October 10, 2012

'I get white-line fever every time'

She has three world titles under her belt, but Lisa Sthalekar believes women's cricket on the whole still has a long way to go

Lisa Sthalekar, who won her third world title with Australia on Sunday in Colombo, is one of the foremost allrounders the women's game has seen. She has also been among the voicesin cricket to open up about their battle with depression. ESPNcricinfo spoke to Sthalekar about how difficult it still is for women cricketers, given so many still need to hold full-time jobs, and how passion is their chief motivator.

As someone who has won so much, how does this title feel?
Each title and each win in a World Cup is very special. You don't get to play very many in your life. I have been fortunate enough to win. This is my third. Each time it is with a different group of players. It is really special to win it with that group.

You have spoken about women's cricket being in a semi-professional state, where the demand for results is increasingly getting harder on you. How difficult is it to achieve results?
We have been training really hard. The girls have put in a lot of effort. We came to Sri Lanka about a month and a bit ago to get used to the conditions. Thankfully Cricket Australia put the money in towards that and you can see the results have spoken loudly. We are at a point where there is a lot of cricket to be played, which is what we want as players. Obviously there is a juggling act to be done for those who are studying or are working full-time jobs. At the moment we are quite happy to sacrifice all those things when you win a World Cup, and this is why we play the game of cricket.

How difficult is it practically, considering you work full-time as well?
I work for Cricket New South Wales and over the next six-seven months, I have got 56 working days that I need to take off. My boss, David Thompson, is very pleased that I am representing my country and willing to juggle a few things. I think we are getting to a point where we have got to weigh it up - do we play more cricket, and if that is the case, financially we need the girls to be able to pay their rent and most other things… or, is this the right amount of cricket? That is for the administrators to figure out.

Women's cricket is an untapped market. To have the game [the final] go down to the last over, the last ball, 140-odd runs, shows we are playing some pretty exciting cricket. I think the crowd are enjoying it as well.

The response from the crowd when you all ran out to the other side of the ground. For me, that was the moment of the tournament.
Yeah, to have these curtain-raisers really builds the profile. Thanks to the ICC for making sure that happens, and also the broadcasters. Also, it would be interesting to see how many people came in during the last innings because I felt out there in the field that they were cheering every run and every stop and every wicket. So they were appreciating good cricket, and that is what we want to do.

You have been very honest about a lot of stuff, including depression, in your book. How big is this achievement in that perspective, since you have been through a lot in your career?
To actually write a book is never something I thought I would do. It was quite cathartic to go through and look back at my career. As a player and also off the field, I have had some difficulties - losing my mother to breast cancer. That has allowed me to put things in perspective. Obviously, I love this game and I am very passionate, but it is also just a game as well. I don't take things for granted. I have learnt some hard lessons along the way, and maybe in writing the book, I have helped some young cricketer along the way.

"You look at this Australian team, there are a lot of girls from New South Wales I have coached at a young age, and to be playing alongside them and now to class them as some of my best friends is really special for me"

How hard is it to go along largely on passion? There must have been days where it would have all felt like too much?
Oh yes, there are days when you question what you are doing. But like I said, I have had three moments now where I have been able to win a World Cup, and I wouldn't change anything for the world.

I have seen a lot of players give up the game before their time because of career, or the fact that they were missing time away from family or their partners. It is sad to see those players not reach their potential in cricket. But everyone has a choice to make.

Has it ever reached that stage for you?
No, I am still here. There have been points in my career where I have questioned when is the right time to go, when is the right time to retire. I am still passionate. I get white-line fever every time I cross the line. I love the contest of the game. I love playing against opponents and trying to out-think them. That is why I keep playing.

Honestly, the friends I have within the team… you look at this Australian team, there are a lot of girls from New South Wales I have coached at a young age, and to be playing alongside them and now to class them as some of my best friends is really special for me.

With the kind of rewards that the men get in comparison, how large do you think your achievement is?
It is very hard to compare us with the men. The guys play and train 11 months of the year. I don't know how they do it. I got an experience week before coming here, training with the guys. There is a lot of downtime and you are away from family. I don't begrudge them for anything that they do and how much money they get. They play some wonderful cricket. T20 cricket has really set the world on fire and good luck to them. We are trying to build our brand of women's cricket. Both England and Australia are producing quality matches every time we get together.

Doesn't it help that the men are focused on just one task, cricket?
Yeah, but maybe we have got a life balance. That is the other way to look at it. Cricket is one aspect of our lives. It might take the majority of time but we still have time to have a career. Lots of the girls study, which is really great, because at the end of the day, cricket is not going to pay our bills. That probably allows us to be balanced, and we train hard when we are there because we don't have a lot of spare time.

Would you take this work-life balance that the semi-professional state of the women's game forces you to be in or would you like to be as focused as the men are?
In the future, I think we would like to get to the point where we can dedicate all our time to cricket, or a large proportion. Just to allow the girls to choose if they want to… if they want to still study and do some work, sure, but if the option is that they could earn a decent amount of money and focus on their cricket, then that's their choice. I'd like to see that in the future.

How many more years for Lisa Sthalekar?
Well, these World Cup wins help but I know I am coming to the end of it. I am getting old. My body is telling me it's time to go. I am going to enjoy every moment, take each tour as it goes, and I think I'll know when the time is right.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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