In today’s time, a lot of girls look at professional cricket as a career option. But even 10 years back, very few would have imagined doing the same. Most young girls, back then, picked up the bat or the leather ball and hustled day and night just for the love of the game – because they were passionate about it, not expecting anything in return.
Today we spoke to a cricketer who has a similar story. At the age of 33, she’s easily one of the most experienced players at DDCA. One who will definitely leave you inspired. Here’s Lalita Sharma, in an exclusive chat with Female Cricket.
When did you take up cricket?
I used to play gully cricket as a kid, but professionally, I started playing cricket when I joined college. Actually, there was just one college near my place – SPM College. Cricket was one of the sports taught there so that’s how I took it up.
Did you play other sports as well? How did you choose cricket over others?
Yes, I was a Karate player and I have played till the international level. In college, I played handball as well, I represented my university and went to the national level. I played almost all sports in college. Be it football, handball, softball or anything else. Finally, I chose cricket because I could see a future in the game, from a career perspective. I knew if I played well I could get a job, I didn’t see that in other sports.
Tell us about your coaches who helped you in your early cricket days? Which club did you start your journey with?
Yes. When I was in college I had this coach – Ajay Chaudhary sir. His academy had started in the college in the same year I joined the college. I used to train twice a day – in the mornings in college and then at his academy in the evening.
Stereotypically, cricket was called the game of men. Did you face any problems when you started playing cricket?
Not at all. My father was very supportive. If I ever needed something he would give that to me, without even asking me why I need it. I’ll tell you one incident – we are 4 sisters and 2 brothers, my father was the only breadwinner in the family. I was really interested to be a part of the National Cadet Cell (NCC) as well. There was an NCC camp in Uttarakhand and there were two tests to be a part of it, I cleared the physical test but couldn’t clear the written one. But I really wanted to go so I went and spoke to them.
They said that you could come but you will have to pay the cost of the trip yourself and that was 5000 rupees, which was a very big amount at that time. I called my father and told him that I need the money, he didn’t ask me why I needed it. He came by, handed over the money to me and then asked me why I needed it. He was always super supportive. Other people used to speak regardless. I am from a Brahmin family, people here don’t even wear jeans. I am the first girl who changed that culture – I work, wear jeans/shorts, etc. My father never said a word to me in spite of what the others said.
How has your experience with Western Railways been?
After my graduation, Reema (Malhotra) di introduced me to Diana ma’am, the sports officer of Western Railways. The day she called me to show my game, I played very well and hence got the job. This was around 2006. I played my first Challenger Trophy for them, attended the world cup camp, India camp – so it has been a great experience with them. I got a lot of opportunities and got to play good cricket.
How much do you think things have changed in Indian women’s cricket since you first started playing?
There has definitely been a lot of change. When I first started playing, BCCI did not govern women’s cricket and the facilities were poor. We used to travel in 2nd class, eat whatever was provided and stay in the accommodations they gave us – we used to all stay in one hall. There were a lot of difficulties and barely any money. I have seen and been a part of all situations – when there was no funding, when the funding came and now that all facilities are available. There are superb facilities now.
BCCI merged with the women’s governing bodies in 2006 and I was a part of the first-ever women’s ZCA (Zonal Cricket Academy) camp in 2010. There were a lot of players even then with equal amounts of talent but they didn’t get the same exposure and most didn’t know how to pursue the sport. Most didn’t even think of cricket from a career perspective – they played only because they were passionate about it. They didn’t care about things like the weather and heat, all they wanted to do was play. We didn’t even have proper physiotherapists back then, I’ve seen people playing with fractures. That was the level of passion and commitment to the game.
Were you always a spinner or things changed along the way?
In college, I used to bowl medium pace. But if you see, compared to spinners, medium pacers get fewer wickets. There was this girl, I don’t remember her name, I used to bowl and I didn’t get wickets and she used to just leave the ball from her hands and she got wickets. I really like Harbhajan (Singh) so looking at him I then started bowling off-spin, I used to try his action as well. (laughs)
Currently, at 33, you have seen a lot and evolved with the game. When you look back, which part of your journey have you enjoyed the most?
We had gone to play nationals, I think it was around 2007-08, in this tournament in almost every game I got around 4 wickets. Be it against Indian Railways, Air India, any team. That was a very good phase for me.
What is your take on the role of BCCI regarding the Women Cricket? In which areas they can improve?
BCCI has done a lot of good for female cricketers. Every state camp today has qualified coaches to further improve your game.
But I really feel that there should be qualified and experienced coaches at local cricket academies where most of the girls train and begin their journey. It matters a lot because that’s where the basics of the game are learned – at the local academies and hence the coaches need to be very good.
Over the years, what do you think is the best lesson the game has taught you?
That one should never give up. When you retire and look back, you shouldn’t regret thinking of any moment like “I wish I would’ve done that”. Life is never easy. There are always ups and downs – but what matters is even in those situations how positive and focused you stay. I’ve learned to always stay positive, give in my 100% and then, whatever happens, happens.
Any incident that you’d like to share that helped you learn this?
Yes, I was banned for 2 years for my chucking bowling action and this period was very difficult. This period was like a mental battle with myself. I gave the test twice and failed both times. People even asked me to leave it thinking that I won’t be able to do it, but I didn’t give up. Also, these tests are quite costly. I further invested some money, went to Bangalore to Irfan sir (who is very generous and did not charge me a penny), who is the coach of KIOC. I trained with him for a week and he helped me a lot with my bowling. I finally cleared the test in the last attempt and the year I cleared it, in the same year I got the best bowler award from Virat Kohli, my parents collected the award since I was in Mumbai at that time.
Any words on DDCA? One thing you like about the association?
DDCA has definitely improved over the years. The fitness facilities have improved and they have many more camps than they did before so that is something I like. Overall the facilities have improved too.
Who among the young players from your state do you think has a bright future ahead?
Simran and Ayushi Soni. I would’ve said Priya Punia as well but she’s already playing for India.
What do you think about our initiative – Female Cricket? Your suggestions would be valuable
I used to always think “when will my interview come” (laughs). In my 16 years long career, no one has interviewed me before this. You guys have taken up a very good initiative, I have not seen anyone doing this before. It’s a very good initiative.
Lalita’s story is one that will inspire many people out there. Team Female Cricket wishes her the best for the future ☺
To learn more about women’s cricket, do read this book “Rising Spell in Women’s Cricket” by Mukta Goyal. You can buy a copy from Amazon. Click here to buy