1. Describe the day 23rd July 2017. How was the feeling before and after the World Cup match? Did you sleep that night?
On 23rd July, we all were excited and it was a proud moment for all of us. We all played well but lost to the host with a small margin of 9 runs. We were in winning position until 200 runs. Due to quickly losing wickets, we lost final match. Winning and losing are a part of the game. On the 23rd night, we did not sleep and our dressing room had pin drop silence. Our coach Sir (Tushar Arothe) entered the room with a smile on his face and tried to motivate us. He told us,”you all have played well in World Cup 2017 and don’t worry about losing this match”. It gave us some sort of motivation.
Before world cup, people didn’t know much about Indian Women’s team except few players like Mithali Di, Julan Di, and few others. We received a grand welcome at Mumbai Airport. BCCI felicitated us on the same day. Our Central Sports Minister felicitated all of us. And the unforgettable moment in my life was meeting our Honorable Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi ji at his Dehli residence.
On the day when I reached Bangalore (my home state), I received a grand welcome from my family, friends, and fans. All leading news channel and reporters were waiting for me to know my experience from World Cup. I didn’t expect it before I reached Bengaluru. Now wherever I go, people stop me to take selfies and autographs.
2. You were rested for first few matches but were given an opportunity against New Zealand (your debut world cup match). You grabbed 5 wickets giving just 15 runs, which eventually became your career best bowling figures. What was going through your mind?
I was certain that I will get the chance in a crucial match as I did not get the chance to play in first 5 matches. The match against New Zealand was very crucial for us to qualify for Semifinal. I felt very happy after I got to know that I was playing in this match. Yes, this was my World cup debut match. I focused on my line and length and took 5 wickets. This is my first 5 wicket haul in a one day match and best performance (7.3 Overs, 1 Maiden, 15 runs and 5 wickets). I was able to achieve this because I did not pressurize myself and captain’s confidence in me was immense. I later dedicated this performance to my late father.
3. How was it like playing FINALS of a World Cup match at Lords Stadium? Can it get any better than this?
It was an amazing feeling of playing final match it iconic Lords Stadium. It was a dream come true moment to play at Lords. It was the first time we were playing in front of such a huge crowd of 24K (approximately). We could not even hear each other due to the noise.
4. How does it feel to be the first girl from Bijapur to make it to the national team? How was the response when you reached your home town? Did you expect that much attention?
I was told cricket is not a girl’s game. But my father supported me to become a professional cricketer. I received an unexpected grand welcome at my native place Vijayapur (Bijapur). They call me as the daughter of Bijapur. To appreciate my performance, Patil Honda has gifted me a Honda Activa scooter and our city MLA Mr. M.B. Patil sir has announced to gift me a power steering car worth 5 lakh on 15th August. I am excited to receive my gifts. Bijapur Women’s University, where I studied and local authorities have also invited me as their chief guest.
5. How old were you when you started playing cricket? Walk us through your initial cricket days?
I started playing professional cricket at the age of 16. Before that, I used to play Gully cricket with my father and brothers. My father loved cricket very much and used to play. One day my father came to know that Bijapur Women’s Cricket Club was conducting free training camp for girls. He discussed with the club members and took me and my younger sister Rameshwari to Ambedkar Cricket Ground. On that day, around 200 interested girls turned up for selection. My sister Rameshwari and I got selected for free coaching. It was a happy moment for both of us. This was the beginning of my professional cricket career.
6. Your sister Rameshwari Gayakwad is one of the emerging cricketers from Karnataka. How has she contributed to your cricket success?
Yes, she is playing for Karnataka Women’s team. She has also represented India Green team. She is right-hand bowler and batsman. Rameshwari and I used to reach stadium at 5 am everyday. We both started early morning practices even before our coach turned up at the nets. This was helping to practice more than others which helped me improve my bowling day by day. Rajeshwari is also a good friend and a lovely sister.
7. Who were your cricket role model/inspiration whilst growing up?
My role model is Ravindra Jadeja and my inspiration is my Father.
8. How was women’s cricket perceived in Bijapur when you started playing 6-8 years ago? Has it changed now?
When I started playing cricket, there were not too many people aware of women’s cricket. They thought that we are playing cricket for fun. Since last few years, people here in Bijapur city have started watching and following women’s cricket. This is a good sign for the growth of women’s cricket in Bijapur.
9. Javelin and discus thrower; also a volleyball player in early days. When did you realize that you have to take up cricket seriously and play for Team India?
I used to play Javelin and discus throw; Kho-Kho and volleyball in school days. Whenever I saw someone playing cricket, I too felt like playing. I used to wonder how fast bowlers were running and delivering those quicker-ones. When I joined cricket club and got selected for Karnataka Women’s team after few years, I realized my potential and that I can continue cricket and play for Team India.
10. When and how did you come to know about your selection in the national ODI team against Sri Lanka series? Could you recall the moment and describe it in words?
My coach Kalpana Ma’am called me and told me that I was selected for India Women’s team. I did not believe her for a moment. I started jumping with joy and happiness. I was on cloud nine. I called up my dad and told him that I was selected for the national team. He was very happy and advised me to practice more before the matches. I started getting calls from friends, coaches and well wishers to congratulate me. Some newspapers had also contacted me to cover my journey.
11. You have played in all 3 formats: 30 ODIs, 1 Test and 13 T20I. Which format have you enjoyed the most and why?
I enjoyed bowling in nets. I used to bowl 30-35 overs continuously. I enjoyed Test format the most since in Test matches a bowler can ball “n” number of overs. It will reflect the true potential of any bowler. So far, I have played only one test match against New-Zealand team. However, I enjoyed ODI’s and T20 as well.
12. How special was your debut ODI Match against Sri Lanka women on Jan 19, 2014. You took 2 wickets in your debut game.
I was very confident while playing my first match against Sri-Lanka. Normally, I don’t take pressure. This helps me focus in my bowling line and length. In this match, I did the same thing. Yes, it was a debut match but I played my game and I took 2 wickets in that match. I bowled 7.3 over, 3 maidens and gave 11 runs. My first international wicket was of SS Weerakkody’s.
13. Take us through the difficult times you and your family has been through in your early years of cricket given limited resources in hand.
I come from a poor family. My father was a teacher in Government Primary school. When I got selected for Karnataka Team, I did not have white trouser and white T-shirt. My father bought a second-hand trouser and got it altered. I managed my school white shirt instead of white T-shirt. Whenever I recall those struggle days, I am bound to cry, tears they come automatically. I faced a lot of financial problems. My biggest loss in my life was my father’s death. That was the most difficult moment of my life. Before that my father used to take care of all my needs. My father taught me how to manage situations in limited resources and it is helping me in life and cricket.
14. It is said that Basavaraj Ijeri, the head of the women’s wing at the cricket facility setup at the Ambedkar ground in Bijapur spotted your talent. Who else has contributed to your success?
Yes, Basavaraj Ijeri Sir was head of Bijapur Women’s Cricket Club. Apart from Basavaraj Ijeri Sir, Ashok Jadhav Sir, Saleem T T Sir, Shridhar Joshi Sir, Kalal Sir and AG Patel Sir were the key persons of the club and they have taught me the basics of Cricket which is helping me through out my cricket career. I started playing cricket as a medium fast bowler. That time my idol was Zahir Khan. But due to my height and lack of strength, I was unable to maintain the pace and line. Then Ashok Jadhav Sir advised me to learn spin bowling. I felt bad for that day, but my father convinced me to follow my coach instructions. It was a complete change in my game. After I got selected in Karnataka Women’s team and got guidance of Kalpana Venkatacharya madam, Shantha Rangswamy madam, and Gayathri Madam, my professional cricket improved drastically. I am grateful to have them as my coaches. Apart from the coaches, my two best friends Rakshitha (Karnataka Women’s Team captain) and Vandana (Karnataka Women’s player) have helped me a lot. I am lucky to have friends like these.
15. Sports run deep in Gayakwad family and your dad has been the best inspiration for family members. Do you miss him?
My dad was a good cricketer and a Yoga teacher. My elder sister Bhuvaneshwari represented State Hockey team. My younger brother Kashinath is a professional Tabla player and has won 3 state awards. One more younger brother Vishwanath is a Badminton player. I always miss my father. I miss him every day, every minute, every moment.
16. Given the tremendous performance by our Indian team at the World Cup, the limelight has shifted towards us. People have started talking about women’s cricket in India. What do you feel should be done next?
You are right! Before World Cup, not too many people knew us. After the performance at the World cup, wherever we go people are recognizing us, talking to us, following us and trying to take selfies which is motivating us to perform better and better in every match I play. I’m sure other players are feeling the same.
17. Your thoughts on our platform – Female Cricket?
The platform is good. My humble request to BCCI would be to start Women’s IPL so that other players can also get the opportunity.