The backyard-to-baggy-green dream
Lisa Sthalekar celebrates taking a wicket during the Women's Twenty20 match between the Australian Southern Stars and New Zealand in January in Sydney.
‘‘Every time I walk out to play, I think and act like an Australian. I play aggressively, to win and to be the best I can be. My game revolves around what I have grown up with. The influences of my coaches and the proud history and heritage of cricket in Australia.
The difference is that I bat like an Indian.’’
- Lisa Sthalekar in her book, Shaker
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When Lisa Sthalekar was selected in her first representative cricket team at age 14, her sister Caprini crafted her a pillow which read: ‘‘Shhh, don’t wake me. I’m dreaming about playing for my country.’’
Sthalekar had been chosen for an under-18 invitational carnival. ‘‘I think that’s when I started to go, ‘I want to play for Australia’,’’ she says.
At age 32, Sthalekar is still living the backyard-to-baggy-green dream so cherished by anyone who walks out on a cricket pitch every Saturday morning.
And after being Australia’s highest wicket-taker and second-highest run-scorer in Twenty20 internationals this summer, the dream isn’t likely to end any time soon.
But how did a slightly framed kid from Sydney’s North Shore end up one of Australia’s most celebrated cricketers?
‘‘Basically just my father being Indian, cricket runs through his blood, and I seemed to show a bit of promise in the backyard,’’ Sthalekar recalls.
‘‘Unlike my sister, I didn’t want to read or sit in front of the TV. I was an outdoors person. So from the age of five or six he was throwing balls at me in the backyard - and that’s how I got interested in it.’’
A trip to the SCG for a one-day match sealed it.
‘‘That’s when I fell in love with he game.’’ She remembers getting dressed up in green and gold, but cannot remember who Australia were playing.
‘‘I said to dad I want to play the game of cricket. Dad wasn’t sure whether girls actually played cricket, or whether girls could play in the boys team, so he went to the local club, West Pennant Hills-Cherrybrook and asked if I could play. I didn’t know this until a few years ago that there was a few issues, dad had to go through a few things.’’
That was under-10s. By 14 she was in rep teams. By 18, she had made the NSW team. By 21, she had played her first one-day international (ODI). And, at 23, the first of just eight Tests.
That stat isn’t her fault. The number of women’s Tests has decreased to one every two years.
Sthalekar, an allrounder, was the first female cricketer in the world to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets in ODIs.
She is university educated and has a full time job at Cricket NSW overseeing coaching programs for girls.
Yet there is one thing in cricket she knows very little about: losing.
She has been involved in 13 of the 14 women’s national league championships won by NSW in the 16 years of competition, including five as captain of the Breakers.
She has a Test century and a Test 5-for; and two ODI centuries in 111 matches. She has represented her country 161 times across three forms of cricket. She’d like to play more Tests, but T20s are the dominant form of the women’s game now.
‘‘I hope that T20 cricket educates everyone about women’s cricket but also gets sponsors on board so we can afford to play more one day cricket and Test cricket.’’
Next stop is India, where Sthalekar will hope to continue her form in three ODIs and five T20s in March.
While she was born in Pune, she has spent no significant time in the country of her birth. Yet she is quick to acknowledge an Indian style of batting - her Indian wrists – have given her an advantage.
‘‘I was coached by Australians, Wayne Seabrook and Ross Collins. They were my first coaches and they taught me a wonderful technique, of hitting straight down the ground. But as I got higher up I just managed to be able to squeeze the ball squarer, which is more typical of an Indian player. And that worked well for me.’’
It made it harder for opposition captains to set their fields. And Sthalekar kept finding the gaps.
Her path to bowling success wasn’t entirely different.
‘‘When I first started boys cricket, they didn’t turn me into a pace bowler - they turned me into a spinner. I don’t know whether it was because I was Indian or just because I looked the build for it. I am quite small.’’
But it is not just finding the gaps or trapping a batter with her off-spin that drives Sthalekar. The mind games are what keep her coming back.
‘‘I always relate cricket to a game of chess,’’ she says.
‘‘You’re always trying to see what the other person is trying to do and you’re trying to manipulate your pieces in the right position to stop that move.
‘‘In that sense my mind is always ticking. That’s what I love about cricket. That’s the joy that I get, when you start to play mind games with the opposition.’’
She has had one genuine setback in her career, when demoted from the Australian vice-captaincy.
‘‘That took a little while to get over,’’ she says. ‘‘It was upsetting on a number of levels and it’s probably taken me a good year and a half, two years to get over that and feel comfortable in the team again.’’
It was her friends and teammates Shelley Nitschke and Sarah Andrews who helped her along. ‘‘They were the ones that kept me in the game, which I’m very thankful for.’’
She is looking forward to touring Sri Lanka for the first time, in September for the T20 Women’s World Cup. The tournament is played simultaneously with the men’s event.
‘‘I definitely have to keep my body running smoothly so I can get to play over there. I think it’s a wonderful experience not just in a cricket sense but also a cultural sense.’’
But first the joys of India, where Sthalekar will first launch her book, Shaker, before launching it in Australia. She leaves on Thursday for India, where she has toured twice before and played in front of her largest crowd.
‘‘It was about 20,000, in Vapi (western India). You drive out the back of the town and you’re heading out to no man’s land and all of a sudden you go into these gates and there’s this pristine, green beautiful wicket. It was a privately owned ground, and there’s a little hill behind it and you could see the people coming down the hill just to watch the cricket. It was just amazing.’’