In the second match of the Women’s T20 Challenge 2019, Velocity was up against Trailblazers. Chasing 113, Velocity skipper Mithali Raj and English opener Danni Wyatt took the side to the verge of a thumping victory. They needed 2 runs in 20 balls with 8 wickets in hand. Left-arm spinner Rajeswari Gayakwad got rid of Wyatt in the penultimate ball of the 17th over for 46. Against anyone’s expectations, this triggered a domino effect in the batting order. Veda Krishnamurthy got run out on the last ball of that over, due to a miss communication. Indian ace off-spinner Deepti Sharma then picked up three wickets in her first five balls of the 18th over. 111/2 soon became 111/7 as Velocity lost five wickets in 7 balls without scoring a run. Sushree Dibyadarshini, who was relaxing five minutes earlier, was ready to come out to bat.
As she was preparing to come out to bat, Mithali Raj came to her and said something, to which that innocent-looking girl gently nodded. “Mithali Di asked me to avoid playing sweep against Deepti Sharma. I was nevertheless confident while coming out to bat. But the moment I reached the crease, I felt like butterflies running in my stomach (laughs). I calmed myself a bit. Deepti was bowling and, I told myself that nothing to worry about as I have faced her before.” Sushree Dibyadarshini told Women’s CricInsight.
In the last bowl of the over, Sushree hit the ball towards the fine leg region and ran for two to complete a three wickets victory.
“Sushree may be a small girl but if you fell to her innocent face and took her lightly, do it at your own risk,” said Khirod Behera, Sushree’s coach from childhood during a chat with Women’s CricInsight. “She has a fine cricketing brain, she thinks a lot and performs well under the pressure. She is a crisis player.” One of the brightest emerging cricketers, Sushree, in that match picked up the valuable wicket of Stafanie Taylor including, a maiden. Her 3-1-14-1 earned praise from the experts as well.
Odisha is not very known for women’s cricket in recent times. Sukanya Parida, who has represented India in one ODI, has moved out of the state for a better career. Khirod Behera, who has his academy in Bhubaneshwar, pointed out that though some of the girls have played for the State, or even India A like Priyanka Priyadarshini and Pragyaparamita Malik, women’s cricket is not thriving as one would have expected.
“You see women take cricket as a sports career in some areas like Rourkela, Bengalgir, Bhubaneswar, and Cuttack. As the numbers are less, generally the competition is not up to the mark here. At the same time, not everyone is comfortable with the fact that the girls are playing cricket. Those who are into cricket, doing good according to their capabilities. However, if the numbers increase, then players could bring out better of them due to the selection pressure. On the other hand, selectors will also have the options to choose the best among the lot,” he added.
Sushree Dibyadarshini, who takes interest in various outdoor sports had started playing cricket with the boys in her locality. Gradually her love for cricket took the upper-hand but her father failed to find any cricket coaching camp that can accommodate a girl.
“As my father was losing hope, we came to know about the cricket academy of Khirod sir, and I got admitted there in 2009. In the beginning, I used to go with my father as the Jagriti Academy was quite a distance from my house. After a year with sir’s instruction, I started to go there by cycling. I need to travel 32 KM per day to come to practice. As I love to sleep sometimes, I find it hard to cycle all the way, but once I got inside the ground, I used to give my 100%,” admitted Sushree.
Her coach found that 12 years old kid very promising at first glance. Not because of her abilities to bat or bowl but her eagerness towards fielding.
“One of the biggest plus points of her is the agility on the field. Some cricketers do give more focus on batting and bowling and tend to indulge lesser time in fielding drills. But she is different. She takes fielding very seriously and takes good care of her fitness.” Her coach remembered.
As Sushree was growing under the watchful eyes of the experienced coach, he decided to turn Sushree into an off-spinning all-rounder.
“One needs to take into account the longer picture in the frame. First of all, Sushree doesn’t have the height in her favour to become a fast bowler. However, the same factor gives her a good position to control the loop and flight as a spinner. At the same time, she saw Priyanka Priyadarshini, bowling in the nets, who has played for India A.
She is an off-spinner too and, Sushree got inspired by her. I thought if she focuses more on the bowling, with her abilities, she can break into the side easily as the junior state team was lacking a quality off-spinner. Later we can develop her batting. And in the trial match to the U-19 Odisha side with her flawless, smooth action, she took 6 wickets,” recalled the proud coach. That performance secured her place in the U-19 side.
Taking about her initial days, Sushree Dibyadarshini remembered how her fielding helped her to break through the district team. “I didn’t get the chance to bat or bowl in that match. Rather a catch I took got everyone’s attention. It was my fielding which helped me to enter the district side,” recalled the promising youngster.
Her family let her follow her dreams and became the support system in her journey. “I am lucky that I got support from my family. They never pressurized for anything and, they didn’t discriminate against me for being a girl. I love to sleep and, it is my father who still wakes me up in the morning so that I don’t get late for my practice. He keeps nudging me till the time I am fully awake. He prepares my breakfast and used to take me to practice in my initial days. Yes, I don’t discuss cricket with my family, but I know that they are there,” she shared.
Sushree, who is a 3rd-year undergraduate student of History, fought hard to manage studies. “During my school days, I find it difficult to cope up with the studies. I have to leave studies for a year. Even during my zonal matches, my board exams were there. My sir told me that if I get selected for the East Zonal side, still I can give my exams. Eventually, I got selected for my senior team and U-19 team. All my teammates were left for the tournament, and after my exams, I had to travel alone to Hyderabad. It was an experience.”
Two years into the U-19 state team, Sushree Dibyadarshini then secured her place in the U-19 Zonal side. At the time was selected for the Odisha Senior and U-23 sides as well in 2013. Though she did well on the U-19 side that year, her experience on the senior side didn’t go well according to the expectation.
Her consistent performance in the age group cricket didn’t go unnoticed by the selectors. Her 6 wickets against the Mumbai U-19 side gave her the desired confidence to do well on the Senior side. After her U-19 performances where she had taken 42 wickets in 24 matches also lauded by the side. She bowled well with limited resources and gained the role of captaincy in the U-19 and U 23 sides.
Speaking of her experience in captaincy, she admitted that it’s a different kind of experience. “I need to take care of not only myself but my team also. So it surely put pressure. If anything goes wrong, then I have to take the blame. But at the same time, captaincy is fun. One learns a lot of things like how to manage things and convince the different age groups your points. It teaches me how to take responsibility. It made me mature regarding my game. I like the way Mithali Di leads the side and like Smriti’s way of captaincy too,” she added.
Her consistent performance earned her a place in Women’s T20 Challenge in 2019. She was included in the Velocity side. Talking about her time in the dressing room with the likes of Mithali Raj, Sushree said, “Playing along with the legends of the games like Mithali Raj means a lot to me. She is the legend of the game and, you learn a lot from her. She remains so calm in the fields and, her presence takes a lot of pressure away from juniors like us. I even got her out twice in the Velocity nets.” (she chuckles.)
Not only wickets of Mithali Raj and Stafanie Taylor, but Divyadarshini also has the wicket of Sana Mir too under her belt. Talking about the match, she pointed out that she had no idea about who Sana Mir is. “It was way back in 2013. Pakistan side needed a practice matches for the ongoing World Cup and, Odisha played against them. In one of my balls, Sana Mir went for the sweep and got caught. Everyone started to congratulate me and, honestly, I didn’t know about Mir. But I did realize that I must have done something remarkable,” she revealed.
Things move fast after her venture in Women’s T20 Challenge. In the 2020 Women’s Quadrangular series, she was the highest wicket-taker with 8 wickets in 4 matches for India A along with Tanuja Kanwar. Against Bangladesh, she was the pick of the bowlers for India (2/11), and, against Thailand, she got three wickets for three runs. Apart from anything, her economy of 5 in a T20 series earned her praises. Though India B lost the final of Senior Challenger Trophy to Shafali Verma’s onslaught, she bagged 7 wickets for India B from 3 matches, conceding 66 runs.
Sushree Dibyadarshini carried on her form in the Senior One Day Tournament. Though she didn’t get a wicket in the first two matches, she hit back-to-back fifties. Against Delhi, she scored an unbeaten 54 followed by a 50 against Tamil Nadu. In the encounter against Delhi, chasing a 216, Odisha was 5 down on 98. Sushree, along with wicket-keeper Pragyan Paramita added 106 runs in 18 overs. Sushree, who came out to bat at 7 remained not out on 54 from 60 balls with six boundaries, to win the match by 4 wickets.
Though Sushree had shown prominence in bowling, her tendency to showcase her batting capabilities never faded away. She loves to bat on and on. But most of the time, her team sends her to bat down the order, a fact which is Sushree is not very fond of.
“You know the funny thing, after becoming the captain, I thought that I would get the liberty to choose my batting order. But our coach kept me sending down the order for technical reasons. So one day, I told our coach that I want to bat up in the order by hook or by crook. And that day, unfortunately, I got out with a very minimal score.” But the story does not end here. On the very next day, she got the chance to bat at her fixed position, and that day she scored a half-century.” Now I even cant complain about the coach (smiles). But I think if I get more consistent changes in the top order, I have the capabilities to capitalize that.”
Coach Behera supported his student in this regard, saying, “Sushree’s effectiveness with the bat in the middle order gets clear if one looks at her performance for the senior side and U-23 side. In the academy, she faces the boys well and, the tougher competition from the boys has made her a more competent and fearless cricketer. Even in the friendly matches, she plays with the boys to evolve herself as a better cricketer.”
She gained confidence from her batting and then went on to take 16 wickets in 6 matches before the tournament got cancelled. Her tally included a 5-wicket-haul against Haryana which, helped Odisha to win the match by 2 wickets. While speaking about her student’s performance this season, Khirod Behera said that accuracy is the key in her bowling. Sushree can bowl to a particular area hours after hours. Her ability to bowl in a tight line and immaculate length, without getting tired makes life harder for the batters. That is evident from her economy and strike-rate for the last couple of years too.
However, cricket is returning with the Women’s T20 Challenge, as per the Indian cricketers are concerned. Regarding the preparation for the tournament, Sushree Dibyadarshini utilized her time well. In the first two months, she spent her time with her family. It was a much-desired break for her.
“Our ground though was closed for public, we got the permission to train. I had the fitness training to get into the shapes and, then I gave more focus on my batting and bowling. Sir gave me some scenarios and asked to bat and bowl according to it. It helped me to increase my awareness regarding the game. T20 is the shorter format of the game and, fielding takes a major role in it.” As fewer cricketers appeared for practice, it was easier for her coach to give extra time to Sushree Dibyadarshini.
What makes Sushree Dibyadarshini so special?
The coach, Khirod Behera’s eyes were lit up while speaking of her favourite student. “I believe one needs to be a good human being first, to become a good cricketer. Sushree is very humble and down to earth. I must speak of her dedication, determination, and focus. She is a fun-loving girl, but once she is on the ground, she will give her 100%. That focus makes her different. Her sacrifices, hunger for success, energy is a lighthouse for the junior cricketers here.
They look at their ‘didi’ as a role model. Even now, she follows every instruction from keeping a dairy to helping the junior. No doubt that she is an excellent off-spin bowler and agile fielder.
If she gets more opportunity to bat higher in the order, she will prove her worth there too. With all the expertise she got, she is a great prospect for India. Any coach or captain would love to have a player like her on the side. Moreover, she is mentally very strong.”
Sushree too has, respect for her coach. She spoke about how her coach has motivated her, time and again, and has played a major role in shaping her career from childhood. The youngster also follows Ravichandran Aswin and Nathan Lyon closely and tries to learn from them.
Speaking of her dream, the baby faced girl from Odisha said, “There is nothing new. Like everyone playing cricket, I also want to play for India one day. And this dream keeps me motivated and focused. Every year I think that is it, but I don’t get a call. This rejection has made me stronger and brings out the best of myself. The last couple of years has been good for me and, my next target is to play in both the matches. Women’s T20 Challenge gives us a platform, and I need to grab this opportunity.”
In the Emerging Asia Cup 2019, the talented all-rounder played an instrumental role in the Indian bowling unit. After picking up back to back three wickets haul against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, she took 1/25 in her 7 overs in the Final, which India won by 14 runs and she was elated while speaking about her performances.
However, she stresses that she wants to carry on her from in the upcoming years as well. One who trapped the likes of Sana Mir, Mithali Raj, and Stafanie Taylor – wants to take the wicket of Ellyse Perry as well. “Besides, I would love to take the wickets of Sri Lankan cricketers as they play spin well. If I perform better against the players who play well, it will work as the confidence booster for me.”
With the all-round talent in her kitty, the talented cricketer is expected to put up her best show in the upcoming tournament as well.