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Shubha Satheesh just wants to be responsible

The top-order batter made her India debut in a Test last December, and got picked for the WPL. For her, it's all about accountability

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
12-Feb-2024
Girl at work: Shubha Satheesh goes on the attack in her first ever Test innings  •  Faheem Hussain/BCCI

Girl at work: Shubha Satheesh goes on the attack in her first ever Test innings  •  Faheem Hussain/BCCI

Shubha Satheesh was unassuming and sported a mild, nervous smile as she walked in. The "hello" she whispered softly into the mic for a sound check was barely audible in the front row.
It was her first press conference and the few weeks that led to it were eventful. India were playing a women's Test match at home for the first time in nine years. She was called up for the two one-off Tests last December - against England and Australia - on the back of her 99 and 49 in an intra-squad practice match in Bengaluru in November. Before those games, Shubha was picked up by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the auction for WPL 2024.
Her first day as an India cricketer tested her; she responded with a 69 after walking in in the sixth over, and stitched together a 115-run partnership with fellow debutant Jemimah Rodrigues. In the evening, she sat at the press conference room of the DY Patil Stadium with journalists curious to know more about her.
She answered questions in a low tone and short sentences. She often paused; she ran out of words because "everything is happening all together". She thought she was "a fortunate cricketer". She just wanted to play when she started at 12; thoughts of pursuing the sport professionally didn't exist.
Her rawness came through, as did her thoughtfulness. "Today morning I got to know about everything," she giggled when asked about her debut and her batting position in the Test match. She also admitted to forgetting part of a long question put to her, eliciting laughter in the room. Before the start of day two against England she picked up a finger injury while warming up; her left ring finger needed a splint, ruling her out of the rest of that Test as well as the one against Australia to follow.
But on her first big day, Shubha had left an impression, both on and off the field.

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Soumya Gowda, who played age-group cricket for Karnataka with Shubha and is now a strength-and-conditioning coach, describes the young batter as a "very jovial person but one who keeps to herself". The two know each other since their Under-16 days. "When it comes to cricket, she keeps it basic," Gowda says. "Her preparation is such that she doesn't have a special routine but knows what her job is.
"She is not a very outgoing person, and one who doesn't want the attention. But she keeps doing her job well and the attention automatically comes to her.
"When I asked her how she felt about getting into the India team, the only thing she said is, 'I just want to be responsible'. No matter what happens, she just wants to be responsible. Even with the state games, Shubha always wanted to be responsible and accountable for the opportunities she got."
In 2022-23, Shubha scored 192 runs in the Senior Women's One Day Trophy at an average of 48 and a strike rate of close to 100. The corresponding numbers in the previous two editions of the competition were 263 runs, 43.83 average, 80.42 strike rate; and 346, 86.50 and 72.38. For someone who spent close to a decade in the domestic circuit - first for Karnataka before making the switch to Railways this season - and put in compelling performances before getting an India call-up, there surely must have been more thoughts and emotions than just about wanting to be responsible?
"I was sort of expecting the call, because the practice game went well for me," Shubha says. "It was a dream-come-true moment. I went blank when I got to know I was in the team. I was not able to type anything… I was that excited, anxious also because it was all new for me.
"I was just waiting for this opportunity to represent the country for the past three-four years. When I got that, the first thought which came to my mind was, 'This is my responsibility to do well for my country, to feel proud about it.' I was visualising playing for the country every day. That's how the thought might have come."
She played all the team sports her school had to offer, and evenings meant playing gully cricket with the boys in the Mysore neighbourhood where she grew up. She was noticed in a local tennis-ball cricket tournament. Someone suggested to her father that she start formal training, and he then enrolled her in a cricket academy in Bengaluru.
Talk to those who knew her back then and they invariably mention her athleticism and fielding. "My sports teacher saw my athleticism and suggested I play hockey for the school, and I captained them.
"I thought I was naturally built that way," Shubha says of her agility. "I never feared the ball ever in my career. I don't remember getting afraid of putting my hands to the ball. I don't know how it happened - it is quite natural. I have memories of taking good catches at point, and everywhere on the field. In one of my selection matches, I took a catch diving forward at backward point, and that made me really feel good," she laughs, the pride unmistakable.
It was not until 2014 when she was selected for a zonal camp that Shubha harboured ambitions of playing cricket full time. She topped the batting charts in the Under-19 Women's Zonal League in 2016-17 and continued to be in the fray for the senior Karnataka side. Incidentally, it was her fielding that helped her make the cut.
"The senior team was a bit tough [to get into] initially because there was a lot of competition and Karnataka has always been a good team. To get into the XI was tougher at that age but I kept performing. I was picked as a fielder in the XI initially, and they made me stand in the hot spots of the field everywhere. I used to get the ball all the time and that made me really happy. I enjoyed that a lot and even now, I like to stand in hot spots."
As a batter, Shubha is known to be an excellent timer of the cricket ball and a strokemaker. Which is not to suggest she can't bat aggressively. She has all the shots in her repertoire, some of which she displayed in the Test against England. But one particular stroke takes pride of place. A pristinely timed cover drive, where she got her front foot to the pitch of the ball and creamed it between cover and backward point, got her going on her second ball in international cricket. She brought up her fifty with the straightest of straight drives between the non-striker and the stumps at that end.
"[In the middle] I was just focused on playing the ball. But when I came back and I saw the highlights, I realised that it was a special cover drive for me. I remember when I played my first cricket ever, at the age of 12, my first runs were also via the straight drive. That I connected a lot, that felt very special."
Shubha also bowls medium pace. India had Pooja Vastrakar, Renuka Singh and Meghna Singh as the seamers for the two Tests. Shubha, who didn't bowl against England, has the longest run-up of them all. "But [I'm] not the fastest… yet," she says quickly with a chuckle. "I am working on it. [As primarily a batter who can bowl] it is tough to make time for both. But I try to keep sessions particularly for my bowling in a week, and just work on my bowling on those days."
Talk about the WPL auction and she shakes her head in disbelief. She had registered herself for the auction but did not expect much. "I don't know why, I just turned off the television and slept," she says. "I then got a welcome message from the RCB management and got to know it happened!
"Honestly, I did not expect it. But I was really very happy and excited when I came to know RCB picked me. I am a big RCB fan, being in Bangalore and things like that. So to represent RCB in my first season of the WPL feels surreal. I watched the last season, and it was very crazy, and beautiful to see."
With Smriti Mandhana, Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry and S Meghana around, whether Shubha starts for RCB in the top order is anybody's guess. But expect her to be diligent and sincere in her preparation. Like she has done all her career so far. And for her to be responsible when her time comes.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7