Inoka Ranaweera, born on 18 February, 1986 is a left-arm orthodox spin bowler. Inoka made her national debut for Sri Lankan women’s team in the year 2012. She has played 36 ODI’s and 32 T20 international matches. Inoka made it to the news when she became the first woman from Sri Lanka to take an ODI hat-trick. Her impressive bowling performance earned her lot of praise. She has also won the Sri Lanka Cricket award for Women’s ODI bowler of the year 2016. Her commitment towards the game is awe-inspiring. She was recently appointed to lead the Sri Lankan team in World Cup Qualifiers 2017 and will be seen leading her team at World Cup 2017 starting June 2017. In an interview with Female Cricket, Inoka talks about her World Cup plans and unfolds her inspiring cricket journey.
1. What drove you to cricket? Walk us through your initial cricket days?
I remember, I used to play cricket with my friends & brothers. I was very much interested in cricket right from my childhood. But I played the leather ball cricket match at the age of 22. My first cricket club was Southern Ladies SC. That’s where I began my cricketing career.
2. Who were your cricket role model / inspiration whilst growing up?
I enjoyed watching Rangana Herath & Daniel Vettori play. These two legends were always my inspiration. I have learnt a lot watching them bowl.
3. Back then how did you cope up with your studies / education / other commitments along with cricket? Was it hard to convince your parents about choosing this profession?
It was a bit difficult to continue my higher studies alongside cricket. Without a doubt, I gave priority to cricket. My family members didn’t like my decision. They wanted me to continue with my studies and get a job but not cricket. But I was adamant, and had decided to pursue cricket as a profession. Of course, today my family is proud of my decision and enjoy a lot watching me represent my country.
4. When and how did you come to know about your selection in the national team? Could you recall the moment and describe it in words?
Getting the national call was like a dream come true moment. I remember, the phone rang, one of my friend had called and told that I was selected for the national team. I couldn’t believe at first, but was so excited. I can never forget that moment.
5. How special was your debut match against mighty West Indies on Apr 25, 2012? Were you excited, nervous, what was the feeling?
There’s a story to this: I got the chance to play my debut match because the other left arm spinner got injured in the warm up game. I felt a bit nervous in the beginning. But was excited at the same time. Everything went well and luckily, I have been in good touch since then.
6. You became the first Sri Lankan women to get an ODI hat-trick. What made you achieve this and your first thoughts on this achievement?
The hat-trick against New Zealand was another memorable achievement. I never thought I would take a hat-trick in an International game. It certainly made my country proud since I became the first Sri Lankan women to achieve this feat. I want to thank all the people who have constantly supported me and helped me evolve as a cricketer.
7. What is the general perception about women’s cricket in Sri Lanka? How has it changed post qualifying for World Cup 2017?
Considering the performance in ODI matches we played in last 2 years, people were not very confident about our world cup qualification. But we had good plans and trained very hard to qualify for this event. Now that everyone has accepted our victories and have also started to believe that we are capable of making our mark in the World Cup 2017.
8. A moment that you feel was the turning point for women’s cricket in Sri Lanka?
We started playing international cricket in 1997. Mrs. Guwen Hetath was the president of women’s cricket association in those days. Then it got merged to SLC from 2006. Since then, we have participated in few world cups and played lot of by bi-lateral series. The World cup 2013, which was played in India, we secured 5th place. We also got an opportunity to beat England and India for the first time. These matches were televised for the 1st time in Sri Lanka. People back home got to know our capabilities. Lots of parents were encouraged to send their daughters to play cricket. I feel this was the turning point.
9. What is the biggest challenge still prevalent in the Sri Lankan women’s cricket circuit?
Now, Sri Lankan Cricket has a good structure for school cricket. That was something we lacked earlier.
10. Throw some light on the current domestic structure in Sri Lanka? Highlight some of the tours/tournaments that have helped churn out quality female cricket players?
We have division 1 and division 2 club tournaments once a year. 8 clubs in div 1 and 12 in div 2 participate in this annual tournament. Also we play Provincial 50 overs Tournament and T20 Tournament once a year. This helps to play the best out of all in the country with young talents in every team. It helps to recognize young players who can compete at the next level.
11. Sri Lankan team is a mix of young talents like Nipuni Hansika, Harshita Madavi and experienced players like you, Inoshi Priyadarshani and Chamari Atapattu. How easy/difficult is to align them with the team’s vision and get the best out of these young talents?
All the senior players are really helpful and know how to nurture the young talents. With their association, we groom and guide young players. It’s great to see their commitment towards the game and are always ready to learn, show their skills.
12. Out of 7, Sri Lankan team won 5 matches in the recently concluded qualifiers. What would be your pick from the tournament? Highlight the key-points to accept and reject from it?
We were very upset that we couldn’t make it to the finals in our home conditions. But there were few positives that we can pick and carry in our next tournaments. All the batters did their duty well when needed the most. Also we didn’t depend on any single player. There were 6 to 7 players who contributed consistently. As a young player Nipuni Hansika set a very good example for all the new comers. Also there was an improvement in fitness levels and fielding.
13. The team hasn’t played much in England compared to other teams. Do you think this lack of exposure opens a challenging situation for the team?
We have played in England only in ICC tournaments like world cups. It’s true that we haven’t played there much as a team. But still we have few players in the team who have performed really well in the T20 world Cup 2009, played in England. Also, experience from our coaching staff will definitely count and help us overcome the challenge.
14. Just the second world cup (after 2013) and you have been given the opportunity to lead the tournament this year. How do you look at this opportunity and wish to make the most of it?
As a Captain, it was a huge responsibility on me in the recently concluded World Cup Qualifiers. With the help of my team members and officials, we could do well in the tournament. Similarly, I want to give my best to make the country proud in the world cup 2017. Sri Lanka Cricket has always encouraged me as a Captain. We finished 5th in the 2013 world cup played in India. We want to be in the top 4 this time.
15. What camps/preparatory events are scheduled for the team before the start of World Cup?
At the moment, we are playing our division 1 domestic tournament. Also, we have a practice scheduled for selected 25 players for the world cup. After the domestic tournament, we will play selections and then practice matches against boys once the final squad is announced.
16. How excited are you, respective family members, well wishers, fans and the team for ICC Women’s World Cup 2017?
It is a huge honor for me to lead my country in a mega tournament like Women’s World Cup. My family is really proud of me. I need all the support and blessings from my Team, Officials, Sri Lanka Cricket, SL Navy (my working place) and fans. With your support and our team efforts, I am sure we will finish the world cup on a positive note.
17. Your views on Female Cricket as a platform?
We need attention globally to spread women’s cricket specially in Asian region. Female Cricket team is doing a great work. I wish you all the best.
18. Answer in one-word:
1. Your favorite cricket player?
Shashikala Siriwardena & Suzie Bates
2. Favorite place to visit / hangout spot?
3. Favorite cricket stadium?
R. Premadasa cricket stadium
4. Favorite dish?
Rice with sri lankan curries
5. Favorite movie/show?
Kal ho na ho