The charismatic captain and a dazzling all-rounder of the Jharkhand state cricket team, who recently steered her team to the finals of the senior women’s one-day tournament, has been a part of the Indian domestic circuit for more than a decade. The 35-year old is a classic mix of talent and experience and has been a role model in her own right.
Female Cricket got in touch with Niharika Prasad, left-hand bat and right-arm leg spinner, who muscled 202 runs and scalped nine wickets in eight matches during the recently concluded domestic competition.
Take us through your early days in cricket.
I started playing cricket with boys in my colony when I was around 11 years old. Back then, a girl playing cricket with boys raised many eyebrows. My mother, who brought me up alone, had to also answer the questions asked by society. But I am grateful to my maternal grandfather, maternal uncle, and of course my mother for being supportive and encouraging me to play cricket. Playing with boys in the colony continued for some time till a lady made an announcement in my school about cricket coaching for girls on nearby ground. I enrolled myself there and in the very next year itself, I was selected for Jharkhand’s U-16, U-19, and senior team. Since then I have been a constant feature in the Jharkhand state side. I used to be an opening bat and right arm leg spinner.
How did you feel about getting the state captainship?
I had been the captain earlier as well but it was on and off. In the last four years, however, I have been the captain on a consistent basis. It is a matter of pride that since I took over we have qualified every season. It is very clear for me that I play to win and I try to tell my team members the same. There is no friend or foe on and off the field. We play as a team and I guess that has worked well for us in the recent past.
Talk us through Jharkhand’s journey to the finals of senior women’s one-day tournament.
I am very happy with the way we played. Every game we had a different match-winner. We were united as a team and I feel that was our strength. Till the semi-finals, we were really good but in the finals, I feel there was some pressure on the team since we were playing the mighty Railways, which boasts of Indian players like Mithali Raj, Punam Raut, among many. Though I had played against them in the past, some of my teammates, who are still young played against the stalwarts for the first time. So, the pressure on them was understandable. However, the key is to learn from such matches and improve your game to take it to another level. Though we lost the finals, we gained many learnings. Off the field, we were blessed to have a coach like Mr. Ratan Kumar, a level 2 coach, who is also associated with Dhoni’s cricket academy. Sir along with assistant coach Ms. Seema Singh trained us well and helped us improve our performance. Our trainer Mr. Pramod Kumar Singh and our physio Ms. Prachi Lotlikar were our pillars of strength as they strived to keep us fit and match ready. In addition, administrators like Mr. P.N. Singh and Mr. Amitabh Choudhary have been supportive throughout. They organized camps and matches which benefited us in the recently concluded senior women’s one-day tournament.
How is cricket coming up among girls in Jharkhand?
In Jharkhand, there is an increasing trend seen in the number of girls picking up cricket. We have a good domestic structure and Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) has left no stone unturned in developing women’s cricket. The world-class infrastructure and the state-of-the-art facilities provided to female cricketers encourage more and more girls to take up cricket as a profession. We have intra-state cricket tournaments like Seema Desai Cricket Tournament, Jharkhand Premier League (JPL), among many, which help to unearth the local talent. The girls get a chance to play alongside the state players and such tournaments serve as a good learning curve. This year the inaugural JPL which was played in Ranchi was shown live on Fan code garnered many eyeballs.
What message would you like to give to girls who are just starting out to play cricket?
I would advise them to concentrate on basics, work on their skills and place paramount importance on fitness. Fitness is something that will help them to play for a longer period of time. Additionally, understand the weaknesses. Every player has certain shortcomings but a great player is the one who works on her weaknesses and comes out strong. Apart from these, try to play as many matches as possible because only match practice will help you to absorb the game pressure and perform well in competitive matches.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.