Women are the real architects of society…as they always dream big and look to reach the summit of their goals. To succeed in life, one has to believe in something with such passion that it ultimately becomes reality. Diana Edulji thegreatest Indian women cricketer of all time, recipient of the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri was one of the most accurate left arm spinners who led from the front havingplayed for the Railways and then the Indian national cricket team. Further captaining the team too, she was extremely popular and had a long successful career for many years. This dynamic cricketer strived each and every day for constant and never ending improvement because she was always of the belief that life is only what we choose to make of it.
CricFit author Binaisha M. Surti was honoured to have met and interviewed Diana Edulji at the Parsee Gymkhana, Marine Drive. Diana recalled her wonderful cricketing past with a sparkle in her eyes and a smile on her face all throughout as she spoke on various aspects like playing for India, being a part of the Indian women’s cricket team that won its first ever Test match, bowling to the great Clive Lloyd and lots more. It was truly a blessing to have met someone who is so positive about everything in life and speaks her mind.
Take us through your formative years, was cricket always on the cards?
Diana: Cricket was never on the cards, in fact it was Basketball and Table Tennis in school as well as in college. I stayed in the Railway Colony-Badhwar Park in Colaba where every weekend we would play tennis ball cricket. It used to be ten boys and me as the only girl. That is how I developed a liking for the game. I also played all the open Table Tennis tournaments in the gymkhanas, but the competition was too much. I realised that to make a mark somewhere it would be best to play a new game and as I liked the sport, I decided to switch to cricket in 1971.
In fact I would call Aloo Bamjee the pioneer of women’s cricket in India. Way back in 1969 she formed a cricket club at the CCI called “ALBEES Cricket Club”. It used to be Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings where we were allowed practise in CCI. We got great help from Raj Singh Dungarpur, Vijay Merchant and DilipSardesai. It was serious cricket that we played during those times.
Share with us the fond memories of playing tennis ball cricket with the boys in the railway colony?
Diana: We played a lot of gully cricket which was fun and competitive. Each team used to challenge the other. The boys always felt that they should never get out to a delivery bowled by me as then they would be ragged. Right in the very beginning while playing on a matting wicket, a guy who was 6 foot tall was bowling and I did not know how to play on that kind of a wicket. They say on a matting wicket one should play half- cock and never go full forward. That was the mistake I made and it smashed my face. So right in the beginning of my career I had lost four teeth. I did not let that come in the way. It was love and passion for the game that kept me going. During those days there was no money involved…in fact we used to pay from our pockets to play even the nationals. I have always enjoyed playing the sport. Even when I bowled in the nets they gave me the respect and that really helped me lift my game.
How was the experience of attending a cricket camp hosted by Lala Amarnath in 1976?
Diana: In 1976 we were training in Lucknow, when he was appointed as the coach of the Indian team and we were to play against the West Indies. That time we used to have NIS coaches who concentrated on the technical part and not skill at all. Later, when Lalaji arrived he immediately asked everyone to stop doing all those things as he did not want long distance runners and wanted us to play cricket…we were thrilled. In Lucknow, the climate was very hot and humid. In between 3 hour net sessions we would drink water.Lalaji did not like it as he wanted all of us to build stamina. He wanted to see if the girls could bowl the full session without water and we did it.Lalaji was a great help to us andthereafter we won the first ever Test match against West Indies in Patna. We really enjoyed a lot under him and were given the correct tips to flourish.
What was it like being a part of the Indian women’s cricket team that won its first ever Test Match against West Indies?
Diana: Oh! It was a wonderful feeling because I was at the crease, playing in Patna. We had to score hardly a few runs to win in the second innings and were already planning for the evening party. Suddenly, we were reduced to 25/5, the top order had collapsed and then panic set in. We had a big crowd in the stadium. My partner and I slowly built a partnership and I hit the winning stroke. The cheer we got from the entire crowd was just unbelievable. The bus journey from the stadium to the hotel which would hardly take us 25 minutes, took us an hour that day. We were put on a pedestal right in the beginning and knew what it was to win a match for India, what recognition one would get and we became household names immediately.
What are your views on the Indian women’s cricket team today?
Diana: We need a new young captain with new ideas who can keep everyone together as a team. Along with that we need a good motivator and a strategist too.Mithali is a great player and nobody can match her skills. She is leading from the front with her performances but the other areas are stagnating such as field placements, strategy, the bowling changes and the batting order, there is no fixed responsibility given to players. The girls should feel that they have a role to play, they need to feel wanted. That is very necessary in today’s times.
Sadly even today there are so many comparisons made between men and women’s cricket…
Diana: I agree. In fact I went as a manager of the T20 world cup in 2009. After we were told all the dos and don’ts, I just casually asked the manager of the men’s team as to how they were travelling. I was told they were going by a direct flight, club class. On the other hand we were asked to go via Bangalore-Dubai and then London in economy class with a six hour halt in Dubai. I then asked for a lounge facility in Dubai for the girls but was denied. I later got it to the notice of Dhoni and the manager after the opening ceremony. At least they could have put us on the same flight as the men so we could directly get there. We were just left like that on the airport. We had such a long halt, the girls were tired and drained out and then how could they expect the team to play well.
Do you find any similarities between yourself as captain of the Indian women’s cricket team and todays skipper Mithali Raj?
Diana: No way at all. We always fought for what was right no matter what the outcome was. In 1978, we were playing the first world cup. We were asked to pay for everything first and were told that it would be given back to us later. We went to Patna and knew that this was the only chance we had to get our money back as this was the last match. The team decided that we would not go onto the field unless we were paid our dues…We boycotted the match and there was a big hue and cry.We had a long meeting with the government one day before the match and they requested we start the match and the money would be given to us. We agreed and went onto play the game, the next day. We were fielding then and at the dot of the first break we were given our money. I gave the green signal to the girls and we continued with the match.That is how things were then, today they are very much different.
What kind of a personality did you possess as captain back then? Was it similar to the aggressive approach of Virat Kohli or captain cool M.S. Dhoni?
Diana: (Laughs) No not cool at all. I was very aggressive. We used to have a lot of open tournaments, prize money tournaments and we as a team wanted to win all those. We did have a few stars in the side. People would try and run us down, hence we would retaliate. We literary had to plead sometimes when things did not go our way. So…aggressiveness was my key because I led from the front. I used to love to bowl…and loved all the challenges too.
What kind of a debut game did you have in the international circuit?
Diana: It was a lovely debut game in Pune in 1975 against Australia. I was 48 not out while batting. 6/42 were my figures as a bowler. I got the first catch, the first wicket in that game, scored runs and picked up many wickets too. Those days there was only commentary on radio. The commentator was so excited while talking about the game that my mother back home started getting palpitations after hearing him.
Your thoughts of bowling to the legendary player Clive Lloyd at the CCI?
Diana: This was in 1974 and the rest of the team had gone away to play in Rajkot. Clive Lloyd, Andy Roberts and Alvin Kallicharran were present. When Andy Roberts was running, the ground was literary shaking and that time I realized what kind of a difference is there between men and women’s cricket. When Clive Lloyd was batting I asked him as to why he was playing so easily, he told me you really want to see my game and I said yes. The next ball I bowled was out of the stadium. He said that this is what I did not want…as I do not want to discourage you. I then said, no you are not discouraging me…at least now I know where I stand. Till today he is a good friend of mine. Whenever we meet he always praises me and still remembers me.
You even bowled in the nets to the Indian cricket team or any visiting side that came to India…were there any funny incidents which took place?
Diana: Bishan taught me how to bowl the armer so that was very helpful to me. I remember one net session where Parthasarathy Sharma was batting. It was a little turning wicket, so the ball turned a little extra and he was beaten by the delivery. Sunil Gavaskar was behind and he started singing the song DhoondoDhoondo re SajnaDhoondo and all the other players were in splits completely.
Even during the Hero Cup, the first nets were of West Indies and the second was of South Africa. I continued bowling in both the nets. I remember Jonty Rhodes hitting a shot and I went to catch it. So he told me not to that as I might get hurt very badly. I on the other hand I told him that my reaction time should be perfect.
Who according to you is the best all- rounder in women’s cricket?
Diana: Harmanpreet Kaur… because she has the ability to reach the top and I am waiting for the time when Jhulanwill become the number 1 bowler. She has achieved everything in life from the Arjuna award to the Padma Shri but even today she plays as if it is her first game, along with that she also motivates all the players to do well.
Most precious compliment that you have received in your career?
Diana: I would say when people used to call me the Bishan Singh Bedi of women’s cricket, I used to get angry. I would want to maintain my own identity and be called Diana Edulji of women’s cricket. The respect I get even today from cricketers is great, be it from Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar.
Today what more can the BBCI do to improve women’s cricket?
Diana: Have more competitive tournaments especially Test matches, more domestic cricket should also be played…I want the women to play more Test Matches in today’s times.
Lately Harmanpreet Kaur has become the 1st Indian women to join the Big Bash. Are you happy with the way the girls are progressing?
Diana: It is a very big achievement and I am very happy for her. I hope it clicks and there are a number of other players too who can make it to the Big Bash too. I think what we need is to have a tournament in India, to start off with may be around four teams… mix the players and have a few foreign players too. If this happens then it will attract many more girls into cricket.
How would you describe your journey of playing for Railways, then migrating to the National team where you faced the likes of England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, Holland, Denmark and Ireland? You have also played in three world cups and captained the team in two of them.
Diana: Oh! Wonderful, if I ever get a chance then I am willing to go through it again. I would not think of another game. Even though tennis is popular and so is hockey but I still feel that women’s cricket would be my game.
Message to young girls who wish to take up cricket…
Diana: Come out play for the love of the game and play to win. They have to take it upon themselves to get to that international level.All the best to the women, we are always there to support you.