Neetu David retires from international cricket

Neetu David, the left-arm spinner, will no doubt be missed by Indian cricket now that she has quit after 11 years and 171 wickets. In fact, the Women's Cricket Association actually forbade her from giving up immediately after the World Cup in 2005, as she had initially planned on doing. But finally they have let her go, albeit reluctantly.

It was just before the squad was announced for the tour of England this August that David resubmitted her request and was thus not picked. She finally announced her retirement from international cricket on June 4, during the Rani Jhansi first-class zonal tournament.

David said that she had played cricket for a very long time and that it was the right time to retire, so giving the juniors a fair chance at making the team. "Her absence will create a big void," said Sudha Shah, the Indian team coach. "She has been really performing well. But we have Preeti Dimri and Nidhi [Buley] who have taken her place and hopefully will fill up her vacancy."

England won't be terribly distraught at the news of her retirement for she has a six-wicket haul from the only Test she played on India's last tour. Her best Test bowling figures of 9 for 90 - the world record for women's cricket - was also notched up against England in Jamshedpur in 1995. All David remembers of that day though is that her wickets came from catches at forward short-leg and silly point.

David's future plans include promoting cricket in Kanpur, where she lives, especially among girls. "When I began playing at 18, I was worried how I would be treated by the other girls," she said. "But when I was selected into the Indian camp, Diana Eduljee and others were the big names [in the squad]. I felt proud that I was getting a chance to play with such legends.

"Diana was dropped for the tour to New Zealand, which was my first series. I was upset about that, but it was great tour for me. I was Woman of the Series."

How much change had David seen in herself and women's cricket since her debut? "[In my first series] my captain told me to do just as she said - 'Flight the ball, that's all'. I kept tossing the ball and kept getting wickets. When you're raw, it's easy to get moulded into what others want you to be. When you mature, you realise that success will come if you watch and pick the batsman's weakness early in the innings. You want to do better because everyone expects more from you." Expectations add to the pressure no doubt? "It is a responsibility," David agrees. "But I always felt I performed better under pressure."

David, 28, has taken 41 wickets at just under 19 in her 10 Tests and 130 wickets in 88 one-day internationals since 1995. She first entered cricket in 1992 when women were not paid to play. "It was difficult, but the most important thing for us was that we got to play cricket. My mother went with me for all the matches that I played in Kanpur."

Even today domestic cricket pays nothing, though David is lucky that she plays for Railways where the players get a Dearness Allowance and Travel Allowance of at least Rs.4000 [US$85 approx] for every match that they play. Match-fees paid to an Indian woman cricketer today is still a paltry Rs.2500 for Tests [US$53 approx] and Rs.1000 for one-day internationals [US$21 approx].

David is upbeat about India's chances in England where, beginning July 29, the team will play two Tests, five-one dayers and a Twenty20 fixture. She hopes that Dimri, the Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner making her international debut with this tour, will have a good outing. "What is great about Preeti's bowling is that the ball has nip, apart from flight. Not all slow bowlers manage to get a nip, so I hope she does well and gets a lot of wickets."

David no doubt leaves behind many memories. "When you think of Neetu [David], you first think of her two plaits," said Shah who played against her in domestic cricket. "Neetu was one of the bowlers who could flight the ball and deceive the batsman." Shah remembers David as being an encouraging senior, especially her helping Shravanti Naidu who was part of the team of the home series against England in 2005. "She's always been very encouraging to younger players, especially left-arm spinners, giving [Naidu] tips on how to bowl and [achieve] flight."

The Indian women have played a lot more international cricket in the last five years yet there is a substantial difference in the quality of performance between them and the world champions, Australia. David explains that the atmosphere that Australia and New Zealand train in helps their game. "They travel with a fielding coach, a bowling coach and a batting coach."

But things have improved for India too, she adds. "Since the World Cup we have had a physiotherapist and a trainer and this has helped us be No.2 in the world. We no longer need to play on with our injuries."

The merger with the BCCI can only do good for women's cricket, David believes. The camp held in Mysore in preparation for the tour to England saw the team enjoy the luxury of a fielding coach, an aspect of the game that the side has consistently been failing at.

David's plan to coach girls on left-arm spin excites Shah too. "That's really great. If we have a lot more Neetus in the team, I think nobody can beat us."