Lisa Sthalekar: ‘With the growing popularity of women’s cricket, the time to strike is now’

The Indian women’s team will play its first-ever day-night Test when it tours Australia in September. The Test, scheduled to be held at the WACA in Perth, will be played between three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and as many Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is).

Former Australia women’s all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar feels multi-format series are the way forward to bring back Test cricket in the women’s game.

Sthalekar, who was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in February, stressed that increased interest and viewership at the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020 means women’s cricket is moving in the right direction.

Edited excerpts:

Your impressions of the Indian team and thoughts on the pink-ball Test later this year…

It will be a historic moment for the Indian players who haven’t played a pink-ball Test. With the Indians having a series against England in their conditions and then coming out to Australia to play all three formats will mean they have been together for a while and have had some great matches, no doubt against England. More importantly, it shows that the most prestigious format will now be accessible for female players from three countries. I hope other teams get the opportunity to experience Test cricket as well.

Shafali Verma’s explosive batting style has received many plaudits. She will play for the Sydney Sixers in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) this season. What are your observations of her?

She is an exciting prospect. I saw her at the women’s exhibition matches in the 2019 edition and then of course up close during the tri-series and the T20 World Cup. She has a lot of freedom when she plays her cricket, willing to take on the bowlers. Shafali loves Australian conditions, so playing for the Sydney Sixers and opening with Alyssa Healy is mouth-watering for all spectators.

READ: Shafali Verma retains top spot in ICC T20I rankings

Mel Jones recently spoke about the need to introduce a perpetual trophy for Australia-India women’s contests. Your thoughts?

Having perpetual trophies means that there will be consistent fixtures between the countries, which is the way forward. Plus, it allows both countries to acknowledge the pioneers of the game and celebrate the past.

Among those who played the game before you, who are the players who have been pivotal to your growth as an athlete and the person you are today?

I came into the NSW (New South Wales) and Australian side when Belinda Clark was skipper. There was a wealth of knowledge from the likes of Lisa Keightley, Julie Hayes, Karen Rolton and Cathryn Fitzpatrick, to name just a few. I learnt a lot about the game and the culture that was expected when you represent NSW and Australia.

What has it been like to watch from close quarters the evolution of all-rounder Ellyse Perry, and Alyssa Healy?

I have known both of them since they were 11 years old. It has been a real privilege to have them in the programmes I was running, to welcome them in as teammates in the NSW/Australian setup, and then finally to become good friends. They are two amazing cricketers that have and will continue to have a huge impact on the development of the game. Both are true professionals of the game.

You featured in eight Tests in total during your playing days. How frustrating was it to deal with a sparse calendar when it came to the long-form game in women’s cricket?

As a player, you want to see how good you can be in the hardest format, and the fact that there were limited opportunities and the lack of a longer format, it was also quite hard to get everything right in that one Test. I wish we had the opportunity to play more, but hopefully we will see a resurgence in the longest format now.

Is Test cricket something that can be looked at more intently to further enhance the reach and profile of women’s cricket?

Given that the Women’s Ashes and the multi-format series work well and to give context to the three formats, I can certainly see in the future that this is the way forward to bring back Test cricket. Given the popularity of the women’s game, the time to strike is now.

“With other countries investing heavily in the women’s game, there are a number of countries that are starting to pull well ahead of others. Therefore, if national boards don’t give the same type of opportunities and investment, I find it hard to see how those countries will win a T20 World Cup.”

When do you think a women’s Indian Premier League (IPL) could be a reality?

I, like a number of current players and broadcasters, believe that a women’s IPL could take place next IPL. I believe that there is enough domestic talent, and with internationals coming in, it could be such an exciting product. The Indian fans are craving more and more from their women’s team and they have had to wait a very long time to see them.

Do you think there’s any merit in the argument that India ought to win a world title first before even contemplating a women’s IPL?

I have never believed in this theory. With other countries investing heavily in the women’s game, there are a number of countries that are starting to pull well ahead of others. Therefore, if national boards don’t give the same type of opportunities and investment, I find it hard to see how those countries will win a T20 World Cup.

WATCH: Mithali Raj, Ramesh Powar on past differences, England tour and Test cricket

Talk is often about women’s cricket not being a solid brand like how women’s tennis is. What can be done to get women’s cricket more visibility and brand equity?

I believe that the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup played in Australia in 2020 has demonstrated that if you market, promote and give the women’s game its own platform, people and brands are willing to watch and invest.

Who are the stars who could take women’s cricket forward in the next 10 years?

There are plenty, but the likes of Sophie Ecclestone, Shafali Verma, Smriti Mandhana, Laura Woolvardt, Amelia Kerr are just a handful who will have long successful careers.

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