Thursday, September 12, 2019

TEST MATCH CAP NUMBER-77

Four flights in three days. Delhi- Mumbai- Goa- Delhi- Mumbai.

On 3 August 2014, I met up with the Indian team in Mumbai on the day we were to leave for England. I had been called in to the squad as a replacement and was completely exhausted following what seemed like endless travel. However, when I arrived in the hotel, I was on top of the world. All the troubles were worth it because that night I was on the plane to England and was a step closer to playing in a Test match for my country. 

As a kid I always dreamt of playing a Test match for my country. I remember getting up early in the mornings— even during my board exams— to watch the Ashes in Australia, or the odd Test matches in New Zealand. My father always maintained that you are never considered a complete cricketer if you haven’t donned the whites. I always enjoyed the longer format and the thing I loved the most was watching the bowlers setting up the batters.

On the morning of 13 August I found out that I was in the playing XI… I was actually going to don the whites, pull on that deep blue cap and walk on to the field as a Test match player! My joy knew no bounds!

India was playing a Test after eight long years and only three players from our team had played the longest format before— Mithali di, Jhulu di and Karu di. Here I was, all ready to play in my first Test match in a team that had eight debutantes and against a team that had fully professional players.

So, after the mass cap presentation ceremony, we stepped on to the field. We had won the toss and elected to field first. It was a green wicket and we were playing four medium pacers— probably the only time I was in a team that had so many quicks— the dream only kept getting better!

The setting was ideal for a Test match: Wormsley ground housed in Getty estate, is probably one of the most picturesque grounds I have seen. Everything, starting from the pavilion, score board, media tent, and over to the practice wickets, were amazing. The spectators flocked in their private vehicles, got the foldable chairs out and enjoyed the Test match. Every run scored, every wicket taken and every run saved was cheered for no matter the team.

On the first day of the Test match I probably saw the best spell of fast bowling by a fellow Indian seamer. Niranjana Nagarajan (fondly known as Ninja) took four wickets in the first spell and was virtually unplayable. She had the ball hooping around corners and England’s batters had absolutely no clue how to handle her.


I remember my first Test match wicket clearly: Tammy Beumont lbw Shikha Pandey. The conditions were overcast and I was getting the ball to swing a lot. I pitched one up, she offered no shot and I appealed thinking the ball would hit the wickets. Luckily, the umpire saw it the same way! Some start to my Test bowling career.
My appeal face- something that needs immense work!!

We set incredibly attacking fields— sometimes even those 8-1 fields that I had heard Jhulu di would bowl a lot to. In the end it was a great effort to get England all out for 92 in two sessions. But we knew the pitch hadn’t eased out and we needed to bat well to get ahead in the game.

Third session saw a heavy downpour and it rained for a good hour or so. We thought that we were done for the day, but the ground staff did a great job getting the covers off and making sure the outfield was in good shape, and we were back on after 90 minutes. The session was extended and we kept losing wickets. England were on the charge, but we managed to get a 27-run lead thanks to a late seventh wicket partnership between Jhulu di and Ninja (in the act again).

Day 3 began with us hoisting the tiranga and celebrating the Independence Day. England made a real good come back in the 2nd innings and Sarah Taylor and Jenny Gunn in particular fought really hard. Shubhlaxmi Sharma (Shubhi to the rest of us) who was in the middle of a dream run, injured herself while trying to field a ball on the boundary— she dived over the ball and dislocated her shoulder. The injury not only meant that we were a bowler short, but that we had possibly lost one of our best old ball bowlers with a lot of time left in the game.

Shubh had dismissed Natalie Sciver in both innings with wonderful yorkers, and then got the better of Taylor with nothing short of a ‘jaffa’. She delivered a length ball that got Taylor to commit on the front foot. It straightened after pitching, just enough to take the off stump. A dream ball, no doubt.

However, Jhulu di was a class act and stepped up to the plate, She accounted for 4 of their wickets. Karu di’s dive in front of the first slip to get Knight, Smriti’s summersaults at short leg, and my no appeal caught behind wicket were the things I remember vividly from that innings.

I am not sure if I had mastered the art of diary writing then
We started our 2nd inning really well. Smriti and Thirush got us to flyer and runs were flowing of their bats. Smriti made a well compiled 50 and we seemed to be cruising. All of a sudden we lost four wickets and I found myself in the centre batting with Mithali di on the third evening. I was sent in as a night watchman.

I certainly take pride in my batting skills and I took it as a challenge. I was determined to bat as long as possible. Mithali di calmed my nerves. She asked me to keep it simple and get the bat on to ball. The ball was still doing enough off the pitch and we had 20 lbw dismissals in the Test already— a record for women’s Tests and we had equalled the men’s record too. At the end of the day, I had survived and was 0 not out off 18 balls.

As I headed back to the hotel in the team bus I remembered reading endless interviews about the anxiety staying not out over night brings to a batter. I am normally a sound sleeper but that night I hardly slept.

The breakfast next morning was one I shall never forget. The hot chocolate and hash browns (my staples through the tour) were diverted to my table without any questions, and it was made sure that I was well fed and ready to face the storm that morning. I was given throw downs and endless advice by batters after warm up. I couldn’t help, but think of it as quite funny.

The pitch had eased out and I was in the best seat to watch the poetry in display— Mithali di settling our nerves with a gritty unbeaten fifty. We needed 65 runs to win the Test and we got them before lunch. That I was out there at the end of it, made things that much sweeter…


The celebrations after the match were epic and we even borrowed an Indian Flag for pictures and thanked all the spectators that had turned up for the game. I got to know that Ninja made sure that everyone sat at the same places they had on the third evening. She herself went back to watching the game from the window next to the washroom…. I know what you’re thinking— cricketers and their superstitions!
What a feeling!!

At the end of it all, Jenny Gunn was declared a well deserved player of the match, but we knew we had won the hearts of the crowd, and pleasantly surprised most people following the game. Three players from the  opposition stood out to me in that test- Jenny Gunn, what an all rounder, Sarah Taylor (what a player) standing up to the stumps to medium pacers and a class act with the bat, and Kate Cross, great bowling action and temperament, kept coming at us without giving up.The respect for women’s sport is tremendous in England and we experienced the same 3 years later during the one-day World Cup.

We played another Test against South Africa and won it comfortably to round off our 2014. It was another incredibly special day in my career— one I won’t forget soon.


Cricket is such an amazing sport and Test cricket is the best format. I, Test match cap number 77, am privileged to have played the purest form of the game.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Ma’am....Ma’am....MUMMY

It was the first day of our sixth standard in school and the recess had just ended. For some reason we hadn’t been allowed to go out and play ( Nah- Not Cricket, I never played any organised School Cricket) after finishing our mid day snack and the whole class was very restless. I took a look at the school diary and figured our next class was English. Mrs Meena Haridas was our teacher. 

I had never interacted with Meena ma’am before but from what I heard— from my father who was also a teacher at the same school and knew her quite well— she was a very good teacher. Father had also told me that she had studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya, and I was very excited to be in her class. I guess I wanted to see how a former KV student would turn out— would this be my future? 

Note: Meena ma’am used to take classes for standard 9 and 10, so in some ways my class was very lucky that she was to teach us.

Anyway, I divulge… As she entered the class that day, we all got up and sang our customary, very respectful “Good morning ma’am!” She responded with a kindly, “Good Afternoon!” after which we were asked to introduce ourselves. Halfway through the introductions, she went out to have a word with a teacher from the neighbouring class. During this interval, one of my friends pulled a prank on my bench mate who got up hassled. Seeing the event unfold, I couldn’t help but laugh loudly. To my dismay, that was the moment Meena ma’am decided to return. She saw me laughing and asked me to get up. I was a always a good student… Very disciplined… (my father was/is a teacher, remember)… But suddenly I was being pulled up in the middle of class! (Cue the nerves).

Before the class, ma’am had mentioned a few rules that she wanted us to follow. Conversing in English was first on the list. So, there I was getting up at snails pace because I didn’t know how I would be able to narrate the event in English. I began stuttering trying to find words to explain what really happened. She was calm and patient. She helped me finish my sentences and then asked me to not repeat it. One more minute and I would have started crying….

English was never the easiest subject for me, but the way she went about teaching made it my favourite subject. I would look forward to her class everyday. She was never the conventional kind of teacher. She kept the classes so interesting that I wished we could have a whole day of just English.

Every chapter in the English textbook had a few difficult words listed at the beginning. Before starting the chapter she would ask us to find the meaning of those words from the dictionary and then she would give us turns to explain the meaning. I wanted to be the one giving answers for every single word. So when she asked us to raise our hands, instead of saying ma’am, I happened to say “Mummy.” It was funny when everyone in the class started laughing and I felt embarrassed. But you know what, I got to give the answer and she approved smiling!

I was always a teacher’s pet and it was no different with her. I was the one who was made to run and get the register if she had forgotten it in her cabin. I was asked to get the unit test books when it was the time to distribute them. I just adored her and she was my idol— well dressed, very well spoken and so considerate always. 

When I was in standard 7, she gave a project wherein we had to compile an encyclopedia and I had the letter ’N’. She was never behind to praise all the efforts we had put in and she got the Assistance Commissioner from the inspection team to unveil it in the school assembly. We were all so happy and she was proud.

Throughout my school days, I was the class prefect. She asked me to maintain a small diary. I was to penalise anyone who spoke in any language other than English. The resulting fine was 10 paise per word. The money collected would be used to party at the end of the academic year. I never got down to collecting the money, but that really helped a lot of us improve our language. We had a book club in the class wherein everyone was asked to get an English book and we would exchange it after a fortnight. It was here that I fell in love with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. 


Meena ma’am taught me for three straight years between 6-8 standard. Then in standard 9, she no longer taught my class. I envied the other section kids. I secretly even tried to change sections. Then, I changed my school in standard 10 thanks to my father’s transfer. 

Regardless, I still believe, Meena ma’am was one of the best teachers to have taught me English.

A few months ago I was in Vasco da Gama attending a regional level sports meet where I happened to meet her. I have been really bad at keeping in touch but I was so happy to see her. She has fought many battles in her personal life but she is a real Hero. She is mother to beautiful little Nidhi— who will always be that cute little kid to me— and she shall always remain my role model. I am so proud to have had you as my teacher in my formative years and I shall never be able to thank you enough Ma’am.

Monday, June 10, 2019

I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, SO DID HE!!!

I do not really remember the first time I met Sidhanta Patnaik, but for the longest time both he and Karunya Keshav were two journalists who were covering women’s cricket when not many others were interested in the game.

I enjoyed reading his work. His articles were straightforward— not beating around the bush or trying to hide shortcomings. He was critical of our play, but we knew it was mean to be taken constructively. After all, Sidhanta too wanted the best for women’s cricket… He wanted to see growth and improvement, just as much as the players.

Although I no longer read any articles when we are playing, in the early stage of my international career, soon after a game, I would return to the hotel and search for pieces written about matches. Invariably, Sidhanta’s analysis/ match reports were the first to appear on my screen. They were very honest and his use of words always impressed me.

Over the years, Sidhanta and I built a relationship that I came to treasure. I would always receive a text from him when I did well… And it was these little things that meant a great deal to me, always.

I remember speaking to him in Mumbai in January last year. He was doing research for his book on women’s cricket, and came to BKC with Karunya to meet with some one the players. We spent quite a while chatting about Goa cricket, and he was so positive throughout our conversation. He gave me the impression that he had a great plan in place to improve women’s cricket and was just waiting for someone to help him implement it.

Later that year, I saw him in Alur, when he came to attend the finals of the Women’s T20 Challenger Trophy. He looked frail and tired and I was surprised he had come, but it was lovely to see him back where he belonged— at a cricket ground.

I had tears in my eyes when I read the blog post he wrote on his experience that day, and it served as a huge eye opener to me. At a time when I was struggling with my cricket and in a negative frame of mind, constantly brooding and beating myself about about trivial things, here was someone who was battling so hard to stay alive. It gave me perspective— opened my eyes to the bigger picture. That day I learnt that there is more to life than cricket, and I must count my blessings and appreciate all that I have…

Sidhanta was a real fighter. He made me believe in miracles— and I often told him that when I texted him. He was a wonderful journalist, but what counts most for me, is that he was a wonderful person.

A few days before I met him on May 27, he had texted asking about my well being. He sent me six messages, and said it had taken him 20 mins to type them up. Honestly, I was overwhelmed that he took such a great effort to do that.

When I met him, he was in good spirits, and clearly missed his job. He was busy with his laptop, checking his mails, and probably itching to write a story! 'Fight on Champ'- was what I wrote on an autographed Jersey I presented him with as I sincerely prayed for his good health.

I am glad that I got to spend time with him… Sidhanta was one of the finest people I had met. Not the stereotypical journalist hunting for a story. He was genuinely interested in us, as people, and I feel privileged to have interacted and formed a connection with him.

My father often told me that genuinely good people are hard to come by, and when you do find one, it is important to hold on to them… I was doing that with Sidhanta….


I shall never forget how much he cared and worked for women’s cricket, but most of all, I shall remember him for the incredible person he was, with a heart so genuine. Sidhanta taught me to fight the odds, he made me believe in miracles, and above all, he reminded me of the power each one of us possesses— the power to inspire and positively influence one another… And that is more than I could ever ask for…

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Magic Wave

That twinkle in my eye when I see you smile and wave as our bus passes by,
That gratitude in my heart when I see you travel so far just to come cheer for us.
I can never repay you for your unconditional support how much ever I try,
You will be a part of my journey always, in losses and in triumphs!!
You might be a five year old kid today,
But the very reason I started, is the joy I see in you.
So dream oh little girl, dream big I say!
Cos, from up there it’s going to be a beautiful View!!