CHENNAI: When Sindhu Sriharsha, then known as Sindhu Ashok, made her India U-21 debut in Pakistan as a 17-year-old in 2005, going up against Sana Mir — who also made her debut in the same series — little did she know that she would play against her again 17 years later in the FairBreak International — an ICC sanctioned private T20 tournament happening in Dubai where women cricketers from 34 countries are participating.
As Mir went on to play for Pakistan, captaining them in multiple T20 World Cups before calling it a day, Sindhu’s life and career took a completely different direction before coming full circle on the field, with Mir captaining South Coast Sapphires and Sindhu leading the Warriors.
Cricket had been the life of the wicketkeeper-batter from Karnataka since she was a 9-year-old. Having been part of the India A and Board President’s XI squads for the better part of a decade, Sindhu decided to step away from the game at the age of 23 when she wasn’t picked for an NCA camp in 2011.
“I thought I have played cricket for too many years, maybe all of my childhood from the age of 10, to almost 23, when I decided to move on. I needed a break, so I decided to step out of the setup to see where I can see myself or who I am as a person,” Sindhu told this daily.
She took up a corporate job in a multi-national company, got married and moved to the USA. As she was building her family outside the sport with her husband Sriharsha MS, cricket found its way back into her life. Although USA Cricket at that point was suspended by the ICC, an opportunity to get back to pursue her childhood love came to her.
Sindhu got a chance to play club cricket and by the time USA returned to international cricket in 2017, she was an integral part of the side. Soon, she became the captain in 2019 and has been leading the side since.
“It’s been a great second inning. I should say, not everybody gets a second chance to try and live their passion they have always believed in since they were like a kid of 10-years-old. It's definitely been a privileged journey so far. I can’t be grateful enough for all of them who have played a part in my life to be able to do this today. From my mom to husband to all of my coaches, it's just been brilliant.”
However, with cricket yet to be professionalised in the USA, not just Sindhu, all the players are either working a full-time job or going to colleges or school apart from playing for the country. Sindhu herself has been working as a product manager in a private company, gave birth to her son before returning to cricket a few months after in 2019.
“Yes, it does put in a little bit of work on us to try and juggle all of this, and I have a brilliant support system with my husband who has been supporting me throughout pregnancy and even after. My mom has played a big part as well and she actually did stay with us right after my pregnancy for a year to take care of my son. When I started training, he was probably 12 weeks and since then, I have been travelling around playing cricket. I have been able to do it because I have that system in place. Otherwise, I wouldn't even be able to play. It's hard to say that I am the one who’s doing all of this, it's not just me. It's my husband, mom and all of the coaches who have been able to make time when I am available to do some practice. All of my teammates who juggle around their timings just so I am able to come and play with them because of my schedule. It requires all of them to make it happen.”
Currently leading the Warriors in the FairBreak International — the only captain from associate nations in the tournament — Sindhu is relishing the opportunity to rub shoulders alongside some of the global superstars like Mir, Mignon du Preez, Heather Knight, Hayley Matthews, etc.
“The opportunity I have been given I don’t think I ever dream of. I’m definitely grateful and I think Shaun (Martyn, founder FairBreakGlobal) saw something special in me in Australia (in 2019 FairBreak) to give me the opportunity to captain the side. Every moment in this tournament has been a learning experience for all of us. Of course going against Heather Knight, walking into the toss with a world cup winning captain, it's almost like a dream come true, which we couldn’t have ever dreamt of. I’m sure, we have opened up dreams for the other associate nations, letting them know that it's not just the ICC tournaments. This is another they can look forward to going forward. And that is why I have to say that Fairbreak has done a fantastic job in providing us this opportunity for all those associate members.”
Sindhu led USA in the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifiers as well as the 2021 ODI World Cup qualifiers. While they fell short in the former and were new to the 50-over format in the latter, they have grown leaps and bounds as a setup since they returned to international cricket. They have another T20 World Cup Qualifiers this year and the USA skipper believes that it's a format that suits them better and they are better prepared than they were in 2019.
"Definitely, we are looking forward to the T20 qualifiers. We give ourselves a little bit more chance than the 2019 event in Scotland, considering that we have a much younger side. We have 10 or 12 of them under 20, which gives us the added energy, something we probably didn't have in 2019. All of them are fearless, highly motivated and very ambitious, which makes our job, as the leadership group, more easier to manage the group. So, definitely looking forward to the 2022 global qualifiers.
At 34, her role in the USA side has changed a lot since she took over. Now, she trusts in the process more than results. She wants to work with the younger players in the system, provide them a platform to express themselves and take the USA cricket forward.
“Some of the kids, when I say kids it's the teammates who are younger, some of them, I have seen since they are 9 or 10 years old. I was actually coaching them. For them to be able to make it to the team and play alongside, it's a great achievement in itself. I take a lot of pride in mentoring and coaching these kids. The next couple of years, my goal would be to provide them with opportunities and an environment where it is safe enough for them to be fearless cricketers, go out there and be themselves and be able to appreciate the opportunity and be grateful for what we are trying to give them.”
“I’m not a person who tries to put in a lot of personal goals or achievements. It's more for the team, if the team is able to deliver to its potential then my job will be done. I don’t want to put in a goal saying ‘I want to play in the World Cup, we have to qualify for the World Cup’. Believing in the process is important. If we are able to go out there and perform to our potential, we will get the results we want. Definitely, my goal would be to provide them the opportunity and environment and see what we can do with our potential.”
The interview was facilitated by Eurosport, the official broadcaster of FairBreak International in India.