Tanuja Kanwar of Gujarat Giants, much like most of the Indian domestic players playing the WPL 2023 is yet to play her first international match. However, her performance in the league has proved that she can play the game at the highest level.
Kanwar scripted history when she took the first wicket in the ongoing Women’s Premier League during the season opener between Mumbai Indians and Gujarat.
However, Hailing from Himachal Pradesh Tanuja spent her formative years not knowing the very fact that women’s cricket exists.
“When I started playing no one around me in Himachal knew that there was something called women’s cricket, I just used to play gully cricket and play in school with the boy’s team. I didn’t know that a girl could go to an academy and get training” she said.
While the 25-year-old spent her days as a child trying to make her way into gully teams full of boys or the school cricket team, it was her father who noticed her talent.
“When my father saw that I had an interest in cricket, he changed everything for me. He found out where the academy was and he helped me join the academy. When I went there, for the first time, I was getting to know there was something called women’s cricket. We were 25 girls in the academy, that’s where my journey started,” she said
According to Tanuja, the academy which is a brainchild of the current sports minister Anurag Thakur has helped girls like her and India internationals Renuka Thakur and Sushma Verma find the platform to train and realise that “women’s cricket can be played professionally.
As the world watched Tanuja pick up four wickets in the five matches she played, what they perhaps didn’t comprehend is that she’s the same girl who took a six-wicket haul in a domestic match.
As the Himachal team took on Meghalaya on 21st March 2021, Tanuja went into the match with quite a few apprehensions as she didn’t feature in the wickets column quite often.
The Covid-19 second wave further compounded her problems but with dedication and determination, she made a brilliant comeback.
“I just told myself, this is the last match make up for whatever mistakes you have made and take as many wickets as you can because you never know when you’ll get a chance again.”
-Making opportunities count-
And when the opportunity arrived, Tanuja walked out of the field confidently with figures 6/10. A telling tale for a player who played her first big-league match (WPL) and struck gold.
However with her head on her shoulders she said, “ I was a little nervous but that is very important you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself. I wanted to keep things simple and just bowl stock balls in my first WPL over, so I tried not to build it up too much and kept telling myself not to overthink while playing, because if you think about how big the stage is you’ll get everything wrong.”
-’Tamasha’ on Auction Day-
For someone who is helping her team win crucial matches, the Shimla girl didn’t rate herself high enough to bag a deal worth 50 Lakhs. On the auction day, she tried to catch the auction on her phone while sitting alone in her room but she wasn’t spared of the ‘tamasha.’
“This is a very funny story, when my name was announced the only feeling was please someone raise your hand, just one team, please. But once Gujarat raised their hand, I thought I’ll go at my base price. I was trying to follow the auction but my phone kept ringing. It was a tamasha, I cut the call, once, twice, thrice and the fourth time I picked it up and asked my friend now you only tell me what actually happened in the end because I wasn’t able to watch the whole thing. When she told me I got picked by Gujarat for 50 lakhs I was shocked, I thought how did this even happen to me.”
Tanuja’s dream of speaking to overseas players and getting to know about their experience in a bid to learn new techniques, came to fruition. However, having seen the international players from the confines of her home on television and then rubbing shoulders with them was a dream come true.
“The best part is they are always ready to share their experience and make us a part of all the discussions. For example, Ash (Gardner) will always come up to me before I bowl and help me analyse the situation on the ground so that I know what ball to bowl, that is very nice that someone of their stature is helping us in this way, I didn’t think it will be like this,” she said.
With the tournament nearing its culmination and teams leaving it all out there on the field, there are many takeaways. However, none are as important as giving a stage to the Indian girls who were scoring umpteen runs and picking wickets at will, albeit in silos.
“The best part about WPL is that, even when I pick one or two wickets everyone knows about it, someone will walk up to me and say well bowled. Earlier when I had picked six wickets in a domestic match, no one knew about it. Girls in my Railways team seeing us have hope that ok if we do well in domestic cricket there is hope it’s not like earlier.”
Alas, Tanuja is correct, From going into cricket stats rabbit holes to team and player hashtags trending on Twitter, the world is taking notice and the Women’s Premier League has given them a platform to showcase their skills.
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