In a few hours, Leeds will hold host to the first match of the inaugural Kia Super League, with the Yorkshire Diamonds taking on the Loughborough Lightning. To tie in with the tournament, Mind the Windows is running a series of articles focusing on women’s cricket.
To open the innings, we have a Six Ball Over with one of Australia’s finest. Lisa Sthalekar played 125 ODIs for her nation, making runs and taking wickets in all three formats. Since retirement, Sthalekar has been one of the most outspoken advocates of the women’s game; both with her own ventures, as well as being a media commentator, including in the Indian Premier League.
Later in our series will be a feature interview with Sthalekar, discussing the state of the women’s game, and what she sees as the future for female cricketers.
1. You were selected as a bowler early on in your international career, so what was it that made you realise that you needed to become a front line batsman as well?
I actually, in junior state sides, opened the batting. So I always kind of regarded myself as a top order batter, that bowled off-spin just to keep busy and keep in the game. I was the type of person that always wanted to be involved in the play somehow – that’s why you find me at mid-wicket, because it’s close to the action, bowling my 10 overs, and then hopefully batting for a good chunk of time.
When I played all my under-age stuff for New South Wales, the Australian youth stuff, I was batting in the top-order. But to break into the New South Wales open side, and then eventually the Australian women’s side, they were looking for an off-spin bowler, so that’s how I came into it. In both the New South Wales and Australian sides, I think I started at 10 – maybe even 11 for Australia – and knew that I wouldn’t be happy until I was batting higher. For me, a good day was if I scored runs and bowled poorly, not necessarily the other way around.
2. You came into the Aussie side in the early-to-mid 2000s when it was a pretty remarkably strong side. You had Cathryn Fitzpatrick, Karen Rolton, Belinda Clark, Michelle Goszko. It was probably the best side women’s cricket has seen. So was that imposing at all, coming into a team like that?
I came in, in 2001 and they’d just lost the World Cup to New Zealand in 2000. So they were hurting, they got rid of several players, and they were looking to change and have the next guard of players coming in. I was fortunate enough to be involved in that change. Belinda Clark was a very strong leader, still is to this day, and her goals were pretty simple: get the best out of yourself and we’ll win, and we’re not to lose a game until we win the final of the next World Cup, then we start again. So I was blessed to come in and be challenged, and you always had to prove yourself. Which broke some players, and brought the best out of others – and, thankfully, it seemed to bring the best out of me. I started to really fit in with the side, and figure out what my role and place was.
3. In just your second Test, you came out and made 120 in the second innings, and batted brilliantly. So does that rank pretty highly in your estimations given the context of the match? (Australia drew the match, winning the Ashes, from 49-4 and still behind on first innings)
I don’t know about what the other female players would say, but I find for me that the most memorable moments of my career are when the team has won something. Yes, personal milestones are great – as long as it’s helped a victory!
We were in a tough situation, and Alex Blackwell and I put on a big partnership. It’s funny because my first Test match, I opened the batting and I hated it, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I think I got a duck and one run off what felt like 45 balls [six off 14 balls, and a duck off 20]. I wasn’t comfortable, and thankfully they dropped me down in the order. To be able to say you scored a Test hundred, and was able to mentally cope with the pressure – and mainly the fact that you’re batting for long periods of time, sleeping that night and then getting back up and trying to do it again. To be able to produce a performance like that, I’m happy.
4. In the ’05 World Cup, given the context you mentioned of Belinda Clark’s plan, managing to win must have been a pretty great culmination of the previous four years?
Yeah, it was. Very happy for the group of players around me that had worked so hard, pushed themselves and pushed us as well. And to get the rewards was special. To be able to play an important role in the batting department, to see Karen Rolton demolish India from a wonderful position up at the non-striker’s end, was great. It was a perfect end to a really perfect campaign that went for four years.
5. As a captain, you were very successful leading New South Wales – winning five WNCL titles as captain. With the succession of Belinda Clark, Karen Rolton and then Jodie Fields, you never got to be Australian captain outside of three ODIs. Is that disappointing at all, that you weren’t able to be full-time leader?
Yes, I guess it is disappointing. I always had my aspirations to captain – I guess I did, technically I did, but never to actually hold the position. So yes it has been disappointing, but then if I was to look back on my career, I was still a leader without the ‘c’ next to my name. I was still playing an important part to the team’s progress and decision-making on the field. So I still played that leadership role.
6. Your retirement after the 2013 World Cup – you’ve gone on to play the WBBL since, with pretty good form. So do you ever wonder whether you could’ve continued playing international cricket?
I could’ve played, but like you’ve said I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of some really successful sides. I’d won Ashes campaigns, won World Cups in T20 and 50-overs, won numerous WNCLs. There was nothing left to win. I’d achieved everything that I wanted to achieve.
I came into the side – despite winning the 2000 World Cup – Australia in everyone’s mind was still the number-one ranked side. So I came in when they were that, and obviously we saw a huge transition with the likes of Rolton, Fitzpatrick, [Lisa] Keightley, [Julie] Hayes, all of those great players left the game. There was a new generation, and after the 2013 World Cup we were number one in all formats. So it was like, ‘it’s time to go’.