes, showcasing her ability to both time and pummel the ball. It may not have been her most fluent knock, but she pushed through some tough periods and managed to bat through the innings. These may just be qualifying matches, but it seems the ‘World Cup’ brings the best out of Thirush.

Getting the ball rolling
There was never any danger of Ireland getting close to India’s score of 250, but to reduce them to 2 for 2 in 2.1 overs certainly knocked the wind out of their sails. Shikha Pandey’s opening burst was extremely impressive. The 27-year old struck off the first ball of the innings, trapping Shauna Kavanagh plumb in front of the stumps. She got the ball to hoop around which was a pleasure to watch. In the domestic circuit, Shikha is known for her ability to strike with the new ball as a genuine swing bowler and that’s precisely what she did on Friday. She pitched the ball up, got it to swing at decent pace and the Irish top order didn’t really have an answer to her accurate in-swingers. The yorker she bowled to dismiss Kim Garth, one of Ireland's best batters, was certainly the delivery of the day. 5-3-2-2—pretty good way to start the innings!
Shikha was ably supported by Mansi Joshi, making her ODI debut, who was unlucky not to have Laura Delany caught behind. Mansi complemented her opening partner well, shaping the ball away from the batters and hurrying them with her deceptive pace.

The second ‘keeper
If India were ever worried about going into the Qualifiers with only one ‘keeper, they have found a solution! When Sushma Verma went off the field with what looked like a niggle in the lower part of her leg, it was Veda Krishnamurthy who took the gloves for India. She didn’t look to out of place behind the stumps although her hands were slightly wider apart than most ‘keepers! Luckily the bowlers didn’t test her too much and bowled right on the stumps. They waited for Sush’s return to start tossing the ball a little wider!

A (slight) cause of concern
When setting a target, the theory in men’s cricket is to double what you have at the 30-over mark…. Or is it 35? So one would assume that in women’s cricket, 100 runs in the last 15 overs is possible—considering of course, that you have wickets in hand. On Friday, India didn’t lose a wicket till the 40th over. Against a mediocre bowling attack, with the ammunition India possessed in their batting line-up, 100 runs in the last 10 overs wasn’t out of their reach. It won’t be the fact that they didn’t reach a target of  270 or 280 that will irk them; just the way they went about scoring runs in the last 10 overs. Apart from Veda, who tried to get a move on, none of the batters even attempted to play a big shot or push between the wickets. There seemed to be no desire to crush the opposition and give them absolutely no chance to win. India appeared happy with where they were placed and unwilling to go out of their comfort zone and aim for a higher total. Where was that desire to dominate that they had shown glimpses of in Australia?
I understand the pressure one faces when playing for their place. When you are faced with such insecurities, your judgement is often clouded, because every chance feels like your last. You feel like you have to do something big to cement your spot before you can entirely focus on the team’s requirements—it is only natural. In women’s cricket, especially in India, because of the way we play (take your time to settle in and they attempt to accelerate), when the team requires a bit of a push, more often than not, at least one batter is approaching a personal milestone. The situation is a double edged sword…
In India’s first match, against Sri Lanka, once Devika Vaidya reached her 50 (her first in ODIs), she was clearly trying to accelerate playing more attacking shots than she had in the first half of her innings. She was dismissed for 89 and people said that there was a century ‘for the taking’. Had she slowed down slightly (as is natural for someone who has not scored too many hundreds) and reached her century people may have said she was playing for personal glory. 
Either way, it is not one or two batters who must take responsibility for the subdued approach, but the entire batting unit. It is that kind of lack of intent that will hurt the Indian team against better sides. When you are in a position to dominate, why not take it? If India had tried to accelerate and lost wickets in the process it would have been okay. They had no chance of losing anyway—Ireland were never realistically in the contest once India reached 200.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

India v Sri Lanka: Talking points

India began their quest for World Cup qualification with a resounding 114-run win over Sri Lanka at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo on Tuesday (February 7). Devika Vaidya, Deepti Sharma and Mithali Raj shone with the bat, playing vital knocks to propel India to 259 for 4 in 50 overs. The Deepti-Devika partnership helped India build a solid base from which Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Veda Krishnamurthy could launch. The match itself was a pretty lop-sided contest, with the hosts slowly losing their way from the middle of the Indian innings. Although their chase started promisingly, with a 40-run opening partnership between Chamari Atapattu and Eshani Lokusuriyage, the fight fizzled out slowly as they stuttered their way to 145 for 8.

The star
India pulled a surprise in the fifth over of the day when they sent DevikaVaidya in at No.3, ahead of Mithali Raj. Whether it was because there were two inswingers operating or because Devika was just hitting the ball well in the nets, we will never know, but the move certainly worked. The 19-year old, only playing her second ODI, stroked a fluent 89 to give the innings stability at the start, and impetus in the middle. Those who have seen Devika play in the domestic circuit know that her game is less about power and more about placement and timing. She did that extremely well today, picking up easy singles and also hitting the odd four. What was most impressive about her innings was her ability to hit straight—an area I have seldom seen her score. Her signature sweeps and dabs down to fine-leg were rarely used as the left-hander preferred to wait on the back foot and milk the spinners through cover, and when she chose to take the aggressive route, it was either straight or through mid-wicket—areas the Sri Lankan fielders didn’t have covered. It was a pity she didn’t get a well deserved hundred, but the fact that she got out trying to push the scoring rate was very heartening. Team before self—I certainly like this new India!

The captain
A couple of overs before Mithali Raj walked in to bat at the P.Sara Oval, the commentators (Ebony Rainford-Brent and David Townsend) were debating whether India should consider sending Harmanpreet Kaur at No.4 to up the scoring rate. With 20 overs left, they said, she would have enough time to settle down and then lift the scoring rate. After all, she was fresh off a successful WBBL where she was scoring at a strike rate of more than 140! To their disappointment though, at the fall of Deepti Sharma’s wicket, with India 132 for 2 in 31.3 overs, Raj sauntered out in her trademark floppy hat. Having opened for her domestic team in the T20 tournament that ended recently, this was not an unfamiliar situation—just another T20 game. From the outset, the ball hit the middle of her bat and she found the gaps with utmost ease. The Sri Lankan bowlers may have allowed her to score through her favorite cover-point area more often than they liked, but it seemed that Raj was simply playing with the field, her unbeaten 69 coming off just 61 balls. Whoever said Mithali Raj can’t up the ante?!

The debutante
She may have flown under the radar, but Soni Yadav, the seamer from Delhi who was rushed into the squad as a replacement for Jhulan Goswami, showed some promise today. With the new ball, Yadav got good shape away from the right-handers and bowled at a decent pace. Maybe it was the nerves of an international debut, but she wasn’t nearly as accurate as she normally is on the domestic circuit—bowling on both sides of the wicket and paying the price for it.

The spin choke
As is customary, every Indian win must involve a ‘spin choke’—that time when the spinners come on and rush through their overs, not conceding too many runs, and the batters don’t know what to do. On Tuesday, the spin choke began in the 10th over of the Sri Lankan innings, with the introduction of Deepti Sharma. Along with Ekta Bisht and Rajeshwari Gayakwad, she dried up the runs, slowly sending the required run rate through the roof. The spin trio quickly settled into a nice rhythm, bowling to their fields on a pitch that didn’t offer too much assistance. It probably helped that the Sri Lankan batters were extremely passive, refusing to use their feet to come down the pitch or play the sweep to throw the bowlers off their line. 30 overs of spin cost India only 58 runs and gave them five wickets.

In the field
No win, even a really big one, is ever mistake-free. India, although they have improved a great deal over the years, are not the best fielding side on the circuit. On Tuesday too, there were a fair few lapses that they won’t be proud of. The ground fielding was patchy at best, and the catching was well below par. It seemed as though the fielders simply sitting back on the (inner) circle and not attacking the ball to put pressure on the batters.

If India want to stamp their authority on this tournament, they will certainly have to lift their intensity in the field. The lapses today may not have cost them much (although there will be some disappointed bowlers), but against better teams, these mistakes will certainly hurt. It is not as if they are not capable of fielding well. They have some wonderful athletes like Veda, Harman and Deepti to lead the charge, so there is certainly no excuse for them to slack off in the next game. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

More than numbers: The M Shalini effect

I’ve seen a lot of my teammates walk away from the game—most of the time without the slightest warning, without even saying goodbye. I have watched as they faded away into the distance, and each time I have regretted that I/we never got a chance to celebrate their achievements.

Recently, another teammate, one of my dearest friends, chose to step away from the game we love so much. It has still not sunk in. Playing in a Hyderabad team without her will be strange, and I won’t believe it is possible until it actually happens. When I heard the news, I realized that I didn’t want to regret letting her fade off, and that it was time to celebrate a career that has had a huge impact on mine.

To me, Mantravadi Shalini will always be a super star. When I first started playing, she was the senior whom I used to carry extra peanut butter sandwiches for, who was the ‘princess’ of camp because she had the most number of ‘fans’, and who came whizzing in on her TVS Scooty milliseconds before the sessions were due to start.

 We didn’t become instant friends, but I watched in awe as she tore apart bowling attacks with an authority I had never seen before; her crisp cover drives finding the gap no matter how many fielders were placed to stop them. She may not have been the most technically correct, but she batted with flair, and soon became not only one of my, but also my father’s favorite batters!

I remember the first hundred she scored for the state (then Andhra Pradesh) at sub-junior (Under-16) level. We were playing Gujarat, not necessarily one of the strongest teams, but they managed to make early inroads and we were halfway through out batting line-up for not more than 50. Shalini (referred to as Shalu later), who walked in at no.5, assessed the situation calmly and proceeded to hammer the bowlers to all parts of the ground on her way to an unbeaten 115. It was an innings of real character, and for me, one that made her so special. She was captain of the team and had been struggling with the bat, but she never once let the pressure get to her. Granted, things got much easier after 25 overs (we were playing a 35 over match) when the bowlers and fielders got tired and started bowling full tosses, but not once did she let her intensity drop.

It was the first of many knocks where she single-handedly turned the game on its head.

Years later, once the BCCI took charge of women's cricket, Shalu had to reinvent herself from an accomplished middle order player to an opening batter. In a line-up filled with the likes of Diana David, Savita Nirala, Sravanthi Naidu and Mamtha Kanojia she was unable to find a place in the XI, but she worked hard at her skill and fought her way through to soon become the first name on the team list!

I was part of teams where she led from the front to inspire us to unlikely victories. She was a passionate captain-- one who shouted to make her anger and frustration evident, but she had a strange way of getting the best out of everyone. 

I have watched her play some incredible innings, running teams ragged with her terrific strokeplay and rapid running between the wickets. She was the quintessential cricketer—she could bat, bowl and field, and on her day, she could certainly win a game on her own.

One such day was back in 2011 in Ahmedabad. We (South Zone) were playing Central Zone in the final of the NCA Inter-Zonal tournament and needed 175 to win. Having faltered chasing an even smaller target against the same opposition in the previous (league) match, we were determined to make amends, but none more so than Shalu. She batted through the innings negating some early swing, absorbing the pressure of a middle order collapse, and guiding the tail through the last few runs. She finished unbeaten on 82, but to all of us who went charging on to the field when the final runs were scored, her knock was worth so much more.

That innings, deservedly, propelled her to bigger things—a Challenger series, followed by a chance to face the visiting Australian team in 2012 (she was part of the Board President’s XI)—but for some reason, she was unable to kick on.

There is so much more I can say about Shalu, so many more innings I can describe, but if I had to describe her as both a friend and a player I would have to say that she was selfless. She was a team player through and through, and Hyderabad will be poorer without her.

It was not the numbers that made Shalu special, but the spirit she brought to the team. At her best, she played with the freedom that few in the South do. When she got going, there was absolutely no one who could stop her. The quicker, the better—it was all cannon fodder for Hyderabad’s Quick Silver! With the ball, she was highly underestimated. I believe she was a more useful and effective bowler than many 'pure' bowlers. Once she got on a roll, she was pretty much a bowling machine, but unfortunately, most often, it was the ‘getting on a roll’ that was difficult! In the field, there was no one faster. No ball would pass, but if one got through it was 'head down and run hard', just like David Warner!

Hyderabad will miss her, of that I have no doubt, but I am pretty sure I will miss her more. From someone whom I admired from a distance as a little kid, Shalu has become a very, very good friend. She has been there every step of the way, cajoling me on from mid-off, from wicket one (in every format) to now. She was one person I knew I could count on… Someone whom I could have a laugh or a serious chat with at the end of a hard day… She was the teammate who got me… She knew what to say when and how… She pushed me to be better, taught me to believe and made me a team player.

I always thought there would be so much more to her story. Confidence/ belief is a strange thing-- it never matters how many people believe in you, all that counts is how much you believe in yourself. The fact that she got where she did is a huge testament to her belief and wholehearted effort, but I suppose sometimes things just get away from you.

To the captain under whom I started my career, thank you for everything. You are a star, no matter what!