22 years back, when a budding Chartered Accountant bumped into a girl wearing whites and carrying a cricket kit bag, little did she know that one day, she would go on to represent India. Known for her hard-hitting ability and her loopy leg spins, she featured in 15 ODIs and a solitary Test match. After hanging up her boots from playing, she took up several coaching assignments, one of which includes working with the Bangladesh Women’s Cricket team.
We are talking about Devieka Palshikar, who graced the Female Cricket feature The Pioneers. During the episode, Female Cricket’s Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the former India all-rounder.
1. How are you keeping yourself busy during the lockdown?
Yoga, meditation, and of course the household chores have kept me busy during the lockdown.
2. Just before the outbreak of COVID-19, you returned from Australia. How was the World T20 experience?
For the first time, we (India) reached the finals of the Women’s T20 World Cup. It was an amazing feeling. Though on the final day, the result didn’t go our way, there were a lot of positives from the tournament, for instance, we had some good individual performances.
3. Going back in time, take us through your early days in cricket.
Growing up with an elder brother, cricket was the game that I took up naturally. I used to play with boys in my gully. One fine day, when I was on my way to college, I saw a girl wearing whites and carrying a big cricket kit bag. I immediately applied brakes to my cycle and stopped to ask her a few questions. Till that time, I had no idea that even girls played cricket.
I asked her, “What do you do?” She answered, “I play cricket and I represent Maharashtra.” You won’t believe the cricket academy where that girl was going was just a kilometer away from my college and I did not even have an iota of idea about it. The girl then said that if you are interested you can come to the ground. I was of course interested, so I bunked my class, just to get a sight of girls playing cricket (smiles).
It was the year 1998. I was in my second year of graduation. I went to PYC gymkhana and to my awe, I saw so many girls playing cricket. That day, trials for Maharashtra U-19 were going on. By the time I reached, the team was announced. After the trials, the same girl introduced me to the coach of the team. He asked me to bat. I was expected to wear leg guards and the other required gear for batting. However, I voiced my feelings and told the coach that I would not be comfortable that way. I went in to bat. The good hand-eye co-ordination that I had developed playing with the boys over so many years, helped me to face women bowlers with ease. I was hitting the ball all around the park. After seeing my batting, sir told me that if I had come half an hour early he would have picked me for the state U-19 team.
4. So, finally, when did you make your debut for Maharashtra?
After the trials and selection of the Maharashtra U-19 team, the girls left for Goa to play west zone tournament. Sir asked me to practice with the other girls at PYC. Maharashtra qualified for the nationals, which was going to be held at Hazaribagh in Bihar (now Jharkhand). This time, I was picked up and I played my first match for Maharashtra U-19 in 1998.
5. At that time, you were pursuing CA. How did you manage cricket and Chartered Accountancy?
Well before thinking of pursuing professional cricket, I had decided to become a Chartered Accountant. I was an average student in school, but the moment I stepped into college, my academic records headed north. I used to score around 80 percent then. I loved Accounting, so I knew somewhere in my heart that I would do something in banking or finance. That’s why I decided to do CA. Honestly, juggling between cricket and CA was difficult, but somehow I managed it, till the day, I was at the crossroads when I had to choose between cricket and CA.
6. How did you take the all-important decision?
I was in the second year of my graduation. I had already completed two years of my CA studies. I was doing my articleship, when I got a call from Air India. Till that time, it was a smooth sail, but I knew that things would get difficult if I try to be in two different boats at the same time. I discussed this with my parents. As always supportive, they stood behind me and asked me to follow my dreams. I chose Air India.
7. How did you make your cut into the star-studded Air India team?
It was Purnima Rao, who saw me in Pune, hitting long sixes and using the long handle at will. Back those days, hitting sixes in women’s cricket was rare. She was impressed with my batting and picked me up for Air India. At that time, there was Anju Jain, Anjum Chopra, and Purnima Rao in the team. That year, seven newcomers joined the team. The Air India days were simply superb. All 15 of us stayed together in a single flat. We shared a good camaraderie with each other, which reflected in our performance.
8. From your domestic career, can you share with us one of the most memorable matches of yours?
I vividly remember my first match for Maharashtra. We went to Hazaribagh for the nationals. It was three-day unreserved train travel. We reached the venue just a night before our match. Immediately, our coach called for a team meeting. Since I had hardly played any matches till then, the concept of team meeting was oblivious to me. We were supposed to play West Bengal the next day. During the meeting, it was discussed, that if we win the toss, we will bat first, and put up anything in excess of 150 in the stipulated 40 overs. If we lose the toss and field first, then we must get them out inside 50 runs.
Honestly, I found all these discussions funny, because, till that day, I thought that cricket is played on the ground and not inside closed doors. The next morning, we lost the toss and were put in the field. I remembered all those words from the coach and I thought we would get them all out inside 50. To our shock, the first wicket partnership was of 50 runs and West Bengal ended up scoring 153 in 40 overs. Our coach was ofcourse not happy with our performance.
While we were returning back to the dressing room, he, pointing towards three girls, said, “50, 50, 50.” I was relieved (smiles). I thought that the top-order would easily chase down the score and I will not get a chance to bat. However, our opposition had some other plans. With Jhulan (Goswami) and Rumeli (Dhar) in the Bengal side, the duo wreaked havoc as they picked up five wickets in 10 overs. The scoreboard read 17-5 in 10 overs. Batting at number seven, I stepped in. Soniya (Dabir), who was our captain, was batting at the other end. While going out to bat, I asked sir, “What should I do?” He just said, “Bat for full 40 overs.”
By then, Jhulan and Rumeli’s spell was almost done and spinners came on. I was more than happy to face the spinners. Soniya and I stitched a solid partnership. We also had one 24-run over. After that over, Soniya got out and I was left to bat with the tail-enders. Still, we fought hard, and in the end, we just fell short of one run. I scored 86 in that match, and though we ended on the losing side, I was awarded the Player of the Match. The very same day, we headed back home.
Waiting for the train in the railway platform, our coach gave me Rs. 80. That was my first earning from cricket and it was truly worth the weight in gold.
9. You started off as a medium pace bowler, but then you transformed into a leg spinner. How did this transformation happen?
I started off as medium pacer but honestly did not have much pace to threaten the batters. I bowled good leg cutters and got most of my wickets in slips. Playing for Air India I hardly got a chance to bowl in matches as we already had four front line seamers. Smita di once asked me, “Why don’t you try leg-spin?” Air India did not have a leg spinner then so I thought it would be a good idea if I can fit the bill. I worked hard on the skill and technique as it was very different from what I used to do. I bowled slow and gave a lot of flight. The batters used to get confused (smiles).
10. In December 2005, you were selected in the Indian team. How was that feeling?
I got a call from Shubhangi (Kulkarni) ma’am and she broke the news of my India selection. I was in the bank at that moment. Somewhere inside me, I was expecting an India call, since, I had a great domestic season that year and I was the highest wicket-taker with 18 wickets. It felt great to have made the cut.
11. How was your debut match for India?
I made my debut on January 2, 2006, against Pakistan. Nooshin was injured and I was given the chance in that game. It was a dream debut as I picked up three wickets. I also bagged the Player of the Match award. That performance also helped me to make my way into the playing XI for the finals (Asia Cup) against Sri Lanka.
12. You also featured in one Test match for India. How was that experience?
Just before leaving for Australia to play the Test match, I suffered from a back injury. It was really bad as I was neither able to sit nor able to lie down. Despite that, I played the Test, however, I went wicketless. I would have had Lisa Sthalekar, but she was dropped off my bowling.
13. After calling it quits from playing cricket, you took up coaching. Can you take us through your coaching journey?
One of my friends asked me whether I would be interested in coaching the Assam team. Honestly coaching was not something that I thought I would be good at, considering that I was a quiet and shy person. I was working with Infosys back then. Once I got the coaching offer, I completed the level 1 coaching. I stood first in that. In 2009, I shifted base to Assam. I was the captain, coach, as well as the team manager. I was there for three years. Then after that, I took a break for a couple of years. I was back in 2013 and this time as the coach of Mumbai. I worked with the Mumbai team for three years. During that period, I also got the chance to be the assistant coach of India in 2014.
Sudha Shah ma’am was the coach. We toured England for a Test series. This was special as we were playing Test cricket after eight years with eight debutants. It was a good series overall. Then in 2016 and 2017, I was with Goa. Those were the best two years of my coaching. I thoroughly enjoyed being with the girls on the field as well as off the field. At present, I am with Baroda.
14. One of the highlights from your coaching assignments is that you were the assistant head coach of Bangladesh. How did you get that opportunity?
Bangladesh happened in 2018. Actually, it came as a surprise. During that time, I was in talks with the Baroda Cricket Association, and it was almost finalized that I would be the coach of Baroda. Out of the blue, I got the Bangladesh opportunity. Honestly, the feelings were mixed. Coaching a foreign country was not even in my wildest dreams. I discussed it with my family. Also, the fact that Anju Jain (Head Coach) and Anuja Dalvi (physio) were going to be a part of the team, gave me confidence.
My first series for Bangladesh was against South Africa. It was horrendous as it was a complete whitewash. We lost the ODI series 5-0 and the T20 series 3-0. Next up we had the Asia Cup. Anju di joined just a month before the Asia Cup. It was a fairly better tournament for us as we managed to beat India for the first time in the competition. Our first match was against Sri Lanka and we lost badly. After that match, we shuffled the batting order and made some strategic changes. The girls adapted to the same and our performance started getting better. Bangladesh’s assignment was a good one and will always remain special for me.
15. Nowadays, there is a lot of media attention garnered by women’s cricket. Do you think this will have an adverse effect on the players’ performance?
Honestly, I feel that if your focus is solely on cricket then these things will not matter. Look at Mithali, she is the best example. She has been there for over 20 years and has actually seen the transition of Indian women’s cricket. Come what may, she has stood there like a solid rock, unaffected by the externalities. She never chased media attention, rather it followed her.
16. What is your ultimate goal?
I want to see the coveted World Cup in my hands. I dreamt of seeing it in my hands as a player, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Now as a coach, I hope my dream comes true soon.