She had exact 100 ODI wickets to her name before calling it quits marking the end of her illustrious 10-year career playing for India. From an opening bat and medium-pace bowler, she rose to glory as one of India’s finest off-spinners. She ranked number 1 in the world in 2003 and was always one of the most vital cogs in the Indian women’s cricket wheel. Hanging up her boots as a player, she has taken up cricket coaching and continues to serve the game to date.
We are talking about Nooshin Al Khadeer, who graced the Female Cricket feature The Pioneers. During the episode, Female Cricket’s Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the former India offie.
Excerpts from the interview
1. How did you start playing cricket?
Cricket happened by chance. Right from my school days, I was into different kinds of sports, other than cricket. Irfan Sait sir, who later became my cricket coach, once bumped into me in my school, where his two kids were also studying. He asked me, “Are you interested in playing cricket?” At that time, I did not show interest. It was the year 1997 when I had my first serious encounter with cricket. My father came across an article in the newspaper regarding selection trials for Karnataka. My father asked me whether I would want to give it a shot.
Honestly, I was not too keen, as I was more interested in basketball. But I don’t know for some reason I said, “Yes.” I went for the selection trials and to my sheer surprise, I was selected for Karnataka U-16. Back then, I did not even have a proper cricket gear. I even borrowed a bat from my neighbor, who was a cricketer himself (smiles). After the selections, I played my first domestic game against Maharashtra. I scored a 60. I started as an opening bat and medium pace bowler. After playing U-16 for four-five months, I was selected straight in the Karnataka senior team. At just 16 and a half years of age, I was already in the senior state team.
2. You and Mithali have played together at the domestic level as well as the international level. How has the experience been playing with one of the best batters in women’s cricket?
Mithali is one of the most dedicated cricketers that I have ever seen. Prior to playing for India together, Mithali and I played for the south zone. From our domestic cricket diaries, I would like to pull out a page and share it with you. We (south zone) were playing against the north zone.
Mithali was standing at covers and while fielding she got an uneven bounce and the ball hit her lips. The very next moment she was bleeding. She was taken to the hospital and had 14 stitches done. Nobody expected her to come back on the ground and bat in the next innings. To everybody’s surprise, Mithali walked in to bat with 14 stitches and scored a brilliant match-winning half-century. Watching her bat in such pain left me spellbound. That day changed my perspective towards the game and I became more dedicated. I was inspired by her. I have also got a chance to interact with her parents. During one such meet, her mother told me, “If you want to do something then do that dedicatedly.” Those words still ring in my ears. Talking to her parents, I realized one thing, that they were involved as much as she was in her cricket.
From that day, there was a paradigm shift in my approach and I started practicing eight hours a day. I have learned a lot from Mithali. As captains of our respective states, we shared many things with each other.
I recall one thing which she had told me, “If you get more serious about the game, you can play at the higher level.” It was as if her words pushed me to work harder and to my delight, within a year I was playing for India.
3. Which other cricketers did you look up to and drew inspiration from?
I used to watch a lot of men’s cricket. Among the Indian cricketers, I liked Anil Kumble for his grit and Sourav Ganguly for his aggression. Apart from watching cricket, I listened to radio commentary, which helped me to understand the game better. Even today, I listen to cricket commentary. I like listening to Sunil Gavaskar.
4. You started as a medium pace bowler, but soon you were converted into an off-spinner. How did that happen?
It was during the 1997-98 season when the senior Karnataka team was struggling to find a good off-spinner. Shantha Rangaswamy ma’am asked me whether I would like to try my hand at off-spin. Without any hesitation, I agreed, because right from a very early age I believed that there is an opportunity in every challenge that is thrown at you. Though I was not a great turner of the cricket ball, I was consistent with my line and length and bowled quickly. Maybe that is why I looked up to Anil Kumble and admired his bowling.
5. You made your India debut in 2002. Did you see that coming?
That particular domestic season, I had a fantastic outing with the ball. I was the second-highest wicket-taker behind Neetu David. I was picked up for the India camp. Alongside me, there was Karuna Jain. While traveling to the India camp, Karuna and I were discussing that it is great that we have made it to the India camp. Honestly, I didn’t expect to get selected for India. But that day when my name was announced in the India squad, my joy knew no bounds. Anjum Chopra handed me over the India cap in my hotel room. It was sheer bliss.
The next day when the news of my selection appeared in the newspapers, my mother cut the article and showed it to our entire colony. I never expected that my mother would do something like this (smiles).
My debut series against England was good. I remember my debut game, it was a rain-curtailed one. Tarak Sinha sir asked me whether I would like to open the bowling. Without letting a second thought cross my mind, I agreed. It worked.
To just rewind a bit, I would like to tell you that once when I was walking with my friends, I found a card on the ground. On it was a deer in the forest and the words written were “In difficulties lie opportunity.” Those words had a deep impact on me and that day I realized that things will never come easy. So when Tarak Sinha sir asked me to open the bowling, I took it in my stride. After the England series, we were scheduled to go to South Africa. Though I was expecting to get picked up for the South Africa series, the only thing that was pushing me back was that I had no passport (smiles). Irfan Sait sir came to my rescue and got the passport work done for me.
In our next episode of #ThePioneers, we have former India cricketer – Nooshin Al-Khadeer.
Having played 5 Tests, 78 ODIs and 2 T20Is for India between 2003 & 2012, she was once ranked No. 1 in the world, as the leading wicket-taker.
— Female Cricket (@imfemalecricket) August 5, 2020
6. Between 2002 and 2005, India played a lot of matches, in view of the World Cup preparations. Can you take us through those three years?
Keeping in mind the 2005 Women’s Cricket World Cup, the preparations for the same started in 2002. A cohort of girls was selected, out of which the India squad for the World Cup was going to be picked. Shubhangi Kulkarni ma’am played a pivotal role. She was the one who ensured that we girls got maximum exposure in terms of matches played. We had many bilateral series during those three years. Apart from the matches, we had extensive training and fitness camps. There were gym and pool sessions as well. The entire group was working towards achieving the same goal; reach the finals of the World Cup.
7. You have featured in 78 ODIs, 5 Tests, and 2 T20Is. Out of these, which do you consider as your favorite match?
For sure, it has to be the 2005 Women’s World Cup semi-final that we played against New Zealand. That match was really special, not just because we won the semi-final and marched on to play our first-ever World Cup final, but in general the atmosphere during that game was electric. I still remember each and every moment of that game. Right from the beginning of our World Cup preparation, we as a team were determined to reach the finals, and when the day arrived when we locked against New Zealand in a do or die situation, the girls came together and fought the battle to enter the finals. We were exceptional in all the three departments; batting, bowling, and fielding. Each and every member of the squad was completely involved in the game and we could feel it.
8. After playing your last match for India in 2012, you soon took up coaching. How did that happen?
Just after I played my last match for India, I received a call from Vidya Yadav from Hyderabad. She asked me whether I would like to take up a job of match referee or become a coach. I thought I was too young to be a match referee so I decided to choose the latter. Just within 15 days of playing my last international game, I was back on the cricket field, this time as a coach. I took up the assignment of coaching Hyderabad girls’ teams (all age groups). I was with Hyderabad for five years and during my stint, we ended up as the first runners up on two occasions at the nationals.
After Hyderabad, I moved to Chhattisgarh. I was there for two seasons; 2017-18 and 2018-19. Juxtaposing Hyderabad and Chhattisgarh, I can say they were just like chalk and cheese. One was a part of the elite group, while the other ranked 27 in women’s domestic cricket. The reason I took up the Chhattisgarh assignment was that I wanted to have the experience of coaching both; an elite team as well as an upcoming team. I practically started from scratch with Chhattisgarh.
I vividly remember an instance when I actually drew fielding positions on the blackboard. Despite all odds, the girls were quick learners and hard workers, which is evident from the fact that in my very first year with them, we qualified for the knockouts. From number 27 we moved straight into the elite group, courtesy our standout performance.
Some of the players are really doing well. We have Adila Khanam playing the Challenger Trophy, then we have a couple of players from U-19 and U-23 also playing the Challenger Trophy.
9. You have coached Hyderabad, Chhattisgarh, and now you are with Indian Railways. Can you give us a few names that you think have an X-factor and can soon become part of the Indian squad?
That’s a tough one. I feel that the players who have the ability to handle pressure and win matches for their team single-handedly can make it to the India team. I have seen a few players who are capable of the aforementioned. For instance, there is Simran Bahadur (Delhi), a left-hand bat, and a right-arm medium pace bowler. She is a good fielder too. Then we have Amanjot Kaur from Chandigarh and Shivani Sharma (wicket-keeper bat) from Himachal who have it in them to play for India.
I have done camps with these girls, where I have seen them play. However, there is no denying the fact that there are many more girls who can make it big at the international level. For example, some of the Kerala and Punjab girls have great potential. Also, Assam U-19 and U-23 are coming up well.
10. What is your goal for the future?
I want to work extremely hard for the next 11 years and once I am 50, I will hang up my boots from coaching. This game has given me a lot and now I feel it is time for me to give back even more to this game.
11. How do you unwind yourself?
I like to watch movies. These days because of the lockdown, I have able to binge-watch movies and web series. Apart from that when I am in Bangalore, I spend a lot of time with my nephew.
12. What is your message to the young and budding women cricketers?
I would say concentrate equally on how you are going to be on the field as well as off the field because the way you are off the field reflects on your on-field performance. Follow a strict regime and work hard. Ensure that you never get complacent. Always remember, if you miss one day of practice, there is someone else who is getting better. Have a competition with yourself. There is a bright future for women’s cricket in India. This game has a lot to give back to you, so it is time for you to first do something for the game.
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.