She played cricket for Punjab, she played cricket for Mumbai and now she plays cricket for Canada. This dashing all-rounder made her international debut at the age of 46 and has proved that age is just a number. In an exclusive interview with Female Cricket, Sonali Chandok Vig takes us through her cricketing journey from the maidans of Punjab to the dressing room of Canada.
You made your T20I debut at the age of 46 during the recently concluded 2021 ICC Women’s World T20 Americas Region Qualifier. How did it feel to debut for Canada?
I know it is hard to digest for anyone that how could a female cricketer debut at the international level at the age of 46. But I can say to get this opportunity at this stage and age, I really worked hard not only on my game but also on my fitness, right from the day I landed in Canada.
You are the 10th oldest player to debut in women’s T20I.
Oh really! I didn’t know about this. The fact that I am one of the oldest cricketers in the women’s game to make an international debut shows that if you have passion and dedication for the game, then age is just a number.
How difficult is it to match with the girls, almost half your age, playing in the same team?
Sometimes it may be difficult to match the fitness level of the young girls in the team. But with the kind of experience that I have had playing in India, comes to my rescue. I have been working hard on my fitness so that I can match atleast 75% with young girls.
In the ICC Women’s T20 America Qualifiers that was played in October this year, you picked up two wickets with your off-spin. What made you choose off-spin?
Actually, when I started bowling, I had a long run-up. I used to come running in from a distance and deliver the ball. The ball instead of seaming and swinging used to spin. Seeing this my coach from the Punjab state team, asked me to pursue spin bowling. From that day onwards, I started bowling off-spin.
You played all six matches for Canada in the ICC event. How was the experience of playing against Argentina, Brazil and the USA in the competition?
It was really exciting to play in the ICC Women’s T20 America Qualifiers. I had lots of fun playing alongside the young bunch of girls. It was a great learning experience too as I could take some insights from players of other countries.
Can you tell us about your early days in cricket?
I started playing cricket at the age of 10. I used to go on the ground for cricket practice with my brother. This continued for a few days, which encouraged me to pursue cricket professionally. Soon I started representing the district and later played for Punjab. I represented Punjab at U-19 as well as senior level. I also played for North Zone as an all-rounder.
In 1995, I bagged a job with the Western Railways. Shifting my base from Punjab to Mumbai, I started playing for Mumbai and later for West Zone. I played till 2004. My last match was for Board President’s XI against New Zealand.
It was really great experience playing at the national level for nearly 16 years of my life. Playing for different teams gave me a lot of exposure and also taught me how to handle critical match situations.
After hanging up your boots from playing cricket, you started cricket coaching. Tell us about that.
I stopped playing after I got married but cricket was still alive inside me so I started my career as a cricket coach in Swami Vivekanand School in Mumbai. There I taught the girls about the basics of cricket. I also coached at Payyade cricket club (Mumbai) and conducted MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) summer camps for girls. I am a BCCI Level 2 certified coach.
Apart from playing and coaching, you donned an administrative role, being the state selector Mumbai U-19 girls. Can you tell us about this shift from playing to coaching to becoming a state selector?
First, playing cricket, then coaching, and finally taking up an administrative role, I was able to complete the circle of cricket. Being a selector for Mumbai U-19 women’s team was a challenging task. Selecting the best girls from a big pool was difficult. But I tried my best to bring the best girls to the fore.
In 2016, you moved to Canada and began your coaching journey there with British Colombia. How challenging was that, given that you were new to the scene?
After moving to Canada in 2016, my biggest fear was that how I will keep myself busy. While thinking about ways to keep me busy, cricket came to my mind. I searched online for cricket coaching opportunities and came across West Vancouver Club. The Club was looking for a coach to train their women’s team. I approached them and I was called as a volunteer coach.
Meanwhile, I also played BCMCL (British Columbia Mainland Cricket League) representing Division 7 boys’ team. I also got the chance to lead the team later. I have been performing well with both bat and ball in that tournament. Last year, I won the best bowler award for my division. I had accounted for eight wickets.
I feel playing with boys is difficult but not impossible. Apart from this, I have also captained the women’s team of BC province.
I am also the official coach for Cricket BC (British Columbia) and I constantly endeavor to promote women’s cricket in my province. Mr. Rashpal Bajwa and Mr. Amjad Bajwa from BC gave me this opportunity and I am grateful to them for having confidence in me.
How is cricket in Canada different from India?
Cricket in Canada is quite different from that of India, especially infrastructure-wise. Also, back in India, we have many girls playing the sport. In Canada, at present, there are few girls who are taking up cricket as a profession, but this number is steadily increasing. Cricket Canada is working hard to promote women’s cricket in the country.
What are your future plans?
In the future, I see myself as a coach. I want to impart whatever knowledge that I have gained over the years of playing and share my experiences with the budding cricketers. Apart from coaching, I am also interested in umpiring. I have completed my Level 1 umpiring from Cricket Canada. I hope that you will see me either as a coach or as an umpire at the international level soon.
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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.