It is often said that everything happens for a reason. Imagine if this Maharashtra’s ace speedster would not have been forced a one-year break from academics while pursuing engineering, she would probably not have played cricket at the professional level. At the age of 25, she hit the headlines with her performance in the recently concluded senior women’s T20 league 2021-22 when she gave the batters a run for their money with her fiery bowling.
Female Cricket got in touch with Maharashtra’s pace sensation, Shraddha Pokharkar to know more about her cricketing journey and future plans.
Tell us about your childhood, your family, and your early days of cricket.
I was born and brought up in Thorandale, a village that is 70 kilometers away from Pune. At home, I have my parents, elder brother, and older sister. My father is a farmer and my mother is a homemaker. Growing up I played cricket with my brother. We played with a tennis ball. Till my 12th standard, I only played with a tennis ball as there was not much awareness in my hometown about cricket and coaching academies. I also completed my schooling and junior college at Thorandale and later moved to Pune to pursue Computer Engineering at D.Y. Patil College of Engineering. It was actually after 12th standard I started playing cricket with a leather ball. I played cricket for D.Y.Patil in the first year and had some good performances to my name. However, I was forced to take an academic break after my first year of engineering and that year changed everything for me.
What did you do in that one year of forced break?
Since I had performed well in inter-college cricket tournaments, my friends suggested that I should join a cricket academy where I could seek formal training. I gave it a thought and decided to go for selection trials at Dilip Vengsarkar cricket academy which is in Pune. I discussed this with my parents and they were very supportive of my decision. Right from my childhood, they gave me all the freedom and encouraged me to do whatever I liked.
At Dilip Vengsarkar academy, I met Mohan Jadhav sir, who became my first coach. To date, I continue to practice under him. During the selection trials, sir was impressed with my bowling. Honestly, I loved batting more than bowling but sir told me that being a left-arm seamer would give me an edge as I go ahead in cricket. That was also the first time when I played with a leather ball. It was different and at the same time difficult. However, I was determined to give my best.
When did you break into the Maharashtra state team?
I was selected for the Maharashtra U23 team first. Just prior to the team announcement, Jadhav sir had given my name for the PDCA (Pune District Cricket Association) matches that were played in Dhule. The state selectors were present during those matches. I had a good run with the ball and on the back of my performance, I was selected for Maharashtra U23. Though I didn’t get a chance to make my debut that year, I was selected for the Maharashtra state senior camp and I finally made my debut in the 2018-19 season.
Which has been your favorite performance to date?
My favorite performance so far has been the one that came against Baroda in Pune during the senior women’s one-day tournament in 2019-20. It was just my second match for the Maharashtra senior team. I opened the bowling and picked up 3-38 in 10 overs, including two maidens. Yastika Bhatia was one of the three scalps that I took that day.
Recently you featured in the senior women’s T20 league. How was the experience of playing in the tournament?
It was a great experience. Also, the fact that Smriti led and gave the team a lot of confidence. She allowed each and every player to express themselves on the field and encouraged us to play fearless cricket. I learned many things from her including field settings, strategies, etc. We enjoyed each other’s company and didn’t even realize that we had reached the finals. Smriti kept the team environment very relaxed.
You will be next seen in the Women’s T20 Challenge 2022. How excited are you?
The day I came to know about my selection in the Trailblazers team for the Women’s T20 Challenge, I was very happy. I shared the good news with my family and their joy knew no bounds. Honestly, I didn’t expect this. I am eagerly looking forward to playing in this tournament. The fact that I will be again playing under the captainship of Smriti gives me confidence. I want to learn a lot from the other players with whom I would get a chance to interact through the tournament.
Which area of your game would you like to work on in the future?
I would like to work on my fitness going forward and my ultimate aim is to play for India and win the World Cup for the country.
What is your message to the young girls based out of small towns like yours who are just starting out to play cricket?
Have the self-belief and confidence to play at the highest level. There is no substitute for hard work. Keep working hard and grab any opportunity that is presented to you with both hands.
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.