Gouher Sultana who hails from Hyderabad has been the one who broke the stereotypes and started playing cricket with boys at an early age. The never give up formula of hers is what the youngsters today should inculcate from her journey. Setbacks and disappointments only made her stronger and her mother is whom she owes her journey. Let’s look at how her road with troubling the batswoman with her spin only got better with time!
My uncle was crazy about cricket and he followed the sport on television with a lot of keenness and I enjoyed watching them along with him. I used to play cricket in my colony with a group of boys. One fine day, the parents of a boy got me to be a part of a summer camp. Both their son and I played cricket in the camp and that’s how my journey with the sport saw its beginning. Making a choice was not quite difficult as cricket was the only sport that I played!
2. When did that fire ignite? When was it that you knew you were made for the sport?
Being a left hander may be was the advantage for me. I was selected in the Under-16 state team as a left arm spinner a few months after I joined the camp. I used to enjoy playing the sport. And I never had any aim to make a career out of it mainly because I was unaware of the fact that women’s cricket exists in the country.
3. You were the one to make the choice - tell us something about how you were supported or where it lacked keeping in mind the Indian society, your family and friends.
My mother was and continues to be my biggest supporter. She has been backing me to keep playing the game and has always succeeded in recognising my passion for the same. There came a time when my coaches also called her and told her that I have what it takes to go fly higher and that this was still not it where I’m concerned. Initially, there were the testing times but I’ll always be thankful to my mother for always being by me at every step.
4. Did you have an aim that you have to play for the nation? How did that happen?
Honestly, I started to play the sport only because of the sake of love that I had for it. I did well at the state level and got an opportunity to play for the India Junior Camp in 2005. It wasn’t something that I expected and my happiness knew no boundaries. I made it to the squad that would play Pakistan, but then there came a twist. I couldn’t get onto the bus because I was a minor and there had been an issue regarding my passport. It was then that I decided that I’ll get up, face it and move forward. I decided that I’ll do whatever it takes and make it into the senior team. I worked hard and finally lived my dream when I made my debut wearing the blue jersey in the Asia Cup that was held in 2008.
5. The journey from the domestic circuit to the international one must have been tough but definitely worth it - your view on the same. How was this roller coaster ride?
Oh yes it was! There is a lot of difference where the standard of the game in the two spheres is concerned. One has to have the ability to adapt where the international circuit is talked of. I had to work really hard on my bowling and fielding to survive and play for as long as I did. I learnt something from every single game that I played.
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6. Whom do you owe your achievements to barring yourself? Who has been your ultimate motivator and pillar of strength during your highs and your lows?
First it’s my mother. She has been there by me no matter what and irrespective of how I have performed on a particular day. And then my coaches who’ve always believed in me and helped me play to the best of my ability. Nooshin al Khadeer has always helped me as a senior, friend and also a team mate in my highs and lows.
7. Talk to us about that feeling when you got to know that you’ll be among the women in blue.
After the India Junior Camp held in 2005, I was part of a couple of the senior camps as well. Thus, before every announcement of the Indian women’s squad, I always expected my name to be called out to the world as someone who would be a part of the squad. I had dealt with disappointments when there were other left arm spinners who were selected over me. However, I had always been guided by the “never give up” formula and when in 2008, I was named in squad I was very happy and it was quite an emotional moment for my family.
8. They say experience counts and that it’s the best teacher. How far do you agree to this where your journey is concerned?
Definitely, it does ! Experience not only makes you a better player but also makes sure that you improve with every game that you play. Having experienced players in your side also makes a huge difference and this has been proved time and again.
9. What do you think has changed over the years where the present national side is concerned? The exposure, increase in the number of tournaments being played, initiatives by BCCI. Then and now - The Indian women’s cricket team.
Yes there are a lot of things that have changed and for the better where women’s cricket in the country is concerned. BCCI is doing a great job where women’s cricket is concerned and like you mentioned the exposure has also made the difference. Where earlier there would be about only two series played in year, at present there are more than two series played within the span of six months. Almost every game is telecast at present day which serves as a major source of encouragement for women. The contract system of the players has been a huge step for women cricketers especially in the t20 format. The difference that I see in the Indian women’s team today is that the batters have learnt power hitting and that they can clear the boundaries. Earlier it was more about technique than power hitting.
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10. You still hold the record of the highest 10th wicket partnership - what’s your take on the same? Tell us of that match. The pressure.
Usually the moment No.11 walks into bat, the teams either start packing their bags or get ready for the 2nd innings because one hardly expects them to score runs let alone a record partnership. So for me there was no pressure but I wanted to be there in the middle with Amita Sharma, support her from the other end, and that is what I did. I think we had a 50 run partnership and I scored only 10 runs out of that. She was brilliant in that game, picked on the bowlers and never lost hope even though batting No.11.
11. You made your debut against Pakistan - how was the experience? Was it a dream debut considering the hype that always prevail?
12. Talk to us about how you dealt with pressure? The constant fear of worry of “what if I’m not part of the 11”?
When you play international cricket pressure becomes a part of your routine. You want to do well and give your best in every game that you play, else, there’s always someone sitting on the bench to walk in.
13. What kept you fit and nutritious both when on and off the field?
I always believe fitness helps you become a better player especially in the fielding department. It’s always a priority to stay fit and nutritious. In those days, we never had nutritionists helping us out with our diet. But now there is a sense of awareness of what one should be eating and what one should be avoiding. I used to avoid drinking aerated drinks and eating sweets and other junk food which is not good for a sportsperson and I still follow the same. Afzal sir who is with the current Indian team was also the trainer when I made my debut and he pushed me and motivated me to always stay fit and healthy.
14. Tell us something about how you felt when you had just come into the team - must’ve been too formal, and with time the relation that you shared with your mates and coaches.
I made my debut along with 3 others one of them being Anagha Deshpande from Maharashtra. I knew her very well and so I didn’t quite feel out of the place. The seniors were very supportive especially, Neetu David di,Jhulan di and Amita di. As teammates they always backed me. I have also played under different coaches but Anju Jain di always backed me in every game and was very friendly with the youngsters while explaining how things should be done.
15. What do you think makes a you standout?
16. Your take on the on going talk about the women’s IPL?
17. Your take on making a comeback into the side?
The only thing I can do is perform well and give my best. Leaving the rest on God, I believe that hard work never always brings in fruit. I’m a strong believer of fate and that if it has to happen no one has the power to stop it.
18. What would it be if not cricket?
19. The player you look upto? Considering you playing alongside the Indian captain - what was it that you admired most about her?
Being a bowler, I have always looked upto Neetu David di and Jhulan di. They have been outstanding with some great records and numbers. I have played under Jhulu di’s captaincy and she has been a great support. She has always backed me both as a captain and as a senior player. As a fast bowler, to be able to do what she has done for so long and still continues to is just incredible.
20. The best moment or memory that you have of the 22 yard circle?
21. Being a spinner - how was it when you had to bowl on a pitch that didn’t support your actions?
When the pitch has very little or nothing to offer, all I do is vary the pace, bowl in the right areas and according to the field setting.
22. How much did you like playing with the pink ball back in 2017 in the Women’s Pro Cricket League?
23. Have you thought about your plans in the second innings of life? Something that you want to do post taking retirement.
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24. Few words for female cricket. Any suggestions for our platform?
Female cricket is doing a great job in helping in the increase of popularity of women’s cricket through social media. It is also giving the young girls an opportunity to play in the academy which is a great initiative. Wishing you guys good luck ahead.