Mover and ‘Shaker’

VIVEK BENDRE

“What needs to happen now is for people to open their eyes and hearts to women’s cricket, and they will find it is an exciting game,” says Lisa Sthalekar in a chat with Nandakumar Marar.

Lisa Sthalekar’s retirement from international cricket, announced by Cricket Australia the day after the Aussies won the 2013 ICC Women’s World Cup, proves her admirable sense of timing. She had planned to quit after playing the World Cup in Mumbai — her third in a row.

In a display of remarkable anticipation and athleticism, Lisa pulled off a one-handed diving catch to dismiss the last West Indian batter, Tremayne Smartt, which sealed Australia’s victory in the final.

Earlier in the match, the Pune-born all-rounder deceived Merissa Aguilleira and Deandra Dottin with deliveries that would do any off-spinner proud. Merissa and Deandra had hit a six each and were threatening to land some more blows when Lisa beat both with her flight. West Indies’ chase under the lights did not take off after the double blow.

Success on the cricket field helped Lisa forge an identity for herself in Australia. And having come up the ranks, she is a respected senior in the New South Wales squad.

Nicknamed ‘Shaker’, after her autobiography bearing the same name, Lisa spoke to Sportstar about her life as a cricketer.

Question: For one used to handling tough situations in life, are the pressures on a cricket field easier to tackle?

Answer: I guess you have to put everything into perspective. It is still just a game. If you look at it like that, I guess it helps you to not fear failure and allows you to perform well.

Qualifying for the World Cup finals and winning has become a habit for the Australian women’s team. You won the World T20 and now the 2013 World Cup. Do you train for the big matches differently?

We have had some good success of late. The team has a number of New South Wales Breakers players, who are used to playing in the final. (The New South Wales Breakers team is the most successful side in the Australian Women’s Cricket League, having won 13 titles in 15 seasons.) With regard to our training, we don’t do anything differently. We do everything needed to be done physically, and mentally we prepare the best we can. All the work during the off-season set us up for these types of matches.

Representing Australia and the New South Wales teams for many years, you have achieved a lot of success. Do young girls of Indian origin back home identify with the success you have had as a sportswoman?

I would like to think so. During the programmes within New South Wales, there were a number of Indian girls playing the game, which is quite healthy. There should be more young girls of all cultures taking up cricket. It is a wonderful sport to play.

Women’s cricket, as seen during the 2013 World Cup, is action-packed with catches, big hits and bowling feats as good as any seen in the game. Do you have any suggestions to make the package more attractive for fans and television viewers?

The players have done a lot of hard work over the last few years to ensure that we play an attractive style of cricket. I think what needs to happen now is for people to open their eyes and hearts to women’s cricket, and they will find it is an exciting game. It is up to the other people to market it correctly or give women’s cricket a chance.

Shane Warne showed that leg-spinners could become match-winners in limited overs cricket. The 2013 Women’s World Cup saw the off-spinners dominating. Australia had two off-spinners in its first XI (Lisa and Erin Osborne). What is the reason for spinners gaining acceptance in the limited overs format?

I think spinners generally, across all forms of the game, male and female, have been performing extremely well. T20, we thought, will end the spinners’ ability to perform, but slow bowlers have actually been the leading wicket-takers. It is important to have leg-spin and off-spin in a team. It is necessary for all teams playing on sub-continent tracks to have some quality spinners.

There is discussion and debate about woman cricketers playing in the men’s events. Having grown up competing against the boys, your views on mixed teams and whether T20 can be the starting point of such an experiment?

I think it would be difficult because the boys bowl over 140 kmph, and that is something women are not used to. More importantly, we are not used to the steep bounce. There are only a couple of female bowlers who can do that. It (mixed cricket) could happen, but we have to train a lot with the men to feel comfortable. Charity matches and social get-togethers are where both girls and boys can play together.

Michael Clarke and Steve Smith of Pune Warriors bring the Australian approach into focus in the IPL? Your thoughts on Australian cricket accepting IPL? Do you feel a women’s event on the same lines is viable?

When the IPL first came out, it was televised on our channels; it was great and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, because it is not televised any more in Australia, people don’t really follow it. They find out scores through cricinfo and sites like that. If IPL is televised, people would watch it. Looking at the success of the T20 World Cup, how close the games were and the skill level of the girls playing now, I think women’s cricket in a similar format would be very exciting.

Do you have any friends in the Indian women’s squad — either past or present? Going by the World Cup in the recent past, playing against India also brings out the best from you…

I get on extremely well with a number of players in the Indian team. I have known Jhulan Goswami since 2003; we have played a lot against each other and enjoy each other’s company as well. Regarding the second part of your question, I have competitive spirit. I play 10-pin bowling with my six-year-old cousin and want to beat him always. Playing cricket against another country certainly brings out the best in you.

Any memorable moments from the 2013 World Cup that you will reflect on for the rest of your life?

Every World Cup is different. There are moments, like I felt that this group (Australian squad) will never play again together in a World Cup. That is special.