Women's World Cup 2013 February 6, 2013

Kaushalya at the heart of Sri Lanka's campaign

Eshani Kaushalya, an allrounder who evokes memories of Arjuna Ranatunga, played important innings in both of Sri Lanka's wins in Group A

Sri Lanka have been the most exciting team of the Women's World Cup so far, having surprised defending champions England and knocked hosts India out of the tournament. Eshani Kaushalya has been the face of this feisty bunch of little-known cricketers.

The sight of the stocky, broad-shouldered allrounder smashing sixes is one of the enduring images of the group stage. Kaushalya's on-field aggression has matched the robustness of her frame. One half expects to meet a stern, no-nonsense woman but it is a shy, smiling Kaushalya who walks into the team manager Mr Aroos' room at the team hotel.

Her smile gets wider when she's told that she's reminded some of a young Arjuna Ranatunga. Familiar build, defiance, resemblance. "Off the field she is very soft spoken, she is not a tough character at all," says Aroos, who is a father figure to the side, having been selector for about a decade. Aroos says Kaushalya is one of the four players in the squad who keeps everyone in good spirits with their constant banter.

Kaushalya left India dispirited a day ago with a 31-ball 56, using a bat from the same supplier the Indian team get their bats from. "She was very anxious to get that bat," Aroos said. "I said I will sponsor you, you just whack India. I removed the stickers and gave it to her. She is very happy now."

Kaushalya comes from Waduwwa outside Colombo, on the way to Galle. Her father is retired from the army. Her brother, who has a similar broad frame, is serving in the army and is currently posted near Jaffna. She has a job with the navy. The family never had too much money, but always backed her.

Kaushalya was into athletics at school. A neighbourhood girl, who used to attend cricket coaching in Colombo, once asked Kaushalya to accompany her. Kaushalya was 16 then. She now stays in a rented apartment in Colombo that she shares with three of her team-mates. Rent and other costs such as transportation were a burden earlier; matters have eased to an extent with the services offering jobs to the players, and the board stepping in with contracts.

Aroos says she has been a hitter from the beginning but if required, can hang around. "According to the situations she can manage. We have never expected her to stay at the wicket, though. I have given a free hand to her to do it in her own style. Against England, her thinking was there is no point in just going out there. The heart had to come out in it. She had to fight."

Kaushalya's parents cried over the phone after seeing their daughter's heroics for the first time on television. People in her hometown thronged her house, burst crackers after the two victories and now want her to win the World Cup.

She may have played her part in ending the hosts' campaign but Kaushalya points out Sri Lanka's muted celebrations after they had crushed India. "Because of India being an Asian and neighbouring country we did not celebrate with much shouting," Aroos translates from Sinhala. "Against England we were shouting and dancing. She wants to tell you that." With Sri Lanka the only Asian side left in the tournament now, expect Kaushalya's on-field aggression to seep into the celebrations too.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo