Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Let's be honest about our introduction to cricket in Indian society. We have all grown up watching colony guys playing with 'cloth washing bat' and a plastic ball. For wickets, either some useless plank, pillar or wall used to be the resort. I'm no exception to this tradition, but to some extent, yes, I am. I am a girl. The only girl in the society who wanted to smash the ball, run between the wickets, bowl out the batsman and just wanted to be outdoors and play.
Society-cricket was fun. But, when did I fall in love with it? I could barely remember. I became the captain of the society team and never missed a game until I chose to depart.
Neither my family nor I was aware of women's cricket when I sought their permission back in 2008 to pursue cricket as a professional sport.
I only had the memory of MS Dhoni lifting the 2007 T20 World Cup trophy.
My father was surprised by my decision. As he was not aware whether India has its own women’s cricket team or not?
He repeatedly kept asking me this question for several days - Cricket? Are you sure?
I always said, yes!
One day, he came up with this idea why cricket? Why not running or some other athletic activity? It's also good.
I insisted, 'Only Cricket', nothing else. (Childishly)
Finally, my father surrendered to her daughter’s stubbornness and agreed to help me with all the requirements.
Like other girls in the country struggling to find a good facility to pursue their sports dream, I joined their community quickly.
Thanks to my father's efforts, I managed to find a coach, Khirod Behera, and ground to practice. Though, it was far, yet manageable.
You don't always get what you want. You have got to go that extra mile to get that.
A 11-year old girl, unaware of the consequences and struggles coming on her way only had one mantra, "Karna Hai" (Have to do it).
Indian Captain, MS Dhoni has always been a great influencer in my personal as well as professional life. I've grown up watching him play. His style to lead the team and maintain his calm even in the chaotic situation is beyond conventional. He is a true inspiration.
Reminding a funny incident of my early days....
Education is always given preference in a middle-class family as parents think it's the only way to a comfortable life. I was also told to do the same. Study first, cricket later. Simple.
So, after school, I had to go for tuition. Maths tuition. I wasn't satisfied with the decision, still I had to follow the orders.
My cricket was hampering this way, and I couldn't let that happen.
So, I came up with a perfect plan to balance both.
I started skipping the tuition classes on an alternate day and went to play cricket in some
temple's backyard. (Hahahaha)
It was fun away from those boring maths classes. I always prefer counting runs rather than solving algebra and trigonometry.
And the Journey begins....
My day would start at 5:00 AM, followed by a 15-km cycling effort to the cricket ground. Two practice sessions - one in the morning for 3-4 hours and one in the evening for 2-3 hours were the best part of my day. The evening session was not for the girls, yet I could be spotted on the ground doing drills.
Despite spending 6-7 hours on the ground, I always requested my coach to give me extra attention at the end of the day.
Thanks to his patience and commitment towards the game, he never said no and always agreed to my request.
I guess he was aware of the fact that I was the youngest of the lot and needed special attention. Rest of the players were 4-5 years elder to me.
A couple of years rolled down like this.
Cricket became an integral part of my daily routine. I used to wake up with the cricket in mind and slept with it. I was loving this phase of my life.
I became more committed and started taking the game seriously.
I was picking up skills very fast and was also doing well in the practice matches. I thought I was ready for a bigger opportunity.
Back then, there was no Under-16 or Under-14 for girls. Only Under-19 and Seniors cricket were the options. That's all.
The 2010-11 season was almost around the corner. I was expecting to get a place in the Under-19 team. It was supposed to be my first season.
The coach trimmed down the 100 players list to 16. And declared the squad.
I was hopeful about my selection. So, wasn't exactly worrying about the names.
I was surprised when I discovered that the coach didn't include my name on the list.
I was broken and angry with the coach. (Aargh)
He explained to me, once my nerves settled down that if somehow I had put you in the list, you would only be travelling with the team, but wouldn't be getting a game in the entire season.
It's better you work on the grey areas and leave no stone unturned in preparation for the next assignment.
The coach's words were not making any sense to me for a while, but later, I realised that it was the best advice I've ever received.
Watching me grow as a player, my coach had a great sense of understanding when I'll be ready for the big tournament.
For the next two months, I worked relentlessly on the skill set I was lacking.
I hate facing pace bowling, especially when boys bowl. With girls, there is no issue, but with boys, the ball passes even before my bat gets in the line. I was scared initially but, with the time I got used to the pace.
I am glad. It was our coach and his intimidating tactics which helped me to become a better cricketer.
Into the State Team.....
I made my first appearance for Odisha Under-19 Cricket team in 2010-11. It was more of an okay season, not the one I'd be proud of.
Zonals were introduced for the Under-19 girls for the first time in 2011-12. By that time, I had established myself as one of the prominent figures in the bowling department in East-Zone. I was young but poised.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
2013 was that kind of a year for me.
One day, out of nowhere, my father asked me, "Why don't you try for the senior team?"
I said, Seniors?
He said, yes! Seniors.
I said, Papa, Kyun Majak karte ho, Abhi to mein U-19 khelne lagi hoon. Seniors kaise khel sakti hoon? (Why are you kidding. I've just started playing U-19, how can I play in the senior team?)
My father replied, yes, you can. There is no age barrier for the senior team and even a 14-year old can play.
From that day, there was only one thing stuck in my mind, "How to get into the senior team?"
That attitude changed everything. I started following Priyanka di who attended Indian team camp earlier that year from Odisha. Also, I began to put more efforts in every practice session.
Thanks to Rituparna Roy, our coach back then, who spotted my talent in the field and despite three off-spinners in the senior team in Priyanka, Roshan and Swagatika Rath, gave me a breakthrough.
I'll always be thankful to her.
Since then, there was no turning back for me.
In Cricket or in life, I believe timing does matter.
There was a decision I made, which turned my career completely. Few might say, it needs guts, but I would say, it was my calling for cricket, and I didn't want to miss that opportunity.
In 2013, I was selected for the Senior Women's T20 tournament, but due to the board exams and coach's request, I withdrew my name. I was angry with the coach because it was seniors and I desperately wanted to be part of it.
Few days went by. The Odisha Cricket Team left for Pune, and I was busy preparing for exams.
Sometimes opportunity lies within adversity.
Unexpectedly, I received NCA (National Cricket Academy) Camp call. So, Women's Inter-State Super League (then Women's T20 tournament) could have been a great preparation going into the camp.
The coach agreed to my decision, 'to skip the exams and travel to Pune.'
I was nervous as it was my first time travelling alone from Odisha to Mumbai and then, Mumbai to Pune.
I managed to give some impressive performances throughout the tournament. I got Smriti Mandhana and Devika Vaidya out against Maharashtra. I took 7 wickets in 4 T20 games.
My teammates were making a lot of talk about selectors noticing me. But, unfazed of the whisper, I kept giving my best game after game. It paved the way for my success in due time.
That one decision changed my life completely. Now, I hardly get time to travel home. I'm either busy playing some tournament or attending camps.
I cleared my board exams after three years of gap, but it was worth waiting as I was pursuing my passion.
Biggest Moment of My Life
Having played against the mighty Australians in 2018, I realised that I’m still far from getting into the national team. I worked really hard in the break and made sure that I don’t miss out on any game in the upcoming domestic season. I played for Seniors (One-dayers & T20s), Under-23 (One-dayers & T20s) and captained India Green in Challenger Trophy (One-dayers).
My 2018-19 domestic stint was fabulous. Playing consistent cricket throughout the year helped me get my name registered in the selectors’ mind.
Once the season got over, everyone had their eyes on Women's T20 Challenge 2019.
Addition of another team to the Women's T20 Challenge excited many players. Even I was hopeful but wasn’t sure.
On April 24, when we lost to India Blue in the finals of U-23 One-day Challenger Trophy and were travelling back to the hotel suddenly, Vikas Pandit, Manager of Indian Women's Team messaged me to give him a call.
He was asking me about my ticket details. I casually told him, "Humara Tickets to ho gya hai wapas jane ka" (Our tickets are booked for going back home).
I couldn't understand why he was asking for my ticket. Maybe I was in the influence of the loss.
Straight away, in a little harsh voice, he replied, "Arey Women's IPL ke liye kahan se travel karegi?" (From where would you like to travel for Women's IPL?)
For a second, I just couldn't feel anything. I was shocked. My mouth was wide open. I didn't know how to react? And what to say to him? I wanted to run, smile, cry, enjoy everything at once. I wanted to get off the bus and run to the hotel.
Still, I gathered some courage and asked him out of excitement, “Am I selected for Women's T20 Challenge?”
He nodded in affirmation.
By the time, I regained my consciousness, I'd shared all the details he asked me to forward.
I was on cloud nine.
Usually, it takes 30 minutes to travel from the ground to the hotel, but that day, I don't know where that time flied.
I called up my parents, friends and childhood coach and shared the biggest moment of my life with them. I was the happiest person on earth.
Next day, I was all over the news.
That opportunity allowed me to share the dressing room with legendary Mithali Raj, English opener Danielle Wyatt, West Indian All-rounder Hayley Matthews and many other Indian senior players.
It will go down as one of my fond memories.
Before I pause to finish sharing my story, I want to convey a message to all the girls out there, "Hadn't my family supported me through my rise and fall, hadn't I given the freedom to pursue my dream, I wouldn't be the same person writing this story.
So, respect your parents, seek their advice because, at the end of the day, 'Parents is all the girls have got.'
My story doesn't end there though. I still have dreams to accomplish.
Till then, CIAO.