On June 12 in Bengaluru, former India women’s cricketer and coach, Sudha Shah, will achieve the distinct honour of becoming only the second women’s cricketer after Shanta Rangaswamy to receive the BCCI’s lifetime achievement award.
Born and brought up in Chennai to a Gujarati father and Malayali mother, the award comes as due recognition for a journey that began in the late 1960s, playing tennis-ball cricket with mostly boys in her colony in Nungambakkam.
“I was keen on sports right from when I can remember. I used to play tennis-ball cricket with the boys in my colony. When I was in my final year of school, we heard that the Women’s Cricket Association of India was being formed. So my school friends and I started taking cricket seriously and playing with a hard ball. There has been no looking back after that,” Sudha said during an interaction with Times of India on Friday (June 8).
There was indeed no looking back. A pioneer in Indian women’s cricket in her own right, Sudha who will turn 60 on June 22 – formed the backbone of the Indian team during the 1970s and 80s alongside other greats like Shanta and Diana Edulji.
Making her debut for India in 1976 at the age of 18, she went on to play 21 Tests, the most by any Indian woman, in addition to 13 ODIs. The right-handed batter scored 601 runs in Tests including a highest score of 62* and 293 runs in ODIs during that time.
“The lifetime achievement award was very unexpected. But, of course, I am elated. It’s nice to be recognised. Those days, we played a lot of cricket with a lot of dedication. For us to now be recognised for our efforts, it feels really good,” she mentioned.
While Sudha’s playing career for both India and Tamil Nadu won her a lot of plaudits, she continued to contribute to the women’s game as India coach for many years. As she puts it, it was difficult for her to stay away from the game. “I finished playing for TN in 1997 after starting in 1973. I took a year off, but I wanted to stay in touch. I became a coach in 1998 and then had various stints with India,” says Sudha.
Much of that obsession with the game was entrenched during her playing days, even though they were left to fend for themselves more often than not. From staying in dormitories to traveling in unreserved compartments, one can imagine the plight of the players in a world that was far-removed from those of the modern-day players.
“All those difficulties were there. But looking back, it was all part of our growing up. It taught us a lot. Now of course, the kids get good facilities and grounds. The access to gyms, swimming pools and whatever else is there. We used to just do a bit of limbering up. Fitness wasn’t given that much attention. We just used to do our batting, bowling and fielding,” she recollected.
The changes in the women’s game aren’t limited to just fitness. The likes of Harmanpreet Kaur have unfurled a new facet in the game with their power-hitting, which was missing in earlier years.
“The game as such has changed thanks to T20s. We see a lot of power hitting now and girls hitting big sixes isn’t that uncommon anymore. Those days, it was more about technique and playing along the ground. As far as areas of improvement are concerned, the more matches you play, the more experience you gain. The girls are getting to play more international matches, which is good. We need to be work on our bench strength. I think we are catching up with the likes of Australia and England,” pointed out Sudha, who coached India to the final of the 2005 Women’s World Cup in South Africa.
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