Born on July 20, 1963, in Kolkata, Gargi Banerji made her international debut even before turning 15, in a World Cup match against the English women. Six years down the line she went on to play her first Test where she scored a half century in the second innings. Eventually, she ended up representing the nation in 26 ODIs and 12 Tests.
Over the years she has been associated with Indian cricket in various capacities and has also served as chairperson of Indian women’s cricket team selection committee (2011-2014). In April 2017, she was bestowed with the prestigious honorary life membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
In an exclusive interview with CricFit correspondent Yash Kashikar, the veteran player speaks about the hardships which women cricketers faced in the 80s, her international debut, the experience of playing alongside legends like Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Eduljee, her views on the current Indian team and a lot more.
Take us through your formative years, was cricket always on the cards?
Gargi B: Well, I used to play a lot of sports like football, badminton, table tennis, volley ball and basketball but then I had a passion for cricket. When I came to know that women cricket has started in Bengal I went for the trials and was eventually selected to play for my state. However, my father always felt that there was a huge difference between playing in the streets and playing for the state team and therefore I need to learn every detail of this fantastic game. So, I joined a cricket coaching center where my coaches were Late Kalyan Biswas and Late Kartik Bose who taught me every detail of the game.
Though it was not my dream to become a cricketer, I always had a wish to serve my country. Later on, when I learned cricket I started dreaming bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, by the time I got a chance to play for India I had lost my father.
How difficult was it pursuing something like cricket which was still an amateur sport in 80’s and 90’s?
Gargi B: We had to face a lot of difficulties during those days especially in monetary matters. We used to play club cricket back then and travel by 3 tier that too without a reservation on numerous occasions. At times we have sat near the bath room on the train and also slept in the gallery when we went to play the nationals. Also, there was no physio, trainer or a video analyst but we accepted all these issues just for the sake of our passion for cricket.
You made your ODI debut against England at a tender age of 15 that too in a World Cup. Please throw some light on that particular experience of yours.
Gargi B: Well, before the team for the World Cup was selected I had played few domestic tournaments ( National & Zonal) where I scored a couple of centuries, took a few wickets and also fielded well. So, somewhere down the line, I had an intuition that I will be called for the India camp wherein I can show my talent. Eventually, I was selected in the World Cup squad. Although I was not mature enough for a tournament as big as the World Cup I was extremely happy to get the India blazer. However, I could not perform pretty well but overall it was a wonderful feeling to play for the nation.
Let’s travel back to January 21, 1984. A Test match debut against the mighty Australians at Feroze Shah Kotla and you were right there facing the very 1st ball of the game! So what was exactly going on in your mind during that innings?
Gargi B: Somewhere at the back of my mind I always wanted to deliver for the country. And I was not scared at all because I was very confident about my game which I had learned especially while playing with the big boys. So, whoever I was facing it never really bothered me. All I knew was to strike the very first ball from the sweetest part of my bat and eventually it worked out as I scored runs.
Back then you shared the dressing room with few of the biggest names in Indian cricket which included the likes of Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Eduljee, and Shubangi Kulkarni. So how did these individuals motivate you and what kind of relationship did you share with them?
Gargi B: It was indeed an honor to share the dressing room with these legendary cricketers. They were very down to earth and always encouraged me. Most importantly they understood my capabilities and gave me proper chances and that is the reason I could become the Gargi Banerji I am today. All three were my skipper and I salute them for everything.
Leaving apart a couple of low scores in the outings against Australia, you had a decent track record. So, what according to you marked the end of the road for your career as a cricketer?
Gargi B: Whenever I failed to perform, I used to talk to myself and tell I don’t have a God father who can save me. If I fail now no one will back me. And it did happen after scoring a couple of centuries at domestic level the selector’s thought that I was slow in scoring runs. Although I tried to make a comeback whenever I used to look at those selectors I used to forget what I was trying for.
You have also served as the Chairperson of Indian women’s cricket team selection committee. How was your experience as an administrator and are you looking forward to similar opportunities in future?
Gargi B: It was the biggest honor I had received in my cricketing career which was provided to me by the BCCI. Being the chairperson, of course, was a huge challenge as well as a responsibility. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure and definitely, if the BCCI calls me again I will surely accept the responsibility.
Recently, you and 8 other Indian women cricketers were bestowed with the prestigious honorary life membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). It was an immensely proud moment for all of us. Can you please share the experience?
Gargi B: I was extremely happy and feel blessed to see my name along side some legendary cricketers.
Though Indian women cricket has come a long way than what it was under the WCAI, we are still lagging in comparison with the other countries. So, what else can be done to improve the scenario especially at the domestic level?
Gargi B: Well, I think the BCCI is doing some wonderful work for women cricket. Although you have rightly pointed out the fact that we are still lagging in some areas but nevertheless things are getting better with every passing day. There have been some massive improvements in the game and I feel India is currently the best team in the world. Of course, in domestic cricket, we can have more four-day games and there should be few specialized camps in the NCA.
Also, we need to monitor the overall performance of every calendar year. There should be more opportunities at Under 19 and Under 23 level. We should have an India A team from where we can actually pick up future players and the international matches against the top sides like England, Australia, and South Africa should increase in number irrespective of the format.
Are you in favor of an IPL kind of venture for women’s cricket?
Gargi B: Definitely I think the girls are ready to deliver in IPL.
What according to you has been the key to the success of the Indian team in the ongoing women’s World Cup?
Gargi B: Most importantly all the things started falling into place at the exact point in time. The entire unit is looking positive and after a long time, I can see some proper planning and approach. Each and every player is aware of their abilities and importance in the squad.
In a country, where people are so obsessed with men’s cricket there are two women cricketers who hold the incredible feat of being the leading run scorer and wicket taker in ODI cricket. How do you look at it and don’t you feel these girls receive fewer accolades as compared to their male counterparts?
Gargi B: Well, I feel people are rather obsessed with cricket whether it is women or men. As far as the women cricket is concerned our girls are ruling the world and they should definitely be rewarded for their efforts.
Once the experienced duo of Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami decide to hang their boots, how difficult will it be for the Indian team to fill this void? Is Indian cricket in safe hands?
Gargi B: Of course, it will be a bit difficult initially but these things will happen sooner or later. Eventually, someone else will fill the void. Without a doubt, Indian cricket is in safe hands. Our youngsters have started coming up and are getting ready to face the world.
Devdatta Narote from Wardha wants to know, which two teams according to you will make it to the finals of the ongoing women’s World Cup?
Gargi B: South Africa and India.
Your message to young girls who want to take up the game of cricket.
Gargi B: Well, in my opinion, the young generation is the future of our country. Every young girl who plays any sport should always keep one thing in mind that everything is possible in this world but one must know the game and eventually work on it. Lots of sacrifices, dedication and the urge to contribute to the nation has to be there. Your attitude matters a lot. There is surely a lot of talent in our country and we need to make sure we find and nurture them. I wish all the young players all the best in their life and would sum up by advising them to keep playing and keep working hard.