The last few days have been quite hectic for Lisa Sthalekar. The former Australia women’s cricket team captain has been busy training the UP Warriorz side in a pre-season camp in Bengaluru.
While she has been working closely with head coach Jon Lewis and Abhishek Nayar, who has been roped in as an expert for the camp, Sthalekar believes that the four-day camp is an opportunity for the coaching staff to assess things better ahead of the second season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL).
In this interview with Sportstar, Sthalekar - a noted cricket pundit - also shares her thoughts on India’s just-concluded white-ball series against Bangladesh and explains why it is important for the Indian national selection committee chairperson to stipulate reasons behind frequent changes to the squad, going forward.
Q. What’s the reason behind organising a pre-season camp for the UP Warriorz now, especially when there’s no clarity on when the second edition of the WPL will be held?
A. Having a camp now certainly gives us a chance to touch base with the Indian domestic players, to see how they are going, how they are tracking, are there things that the coaching staff can assist and help them with.
Instead of going from one tournament to the next and a year in between and hoping that they’ve worked on things that the coaching staff would have discussed at the end of the first edition, it’s good to have that touch point and make sure that the core group of players are still moving towards the style of play and how UP Warriorz wants to play T20 cricket.
So there’s that and then there’s opportunities as well to see some other players that will come in and have some centre wicket practice as well, to see what’s out there. Obviously, Jon (Lewis) hasn’t been involved in Indian domestic cricket and doesn’t know the other players outside of the team. So, I think it’s really important just to know where our players are, where some other players are, what’s the right balance moving forward. When the tournament is, doesn’t necessarily matter, but it’s a good touch point just a few months from the last one that’s just taken place.
Q. What were the takeaways from the last edition of the WPL? Is there any particular area that the young players should work on ahead of the next edition?
A. It was certainly evident that the Indian domestic players were waiting for the loose balls to come or weren’t going hard from the start. The game is rapidly moving. So, we need players to be able to strike the ball powerfully from ball one. They need to manipulate the field and get the scoreboard going in the right direction, and how they go about it will be unique and different for each one of them. But they’ve got to be willing to find out those answers, so they’re not just sitting and waiting for a loose ball because when you have got the best in the world coming at you and bowling at you, you may not get a loose ball. So, you’ve got to create it somehow.
Q. The England women’s team, under head coach Jon Lewis, made an incredible comeback in the recent Women’s Ashes series after conceding the Test match, and went on to win both the ODIs and T20I series. Now that you are back at the UP Warriorz camp, did you get an opportunity to have a chat with Lewis about England’s performance?
A. I just told him, “Well done on a great Ashes series.” I know that he has been working really hard with the group to get them to a point where they can play fearless cricket, and I thought they were pretty close to it. I mean, to be six points down and then to fight their way back after agonisingly losing that second last ODI, it just shows you what the team is and the work that he’s done.
So, we had a chat about that and also about the Test match and how the flow of the game went and where Australia may have led England back in and vice versa. It’s probably good for him to hear my thoughts because I was a spectator just sitting and watching it from afar. So, then I have all of these thoughts and ideas, which I asked him because he was in the dugout. It was good.
Q. You have time and again said that the Australian mindset of winning from any situation can’t be taught. But it seems, a lot of teams are taking a leaf out of Australia’s book and trying to imbibe a similar mindset. How do you see that?
A. As a fan of the game and a commentator as well, you want competitive cricket to be played. You don’t want one team, regardless of who they are, to be so far out in front. I’ve been part of teams like the New South Wales which won the Women’s National Cricket League title ten times in a row, and it gets old and tiring for everyone else. When you’re in the team, it doesn’t matter. You want to win it, you don’t care about the rest, but for the game to keep progressing, you want other people to challenge. I certainly think of opportunities to play these domestic competitions, you start to hear maybe some of those Australian players or say, Sophie Ecclestone, how she goes about it, her thought process and how these players see the game unfold. We have to extract it from them so that they share it with a young girl.
So an example is, we won the first game of the WPL, thanks to Grace Harris. But Talia McGrath didn’t score any runs. And then, in the second game, she got 70 odd, but we lost and she was gutted. She hated it.
She was like, ‘I’d rather get a duck and us win, than myself getting a 70 and the team losing.’ So, I actually asked her in the team meeting to say that because some people may be like, “Oh, I had a great day. Yeah, we didn’t win but look at me! I scored runs…”
So it’s understanding that shift in mindset that whilst you contributed, it still wasn’t enough to get the team across the line. So that type of thought sharing among the players was really important.
Q. Did you get a chance to follow India’s limited overs series against Bangladesh recently, and what are your thoughts on the team’s performance?
A. Well, certainly, you’ve got a number of Indian players that are playing in The Hundred at the moment. I think it’s a great thing that they go away to be in a completely different environment, with different expectations.
I do feel for the Indian players because when they play for the country, there’s an extra weight on their shoulders, and it certainly feels like it, it looks like it. I don’t know if that’s what they actually feel, but it certainly looks like it.
In Bangladesh, there was a slight change in team and there was constant rotation of players, which I would only imagine is quite disruptive. As a player, I enjoyed having a core group of players together because you’re working towards a certain style. So, I think Bangladesh probably surprised them a little bit. They didn’t play their best cricket and they got found out. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they’ve got to learn from that experience.
I’d like to think moving forward, they make sure that they (India) have their best team on the park and that they find other ways to blood the new players in - maybe in an India A tour or whatever. I don’t know what goes on in the Indian women’s side. I only look from afar and they seem to get it together whenever they play Australia, but against other teams they may falter slightly.
Q. Is too much chopping and changing hurting the Indian team?
A. The difference that I have noticed between India and the Australian cricket team is that if there’s a change in the Australian squad, there’s a media release with the chair of selectors stating the reason why a particular player is not selected or if there are other reasons to it.
I don’t know if I’ve missed a report, but in India, we’re all scratching our heads over why is it that this person is in, or where is such and such and where is the other player? Whereas I know following Australian cricket, it’s easy for a broadcaster because I know who’s injured, who’s not available, who’s taken personal leave. Everything is stipulated nicely so everyone knows where everyone fits.
And there seems to be a process or if you don’t know you can ask the chair of selectors. He normally comes up in front of the media to answer your question.
I can’t comment on that in Indian cricket because I don’t know. In fact, no one knows, right? So, moving forward, when they announce the squad, the chair of selectors could perhaps stipulate reasons on why certain contracted players or players that were in the team on the last tour were not selected. And it could simply be a rotation, as they want to blood as many new players as they can. That’s fine, but at least, then everyone would know, right? But at the moment, we’re all like, ‘Why is this person here? Why isn’t this person there? Why is she injured? Is she not? So?’ It’s hard, really hard to follow.
Q. Over the last one year, the spirit of the game has been the talking point in women’s cricket. Your thoughts?
A. Whenever there’s a gray area, it comes down to the spirit of cricket. We have got to understand that the game has professionalised so much. There’s a huge expectation. There’s huge pressure on the players. There’s probably a mentality of we need to win, we have to win. And if things are in the rule books, they’re in the rule books.
And I use this term loosely, that in this gentleman’s game, the spirit of the cricket is the overarching element of the game - that’s almost moved on. I think it’s moved on. The cricketers play in a certain way. But then if it goes against you, everyone cites the spirit of cricket, don’t they?
But if it goes in your favour, then you are like, ‘let’s carry on.’ It depends on which side of the green you are, but I think players are acutely aware of the laws of the game. And I think playing to the letter of the law is all we can ask them to do. As journalists, as pundits, we can have a debate, but we’re not out there in the heat of the moment. We’re not dealing with the pressure that they’re going through at that moment. So I think we just need to take it like everyone else and move on pretty quickly.
Q. Young players making their debut in the national team or a franchise side, often seem to get overwhelmed with the pressure of top-level cricket. So, when you interact with the young cricketers, what do you advise them?
A. The main thing is - don’t get ahead of yourself too quickly. Young players coming in want to perform at the highest level straightaway and unfortunately, our game takes a while for the jigsaw puzzle to be complete. It takes a bit of time for you to be in that zone where you’re scoring runs all the time or taking wickets.
Every time you take a next step up, it takes a little bit of time for you to kind of really find your feet. So, the main thing that I try to say is, “you know you’re very talented and that’s why you are here. But understand that you are going to fail and you’re going to learn from that. That’s the most valuable lesson.”
Cricket has a funny way of biting you in the backside just when you’ve done well. You score 100 today and in the next game, you get out for a golden duck. That’s the great thing about our game. So enjoy it.
I think that with more televised matches with the price tags being put on players, there’s extra pressure, but even then, try and enjoy the ride because who knows how long you’ve got at this top level.
I know it’s easy to say when you’ve retired, but whilst you’re in it, you’ve got your blinkers on and you’re working towards your goals and what you want to achieve. But, celebrate the little successes that you have, because it’s really important.
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