Interview with Gargi Banerji, former Indian national player

Gargi Banerji, the opener and the off spin bowler who played for Bengal and later represented India as well, worked as the chairman of the women selection committee till 2014. In an recent interview with Female Cricket, veteran player Gargi talked about her journey as cricketer and an administrator, compared her time with the present scenario and shared her thoughts about the present national cricket team, world cup and the most demanded women’s IPL.

1. In early 70’s -80’s, when cricket was not as popular as it is now how did you get into the game?
I was a mischievous girl and an avid sports lover. I had broken innumerable glasses of my house. And that’s why my parents decided to send me to YWCA (Young Women Christian Association). There I used to play Badminton, basket-ball and then started to play football as well. Then one day I saw there was a public notice about the cricket trial for the women in news paper. I used to play cricket with my brother at home and I didn’t possessed any kind of technic, but I used to be brave player who never feared by the fact that I can be get hurt by the ball. Though I didn’t had a very good idea about cricket, I went to the trial and did well, and got selected for the camp. But my father thought that neither I had any knowledge about cricket nor had the technic to play well, so I should join the cricket coaching camp. So I joined a coaching center to sharpen my skill in 1976. Then I played the zonal championship and within 2 years I was selected in the national side for the 1978 World Cup. Thus my journey began which continued till 1991.

2. In general cricket is called the game of men. Did you faced any problems when you started playing cricket?
No. I was mad at the game and as mentioned earlier, my family was very supportive. They never restricted me to play any sports. My father encouraged me to play all kind of sports and even when I used to play in Maidan, many people, usually passer-by used to stop, watch our game. I used to return by bus to my home and many of my co-passengers used to ask if I play cricket and my whereabouts. So I neither, by the family nor socially was abandoned for playing cricket, ‘a gentle men game’. Despite it being a male oriented sport, my brother always encouraged me in my early days of playing. 

Gargi Banerji with Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami

3. Do you see any social change from that time to this time?
Cricket has become more advanced and technologically superior as compared with our time. Players are taking it as a career more often and parents are supporting them well. Though there are some changes here and there but I don’t think these are big changes socially. Changes came in the sphere of globalization and commercialization and in the case of media coverage, which we didn’t get that much when we used to play. People are now more aware about the game than before.

4. You played 1978, 1982 world cup but India missed 1988 despite doing well. Why?
Honestly speaking, I still don’t know the reason. The preparatory camp was scheduled and we prepared really well. The team was set and the captain was selected. But at the last moment, we were notified that the team is not going. May be it is related to fund.

Indian women's cricket team 1978 / 1982

5. Which is your most memorable cricket memory till date?
I got selected for the 1978 World-Cup and played 1982 World-Cup as well. Besides that in Blackpool I made 74 in the first innings against England. I was playing well in that innings and I was pretty sure that I will end up with my first century. But at 74, I cut a ball which took the inside edge of the bat and the fielder at point took an absolute stunner. That day, I realized that Gargi Banerji is made to play cricket not to create records. All these memories I cherish the most.

6. How much difficult was pursuing women cricket in 80’s and 90’s as a career?

I personally never started to play cricket because of the lure of the central government job. And I think no one ever did. We used to play cricket, driven by our passion. As we played as a professional cricketer, it was the passion for the game that got the first priority to us. I got my first job contract at the cricket field by Madahavrao Sindhia. He was so impressed by my batting that she gave me first job offer from the ground.

Cricket was earlier subjected as a career then. Men knew that if they play well they can get a job with the central government but Women came to the game driven by their love for the game.

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Gargi Banerji with Aakash Chopra

7. Has the scenario changed from your time to present time as far as Women cricket or pursuing women cricket in concerned?
The scenario definitely has changed. Now women cricket can be regarded as a career option by the ladies. Players have become more professional than previous time, they are put under the central contract as well. Matches are being televised very often, they are now given entry to the National Cricket Association, NCA. Besides globalization and the commercialization of the game, fueled the flame. To sum up, if not like their men counterparts, still women cricket has raised the bar to be considered as a viable career option today.

8. When you used to play, say in 1978 world cup, 5 players from Bengal made it to the world cup squad. Even in 2005 world cup, apart from Jhulan, we saw Priyanka Roy and Rumeli Dhar representing the nation. But nowadays you will see handful of women cricketers making it to the national squad. What do you think is the reasons behind this ?
I think the main reason behind this is their lack of gut, zeal, consistency and performance as a team in the national and zonal championship. Unless they perform well as a team and as an individual, its quite impossible to get a chance in the national team because the competition is tougher now. At the same time, these players need to become strong mentally which is very important in modern day cricket.

9.What do you think about the present status of Bengal women cricket scenario as a whole?

Its quite difficult for me to make any comment here as I didn’t work with the CAB. But Bengal women cricketers need to work a lot if they want to see themselves in the map of Indian cricket. I feel that they need to take care of themselves, so that they don’t get injured very often and they need to perform well when it matters the most, mainly in the domestic championship. That’s the only way they will come under the vision of the selectors. Besides they need to be more consistent against the strong opponents. And at the same time, the administrators need to look into the matters. In place of district-based tournaments from where the female cricketers gets the limelight and under the central pool of the CAB, they can create club cricket culture like men. Only then they would be able to evaluate their strength and weakness and can prosper based on this strategy.

10. What is your take on role of BCCI regarding the Women Cricket? In which areas they can improve?
BCCI really played a huge role in shaping women’s cricket. Indian women cricket has come a long way from what it was during WCAI. During WCAI there were only camps. But After the BCCI took over, the WCAI women cricketers were given opportunities to train and rehabilitation facilities in NCA, with high class facilities. Though in low number, but under BCCI women cricket is getting televised. Women Cricketers have been taken under the central contract where they now need not think about money, they can concentrate on their games. Ex Indian women cricketers who didn’t even played for BCCI, received pensions and were felicitated during the recent IPL. Women are playing more matches than before and there series don’t get cancelled due to the lack of money.

Gargi Banerji with Indian women's cricket team

Having said that, BCCI need to work a lot. The growth is rather slow than other improved countries. BCCI need to look into the matters like formatting the domestic women tournaments in much better way. To improve in tests, BCCI need to increase the number of games in domestic circuit. In the zonal games final can be a four day game instead of three. At primary level BCCI can start thinking about the women’s IPL with rather less number of teams. If the initiative gets successful, they can think about the next IPL in a bigger way. Though BCCI are doing really well in the sphere of women’s cricket, we need not to become impatient and need to give time to BCCI. As mentioned earlier, success is a process which can’t be achieved in a short span.

11. What do you think about the present status of India women cricket team? Do you think the team is ready to overcome the void of senior players like Mithali or Jhulan in next 3 years or so if they retire?

Indian women cricket team is really in a good hand. They are playing well since the Australia Series last year, where they defeated Aussies in the t-20 series. But especially they have been in tremendous from since last October where they whitewashed West Indies, won the Asia Cup, captured ICC Women’s qualifier and now the Quadrangular tournament. And the team showed that it is not dependent on any particular individual as every other player has contributed when the team needed most.

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Both Jhulan and Mithali have been playing for almost two decades and their service for the country is already in the pages of history. One is the highest wicket taker in ODI and one is on the verge to become the highest run getter in ODI. So their void will not easy to fill. Besides in the last 2/3 years, many young players like Smriti Mandhana, Veda, Harmanpreet, Devika, Deepti and Mona Meshram all have showed their true potential in the international cricket. If these youngsters get regular opportunity, proper guidance, maintain their focus and if they don’t get bogged down with their initial success or defeat they will deliver bests to the women national team. We also need to give these young stars a good time to settle as success is a long time process.

Gargi Banerji with Harmanpreet Kaur

When I was the chairman of the selection committee, I gave youngsters chances not only because they performed really well in the domestic circuit but because I felt that the more number of matches they play, the more they will understand the difference between domestic and international circuit and they can mould themselves according to it.

12. What is your view about the team that is selected for the women’s world cup 2017? Would you like to choose your favourite XI from the squad?
The team is quite good, looking at their present form. It is a balanced side which have the experience of the seniors as well as the youthfulness of the newcomers. We have four openers, a solid, settled middle order, a bunch of spinning all-rounders and the combination of Jhulan, Sikha Pandey and Mansi Joshi to spearhead the seaming attack. I don’t feel that an extra pacer is needed. With so much variety in the spin bowling department, it will be sufficient to restrict the opponent, looking at their recent forms.

My dream XI would be-
1) Smriti Mandhana 2) Punam Raut 3) Deepti Sharma 4) Mithali Raj 5) Harmanpreet Kaur 6) Veda Krishnamurthy 7) Jhulan Goswami 8) Sikha Pandey 9) Nuzhat Parween 10) Ekta Bisht 11) Poonam Yadav.

13. What are the chances of Indian women team as far as winning the world cup is concerned? What are the things they need to keep in mind in England to play well?
The form the national side has projected for last 2/3 months, keeping this in mind, I must say India has a huge chance to lift the World Cup if they maintain the same intensity.

I sincerely feel that the main problem in women team lies in their mind. They have beaten all the team over the world here and there in last decade. But they failed to fulfill the expectation in the big arenas. They were unable to handle the pressure and while playing in the World Stage where so many people are watching you. There was individual performances, but they failed to work as a team in both 2013 and 2016 world cup. So if they keep all these thing in mind and if they cope with the situation and pressure which arises when one play in such a level, I am sure that they will do well. And if they achieve something really well, maybe we can see Women’s IPL. You never know. But for his they need to do good in this World Cup, which I believe they will.

14. Who are your favourite players from your generation and from this time?
I used to admire Gundappa Viswanath when I used to play and now a days I like the batting of Virat Kohli. Among the women cricketers I like to see Meg Lanning’s batting. The way she bats is mesmerizing to watch.

15. What is your view regarding Female cricket as a platform?
It’s a fantastic page covering women cricket not only of India but at the same time from all over the world. The interviews which have published in the page is worth reading. The authors are doing well to point out some true but neglected fact about the women’s cricket. It’s good to see so many news about women cricket under one roof. I appreciate the work and my best wishes for this initiative.

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