Juggling between cricket practice and being a domestic help, this talented all-rounder from Andhra Pradesh has raised many eyebrows. Dropping out of school after completing just her fifth standard, she was determined to make it big in the sport, which her father loved the most. In an exclusive chat with Female Cricket, CH Jhansi Lakshmi opened up about her humble beginnings and her drive to play cricket at the highest level.
At what age did you start playing cricket?
I started playing cricket at the age of five. My father, Challa Venkateswara, loves cricket and it was because of him that my elder sister and I picked up the sport. Though my sister did not pursue cricket as she was more interested in academics, I took up the game full-time. I started playing on the roadside with the boys. Sometimes, my father, who works as a construction site worker, would give me throwdowns with the tennis ball. This continued for a couple of years until one of the boys from my area, Shaikh Mohammad Salim, told me about a cricket academy. The academy was about four kilometers from my home. I met Mastan Reddy sir there, who was my first coach. To date, he continues to be my coach.
Tell us about your family background and how did they support you in your cricket?
I was raised by my father single-handedly. I lost my mother when I was very young. My father shouldered the responsibility of my sister and me perfectly well. Though we could barely meet both ends, he never made us feel short of anything. Due to our modest financial background, I dropped out of school after completing my fifth standard. After dropping out, my routine, was cricket practice in the morning between 8 am and 12noon, then domestic chores of my home as well as other houses in my area, followed by cricket practice again between 3 pm and 7.30 pm. To contribute to the finances, I worked in different houses, at some places, I did utensils and at some places, I did the cooking.
With respect to my cricket practice, usually, I went alone to the ground. I would walk eight kilometers every day to reach the ground. Sometimes, my father would accompany me. He provided complete support to me and always encouraged me to play the sport. Through me, he was living his dream of playing cricket formally. He still continues to support me financially. Every year he deposits Rs. 50,000 in my bank account, which helps me to pay my hostel fees, gym fees, and other expenses.
When did you break into the Andhra state team?
I was selected in the Andhra U-19 team in 2012. I was 14 years old. Just a year back, when I was 13, I underwent appendix surgery. I thought that it would be difficult to make a comeback. However, I was determined to put in those hard yards. I was happy to have made the cut for the state U-19 team a year later. I started off as a left-arm unorthodox bowler, however, I transitioned into a right-arm off-spinner to meet the demands of the team as there was no off-spinner in the line-up. It was a smooth process. Gradually as years rolled by, I played at the U-23 and senior level. I have been a part of the Challenger Trophy five times in the age-group cricket, including once in U-19 and four times in U-23.
So far, I have had some good domestic seasons. I have won the best all-rounder award in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. 2015 was a year of mixed feelings for me.
I had an ordinary outing in the U-19 tournament that year but in a month’s time, things turned around as I had a superb season playing the senior women’s tournaments. At that time, I realized that one can always change things for the better if one has the right mindset. I think because of my humble family background, I advertently or inadvertently grew up with a strong mindset, which helped me in cricket too.
Can you tell us about your most memorable performance to date?
Till 2015, I was a right-arm off-spinner and a middle-order bat. In 2016, in an unexpected turn of events, my journey as an opening bat started. We (Andhra) were playing against Karnataka, a side boasting of Indian players like Veda Krishnamurthy and Vanitha VR. Our regular openers were not very confident to face the Karnataka new ball bowlers. At that time, I asked the coach, whether I can go up the order and open the batting. Since the openers were skeptical to open the batting, I was given the chance. In that match, I scored 54 runs. In the same match, I picked up 5-12 in 10 overs and helped my team defend a low target of 100-odd runs.
Who is your role model?
I look up to MS Dhoni. I like his cool and composed attitude on the field.
You were recently featured in the Challenger Trophy. How was the experience of playing in this tournament?
This was my second senior woman one day Challenger Trophy. It was a wonderful experience and the fact that we (India A) ended winning the tournament made it sweeter. I had a good outing with the bat as I scored 146 runs in four matches, including the best of 64 in the all-important final against India D. Though I was happy with my batting, I wish I could have had a better performance with the ball. I bowled just six overs in two out of the four matches.
There were many learnings from the tournament. Playing alongside some of the best women cricketers of India, you need to have a strong mindset. I am happy that I could put up a fighting show in front of the big guns. Also, your fitness levels need to be at their peak if you have to challenge the top players. Thus, I feel mindset and fitness, apart from your skill, ofcourse, are essential for success at the highest level.
What message would you like to give the girls who are just starting out to play cricket?
I would just to like that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication. If you play the game following these two simple principles then you are likely to scale greater heights.
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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.