On the night of 17th February 2013, West Indies was chasing 260 runs to win their first-ever One Day world Cup. Australia was truly on the top of their game, leaving no space to breathe for the Islanders. Pacers like Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry were joined by two off-spinners, Lisa Sthalekar and Erin Osborne, who made life horrible for the West Indians. ‘Australianism’ was forcing them to toil hard for each run. Lisa Sthalekar cleaned up West Indian skipper Merissa Aguilleira and destructive batter Deandra Dottin and completed her quota of 10 overs with a figure 2/20.
Julia Hunter, steamed in to bowl her 5th over, was hit towards mid-wicket by Smart. Sthalekar, who was guarding the region, took a brilliant diving catch to her right to secure an emphatic victory by 114 runs. It was a revival for the Australian Team as they overcome their failure in the previous edition in front of their home crowd. It was a moment of relief for Sthalekar as well. We do not know if almost 200 KM away from the stadium, Sreevatsa Sangstha was celebrating the victory of their most celebrated child or not, as Jodie Fileds, the Australian captain, lifts the World Cup.
7 years after her retirement from International Cricket, Lisa Sthalekar became the 5th Australian Women Cricketer and 9th overall to be inducted in the ICC Hall of Fame. She was preceded by Rachel Hey-Hoe Flint (ENG, 2010), Belinda Clerck (AUS,2011), Enid Bakewell (ENG, 2012), Debby Hockley (NZ, 2014), Betty Wilson (AUS, 2015), Karen Rolton (AUS 2016), Claire Taylor (ENG,2018) and Cathryn Fitzpatrick (AUS, 2019). The inclusion in this exclusive circle provides us with another chance to reflect on how that life has, until now, unfolded.
Sthaleker, who ended her more than a decade long international career after her 2nd ODI World Cup Victory and 4th overall, had spent 3 weeks of her early life in that orphanage before adopted by the Sthakelar family. This family was initially looking for a male child to add to a girl they adopted in Bangalore, but was sued away by the brown eyes of three weeks old ‘Laila’. The Sthalekar family founds their roots in India, more specifically Poona moved to United States, Kenya, and finally settled in Australia.
Lisa Sthalekar said in the SCG Podcast that her father, who was born in India, though wan, not a good cricketer, but followed cricket vigorously and has cricket in his blood. In her autobiography too, Sthalekar mentioned that there were instances when her father Karen told her that her grandfather, Anant Sthakelar would have been very proud had he seen her granddaughter playing cricket for Australia. At a tender age, Lisa being a ‘daddy’s girl’ followed her father and started playing cricket like any other Australian children in backward.
When she was 9, her father enquired at the local club and found out that she was going to be the only girl in that club. A spinner from day one, Sthalekar’s career had started out like most girls at the time: playing against boys and unaware women played international cricket due to lack of televised matches and articles. Only the women cricketers and their family knew about it, She said. It wasn’t until she was introduced to the Gordon Women’s Cricket Club at age 13 that her eyes were opened to the fact women could also play for their country.
Despite her engagements with cricket, Tennis was her first love and, she had posters of Steffy Graff and Boris Becker and, it was the sports that she played more seriously.
Sthalekar broke into the senior New South Wales team during the 1997-98 season and made her debut for the National side in 2001. Australia ODI cap No.93 collected two wickets of Claire Taylor and Jackie Hawker on debut at Derby. 18 months later, she got her Baggy Green, and, in her second Test match in Sydney in 2003, she made an unbeaten 120, batting out 329 balls. Her maiden ODI century came against Ireland, in 2005. after her first World Cup victory.
In the successful campaign in the World Cup, she took 9 wickets and chipped in with 55 in the final at Johannesburg. She and Karen Rolton added 139 runs to take Australia to 200 and eventually win the match by 98 runs against India. Apart from her spin bowling and fielding, her beautiful batting also gave Australia sustainability, down the order. Her maiden ODI century came against Ireland, in 2005 after the World Cup.
Along with the World Cup that year, she carried her form into a stupendous international season with the bat in 2006/07. In that season, she scored 604 runs in ODIs at 67.11, with six half-centuries. She finished 2008 with a batting average of 45.8 and a bowling average of 26.47. Those performances earned her the Belinda Clark Award in 2007 and 2008. At Lord’s on July 7, 2009, in the rain-affected match, Australia was fighting to save the clean sweep but managed to score only managed to score 100 runs in 31 overs. As she removed Caroline Atkins for 4, she became the first woman to take 100 wickets and score 1000 runs in one-day internationals.
Over the 12 years, Sthalekar scored 3913 international runs for Australia and picked up 229 wickets. She was also a part of two winning ODI World Cup campaigns, in South Africa in 2005 and India in 2013, and two T20 World Cups titles, in the West Indies in 2010 and in, Sri Lanka two years later. She marked her 100th game with career-best ODI figures of 5/35. Sthalekar retired as the 10th highest run-scorer in women’s ODIs and Australia’s third-highest. Her ODI wicket tally of 146 wickets was the third-highest at the time, and the best for a spinner; she is still within the top 10.
She was successful as a leader as well. As New South Wales skipper she led her state to the first five of 10 consecutive titles they won between 2005-06 and 2014-15 while captained the national side in three matches.
Not everything worked according to plan to her at times. During the New Zealand tour in 2008, Australia lost the first three matches and the leadership faced a backlash from the management. Despite her performances, in 2007 and in early 2007 she was said to be not competent enough to lead the side and was stripped off from the post of vice-captain of Australia in New Zealand. Dejected, Lisa Sthalekar became more reserved and “wanted to hit the ball as far as she can in a rage” in the next matches. In the next two matches, she scored 69 and 61.
And in the next series at home against India, she scored er highest individual run (104*) in ODI. In the 2009 World Cup, though she picked up 13 wickets and became the highest wicket-taker for the side in that edition, she didn’t get runs in the middle order. Australia too failed to match the expectation in front of the home crowd. After she returned from the World Cup, her captaincy for the NSW Breakers was questioned by the State Management side. Despite several meetings, the issue didn’t get resolved and she was removed from captaincy.
‘Shaker’ as her junior teammates used to call her, was working in NSW cricket board, was literary shaken. She was struggling to cope up with all this and her father who had studied sports psychology told her that she was suffering from depression while fighting her own battles with national and state team management. She consulted a psychologist and, under her medication thigs started to get better. But in her autobiography, she mentions that those two years were really difficult for her to deal with, all alone.
After her retirement, Lisa Sathekar played WBBL for a couple of years and psychology graduate student then became a full-time commentator and one of the pioneers who has been vocal about Women’s cricket. It was those skills and her competitive nature that established Sthalekar as an integral part of an Australian side that continued to dominate international cricket. Sthalekar’s playing career coincided with the dramatic shift from amateur or semi-professional to its current state.
Her arrival at the ACA during fractious pay negotiations with Cricket Australia was a fiery baptism in the sport’s politics but, at their conclusion, female players emerged as big winners, with landmark contracts and vastly improved employment conditions. She was the first woman elected to the Australian Cricketers’ Association board and the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations.
In 2012, when Sthalekar visited the orphanage in Pune where her life began and realized how lucky she was been. She told could have any other at any other country doing any other job but her brown eyes had changed the course of her life. She was lucky enough that her father felt the connection the moment they landed in Australia and opted to stay at Sidney. Else, the once ‘loaned out’ child would not have been the 3rd highest wicket-taker for Australia or the first female cricketer to create the double of 100O runs and 100 ODI wickets.