“Captaining Sikkim has been an amazing experience” says Sarika Koli

Having played professional cricket for over a decade, this talented all-rounder from Mumbai has grabbed many eyeballs, thanks to her outstanding achievements over the years. First Mumbai, then Railways and now Sikkim, the 26-year old has simply gone from strength to strength.

Female Cricket got in touch with this dashing all-rounder, Sarika Koli who scored 222 runs in six matches, including one unbeaten century, and picked up four wickets, in the recently concluded senior women’s one-day tournament.

 

Female Cricket interviews Sarika Koli
Female Cricket interviews Sarika Koli

 

Tell us about your early days in cricket

I started playing cricket at the age of 10 with boys in Govandi, Mumbai. Then I went to Kalina, Santa Cruz for a practice where I was coached by Arti Vaidya ma’am and Swati Patil ma’am. Knocking on the doors of Mumbai U-19 for five years, I finally broke through in 2010. I was supposed to make my debut for Mumbai U-19 against Gujarat but that match was washed out and so were my chances of playing in the rest of the tournament. Next year again I was picked up for Mumbai U-19 as a middle-order bat and right arm quickie. I had some good performances with the bat in 2011, based on which I was promoted to being an opener in 2012. I opened with Hemali Borwankar and together we had some good opening stands. That year, we became the champions. In the same year, I was selected for the India U-19 camp in Guntur. After that, I made my debut for the senior Mumbai team and played till 2014.

After playing for Mumbai for around five years, you moved to Railways. How did that happen?

In 2015, I got the job of a junior TC with the Central Railways. Between 2015 and 2020 I represented Indian Railways. I was also the captain of the Indian Railways U-23 side from 2015 to 2017 and led the team to championships on two out of three occasions. I opened the batting as well in 2016, 2017, and 2018. It was a matter of pride for me to captain Indian Railways, a team that has dominated the women’s domestic cricket in India.

Also having the likes of players such as Mithali Raj, Punam Raut and other Indian stalwarts around offered a great source of learning, inspiration, and motivation. The senior players were very supportive and I enjoyed my stint in Indian Railways.

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Sarika Koli with the Coaching and Support Staff of Railways Women's Cricket Team
Sarika Koli with the Coaching and Support Staff of Railways Women’s Cricket Team

 

You also played for India A for three years. Can you tell us about that?

I played for India A in 2015, 2017, and 2018. In 2015, we played against New Zealand, in 2017 against South Africa, and in 2018 against Australia. It was an incredible learning experience playing against these strong sides. There is a lot to learn from them. I was especially inspired by the kind of mental and physical strength that those teams possess. Also, the fact that they play a fearless brand of cricket struck a chord with me.

In between playing for Railways and India A, when did you decide to play for Sikkim?

After some wonderful outings with Indian Railways, towards the latter half of my stint, I seldom got chances to play in the first XI. I was there with the squad but I did not get much game time. Therefore, I decided to take a NOC from Railways which would then allow me to play for a different team, but continue working for Central Railways.

After moving out of Railways, I went to play for Sikkim. By this time I had gained experience of playing for big teams like Mumbai and Railways but I had never tasted cricket in a comparatively smaller state. So, Sikkim happened in 2021.

How was the experience of playing for Sikkim and also leading the side?

It has been an amazing experience playing for Sikkim and captaining the side. The culture and people there are very good. Initially, the other girls in the team, who are young and relatively new to the game took a while to break the ice with me, but in a matter of a few days, we built a strong rapport. Now we share a strong camaraderie with each other. The girls are very enthusiastic and they are very eager to learn and be better at the sport. In addition to the players, the support staff, trainers, physios, and the state cricket association authorities are all very amicable and friendly. Moving out of your comfort zone is never easy, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank Amol Ghag sir from Central Railways who has played a pivotal part in the all-round development of girls.

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You scored an unbeaten century against Jammu Kashmir in the recently concluded senior women’s one-day tournament. How did that feel?

Our team was tottering at 3-12 in 4.5 overs when I went in to bat. At that time my only aim was to play long innings and save the team from a collapse. I batted for 45 overs and stitched a crucial partnership of 88 runs with Purni Maya Guruny. Though Purni contributed just 24, she gave me good support as she was out there in the middle for almost 22 overs with me. It felt great to lead from the front and score a century for the team, especially when the chips were down.

Now that the tournament is over, what are your future plans?

Honestly, I have no idea how things will pan out. I am back in Mumbai and have resumed work with Central Railways as well. Let’s see if all goes well, I will play the next season for Sikkim.

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