In this episode of the Not Just A Man’s World, Sportstar’s women’s sports podcast, four-time World Cup winner Lisa Sthalekar talks to Sportstar about

  • Reaction to Australia’s victorious ODI World Cup campaign (3:14-5:31)
  • How the 2017 World Cup proved to be a turning point for the Australian Women’s team (5:31-7:56)
  • How WBBL has contributed to Australia’s competitive edge (7:57 – 11:35)
  • Where to start in the long women’s cricket revamp checklist? (11:36 -15:31)

LISTEN | The full chat with Lisa Sthalekar where she shares how far this Australian side has come thanks to some foundation work that began over a decade ago. The full transcript of the interview is available below.

  • Are A tours going to be restarted in Australia? (15:32 – 17:31)
  • How does one catch up with Australia? (17:32 – 20:48)
  • The role of a players’ association in this mix (20:49 -23:34)
  • Importance of social welfare policies in the framework (23:35 -25:56)
  • Balancing the domestic framework vs Women’s IPL debate (25:57- 28:10)
  • Does India need a foreign coach to revamp the system? (28:11 – 30:29)
  • Does Indian women’s cricket need a separate administrator? (30:30 – 32:17)
  • What should Australia work on in the coming World Cup cycle? (32:18 – 34:00)
  • The road ahead for Mithali and Jhulan (34:01-

Australia beat England in a thrilling final to win its seventh ODI title, extending its dominance in women’s cricket. We find out what goes into building a team of the manner and how the others can catch up.

You can also listen to the episode on the podcast platform of your choice – Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts
 

 

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

Lavanya Lakshminarayanan: To begin with, thoughts about this (Australia’s World Cup) win? It’s a massive indication, not just for this team, but for all the processes that are happening behind the scenes as well for Australia, so your thoughts just seeing this tournament pan out the way it did?

Lisa Sthalekar: Yeah. You know a lot of people will say that there’s a huge gulf between Australia and the rest of the world. I don’t necessarily see it as that. You know you’re looking at the tournament as a whole, it was the closest and most competitive that I’ve seen since probably 2000 – that’s when I started to really follow women’s cricket and then obviously played in the future edition. So yeah most competitive I’ve seen.

The difference is that, with Australian cricket, literally you’ve got an Alana King or an Annabel Sutherland or an Amanda Jade Wellington or Tahlia McGrath, who you know, especially for Amanda and Tahlia who made their debut back in I think 2016 17 maybe against South Africa, you know, then was dropped, but they have competitive cricket to go to they’ve got a structured program they’ve got a chance to work on their skill set. Whilst was our domestic players aren’t full time – I think they are Point six based on salary and time commitment – but that’s enough time for them to to put into their game, and then, when they finally get a chance again to come back into the Australian team they make an impact. Same with a Alana King who plays the WBBL, competitive cricket, WNCL; comes in, takes her chance with both hands and now has an Australian contract. So I mean it’s a great story.

But time, effort and investment has gone into the domestic level and that’s also been driven by the players themselves at the top level. They realized they were being looked after pretty well. It was the next tier, the next rung that was really important and that probably happened around 2017, with that MoU (memorandum of understanding) deal between the ACA (Australian Cricketers’ Association) and CA (Cricket Australia).

Lavanya: Right. So you were talking about 2017. For the sake of drama and for the sake of just a nice story that we all like we like going back to that semifinal in 2017. Things just blew up for Australia and they came back with a vengeance. We don’t realise that that really sugarcoats the amount of effort that’s gone in at the back end to really get this team to 42 wins from 2017 to 2022. What do you think Australia has done right that the rest of the world sort of hasn’t done well enough if we can say that?

Lisa: Yeah so, I mean, 2017 – everyone goes back to that semi final, but I think for some players, there was warning signs like Chamari Athapaththu scoring that 178. And then also Australia losing to England like first time in World Cup history that we lost to England, even round matches. I know Alyssa Healy remembers that match against England as a turning point for her career. That she needed to add the sweep shot into her her armoury because she was too predictable of where she was hitting the ball. And then obviously the semi final everyone focuses on. But they were warning signs before that.

So what did they do? Well, they put Alyssa Healy at the top; they wanted to change the style the brand of cricket they wanted to to really take the game to another level and by doing that they needed to be really brave in some of their decisions. So yeah it was a long term plan. You know, things that took time. Matthew Mott talks about getting players to a point where, it allowed them to be as flexible as you getting into the final and it’s Meg Lanning’s 100th game, and she doesn’t actually come out to bat; she sends everyone else up. So I mean you know that’s the epitome of a team culture, there you know team first instead of I.

And and since then they’ve had a core group of players, so the other thing that has been noticeable. Same with England- they’ve had a core group. A team that has a core group of players, you can build culture, you can build understanding of each other’s roles and then, once you do that, then, then you can fly as high as you want and that’s what the Australian team has done.

Lavanya: Fair enough. A lot of the players, especially ,Meg and Alyssa during the World Cup have spoken about how much the WBBL is contributing to the competitive edge and the fact that these girls know how to handle high pressure situations on a constant basis. Do you think this tournament sort of occupies a space in the sort of culture that the Australian team has right now of just winning everything that’s coming in their way?

Lisa: Yeah yeah, I mean it’s played a crucial role, because the our domestic players get to face and bowl to the best players in the world. So for the likes of Atlanta King or or even the three youngsters that was sitting at home because of they were injured- Tayla Vlaeminck, Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham – you know they’re great stories in itself that they come in and they’ve had an impact straightaway.

So the other thing is, well you can’t underestimate everything else that goes around the WBBL. Yes, the cricket is competitive. But there’s TV; there’s interviews; there’s being miced up; there’s crowds; there’s finals; there’s pressure; there’s fireworks; there’s flames. You know it’s the whole occasion so when you walk out in the WBBL or now The Hundred for the English domestic players, there’s a sense that everyone’s watching. I’ve got to perform. You know, it’s not just the my five family and friends that have rocked up to the grounds, like there’s actual spectators, there’s articles being written, I need to do an interview the next day, you know all of that actually, you can’t train for that.

Here’s a look at the Australian cricket ecosystem for women

 

You only get thrown into the throngs of it, and then you have to deal with the pressure and the prime example is you know I look at the T20 World Cup Final. Two great sides India, Australia, – but if you look at the faces of the Australian team they’re all just smiling. Now I know it meant probably a little bit more to Australia, because there was that 86,000 and it was in your home country, and you know, is a melting pot of so many generations coming together, and it was just wow I’m not on Center stage but look at all the people before me, there was that, but they just soaked it up and they smiled and they enjoyed it. I understand the Indian girls were very focused serious and but you know they would never have experienced something like that I do feel that the Indian players experience pressure like no other country because. You know everyone stops when they play and everyone’s a pundit, everyone has an opinion and everyone’s quite happy to tweet it out as well. They may not know the player, that might be the first time they’ve watched them, but they like to do the comparison with the men’s team and it’s like, no, no, no it’s a different beast in itself. Just watch a few more matches, and then you can give your opinion.

So that they experienced that but they just don’t experience it enough at the domestic level so it’s a huge step up, whereas the WBBL has probably been the bridging gap for us so domestic cricket in our 50-over game is still family and friends that are coming but then the WBBL – it’s the general public and it’s that little bridge between that and then obviously international cricket, which is another level up. But I think that that has been the main reason why we have hardened cricketers coming into our side and it’s not a few years for them to get comfortable and settled and they come in and they go ‘bang give me the ball, give me the bat I’ll do the job.’

Lavanya: That’s right. When you were explaining this you were talking about all the many things the WBBL gets right. I guess, right now, if, for instance, if the BCCI has to sit down and say okay I’m going to revamp Indian cricket for women, how its going to work – with the IPL, at least the intention to host a women’s IPL comes in that periphery. But it’s so many things on that checklist isn’t it, Lisa? You have to get your domestic system right. You have to make sure that these girls get a lot of exposure. You have to make sure the game goes professional. Give them steady stipends so they can actually look at the game as a viable career option that they can think about without anything else coming in the way. Where do you start? You’ve got like these 50,000 things on your vision board; what do you pick first, if you really have to get going?

Lisa: I think first and foremost, you just need to find some regular cricket for them so obviously the T20 domestic competition starts now I think what today or tomorrow, something along those lines. You know one thing that I’m proud of is that cricket Australia throughout the pandemic has found ways to play cricket and both men and women – hasn’t just been the one, so I just think you need you need to firstly give your state and domestic players, a chance to play, I mean you’ve got a lot of players, I mean how many states have you got now that are playing? 20 something right? I think I saw something someone tweeted for this to 20 domestic competition over 100 games taking place- that’s great. So obviously they’ve got to go in zones, but you know you can find ways of filtering and I know that they’ve got the T20 challenger that’s normally selected what four teams. After that, but you can probably go another tier again so you can start to kind of filter and figure out who your best players are. And then find ways to make sure that your 50 over domestic cricket is put in place. You do that with the other different funneling of of players through, whether it be you know, instead of four you go to eight, you know you know eight teams or six teams and then it goes down to four or whatever it may be, but you can you can start to ensure that the better players are getting tested regularly by similar type standard players. And then, finally, you should come to your your pointy end of the pyramid where, all of a sudden, you’ve got some great cricket where the selectors can go well this person’s take this box here here here, and here.

The problem with the domestic cricket is that there’s no territory there’s no there’s not the bells and whistles like the IPL has. The ipl is obviously the next step forward and it’s great to hear that they’re looking to do that in 2023 and you know that’s going to provide the right environment for your domestic players to shine.

And you watch, I mean. I cannot wait to see it, because I think players who I’ve seen that domestic level I go, how are they not in the Indian team or the setup or in their squad.

The other thing as well is under WV Raman, he brought back in India A tours and I know they toured Australia, Shafali Verma was part of that tour. Veda Krishnamurthy was the skipper. Priya Punia was there. So you know getting that next tier a chance to play regular cricket again and travel to different conditions so that, when they go to that country with the Indian side it’s not all that foreign. It’s not okay wow, I’m in the Indian team, I’ve never been here – this pressure, so all of those little things really do matter.

Lavanya: Fair enough. You were talking about the A Tours. Australia has definitely placed a lot of impetus on this, on having like not a second string but at least like a tier down where you have people coming in. How are these conversations happening in Australia and are they looking to restart the tours again?  I know they were in England sometime last year?

Lisa: Yeah and it seems to happen, like when you have a big tour like England, you have your Australia A, and England did the same thing as well,England A came out. This means that players can, even the ones on your bench of the main side they get to play some regular cricket so I don’t know where it’s at moving forward. Because we also had a national NCA program as well, where players would go up to Brisbane and train for a few months. So like a Maitland Brown, Stella Campbell, Alana King – those type of players would go up there and train as full time athletes. I know that program was kind of put on ice because of COVID-19. So once we kind of get out of this haze that we’re in because of the pandemic, I’d like to think that those tours will come will start to come up.

But also moving forward, obviously, with the under 19 tournament scheduled for the start of next year that’s going to push a lot of countries to actually start to put programs in place for the younger players and and stronger competitions as well, so I think a byproduct of that could easily be under 19s, A tours and then your main side, and if you get all those three right and you get you know domestic cricket underpinning it to allow you to select the best and then you give them the exposure, anything is possible.

Everyone’s scared of India, when they get it right, because I do feel that they will dominate cricket at the highest level for decades to come, so I think every other country is happy that they haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Lavanya: I’m actually glad you brought up field, because that’s something everybody else is feeling about Australia now. Because even please do catch up, Australia, still going to be what seven eight miles ahead of everybody else I remember seeing this PDF on the Cricket Australia website from I think 2013-2014, before the 2015 World Cup, where they have huge plan for Community engagement, age group cricket, community cricket, club cricket. You’ve got all of this in place nine years 10 years ago. So, how does anyone catch up with a system like this? You said you don’t want to use the word gulf as much, but there is a gulf isn’t there, Lisa? This team is just miles ahead of everyone else.

Lisa: Yeah the I mean, to be honest and I worked at Cricket New South Wales in the development department as well, so I went out to schools and we had T20 blast competitions between schools where if a school wanted to enter a boys team, they had to enter a girls team, otherwise they couldn’t participate – just those little different, you know, slight changes in rules ensures that cricket opens up, and back then cricket was really trying to push to be seen as a sport for everyone.

You know if I think back to when I started working at NSW, which is the early 2000s, that was a goal. Fast forward to 2022, sport and cricket isn’t seen as a men sport, not in this country. It is seen as a sport that both boys and girls can play and we’ve got wonderful ambassadors – this Australian team is amazing.

So yeah so as for a long time now we’ve been putting in programs at a grassroots level, because at the end of the day, that’s your feeder. It cannot be sustained by one or two passionate females across Australia that want to play and they play in the boys team and then they just keep striving. That’s the old days, whereas now it’s about providing an environment for all girls to feel comfortable in playing the game and that means creating all girl competitions or girl training camps, because some girls don’t like to play with the boys, because the boys take over so just creating that environment has really made a big difference.

The thing about India, the thing about Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh is you’ve got massive population so you know if you went to the scale that we had no one would touch you guys, for a very, very long time, but if you get a couple of programs put in place, you still have the mass. You’ll still have a great volume of players to select from.

When I did some work with the Rajasthan Royals, I went to Rajasthan, especially Jaipur and spoke to a number of schools and obviously boys cricket is in the school curriculum, there’s opportunity whereas it’s not for the girls. So I was like well, that would be the first place, I would start you know, so it needs someone who’s willing to do the hard yards, work with government and State governments to try and create more opportunities for females to play the game.

Lavanya: So where does a players welfare association figure in this because I remember you were one of the people who spoke about this back when the news of them not getting their money, and when things going wrong with Indian setup. You have spoken about how players need to have a players association, where people have a voice, where does that sort of figure in here?

Lisa: I actually I tweeted about it when the pandemic hit really badly at the end will middle of IPL simply because so many players had lost family, friends, because of COVID and I gave the example that I was in India, and I was a past player and I was getting a call every day from a ACA asking if I was okay and if there was anything they could do for me. They’d say “we’ve got sports psychologists and people available if you need to talk,” you know just providing that that help, that lifeline almost.

You know, I think the pressures of Indian cricket and to try and make it, more so in the men’s getting then probably the women’s game at the moment; you see players striving to get an IPL contract going around trials and you know there’s a lot of pressure because they’re trying to probably sustain their family who’ve invested so much in them, I think then there does need to be something from a welfare point of view, to look after those players.

And then players coming off contracts, and you know I’m sure losing an Indian contract and going back into state land is a huge drop. Firstly in the amount of money you’re receiving and also how that affect you, your family. There are a lot of stress and pressures that come with it.

So yeah with a players association, people think players association is all about trying to get more money out of national boards. it’s not necessarily like that. It’s about creating an environment to ensure that the players can perform at their ultimate. At the end of the day, a players association and the national board are actually working hand in hand and to ensure that, firstly, the national boards are creating a system or pathway programs matches and the players association is working with that national board to ensure that everything is right for the players to perform at their peak.

I’ve grown up in a country where the players association has a very strong representative amongst the players. You know, things haven’t always been rosy between ACA and CA, but I think our relationship at the moment is the best it’s ever been and we’re all working for the the common goal.

Lavanya: The other thing that comes off from here is welfare policies that Cricket Australia and ACA actually came together to give their players, which now Pakistan in England and all of these other countries are also implementing. How important is this for say a cricketer who’s coming into the fold; who knows, “okay, you know what? I have these things backing me up if something goes wrong, or if I want to start a family.” That’s not something the Indian players, for instance, even think about. I hate using this term- settle down – but that never sort of comes into the ecosystem at all, because you have to give up a career to have to look into that properly.

Lisa: Again it goes back to these policies and the players association creating an environment to allow the players to play at their peak which means your peak is actually in your late 20s -early 30s. And by then, people may want to start a family, they may want to start a family really early, but they can come back. One of the great stories of this World Cup was the amount of mothers that were there, I mean for Amy (Satterthwaite) and Bismah (Maroof), the two that actually gave birth, I mean credit to them, but also we had Megan Schutt, her wife and Riley travel with the Australian team and having kids around the group is actually a really good thing people may think it’s a pain and obviously there’s no doubt there are some issues that you need to kind of work through and teething problems. But at the end of the day, it probably makes people realise it’s just a game of cricket. You come home, you see this kid and they’re smiling and bubbly whether your team’s won or lost, I think the group loved it, I mean I know the New Zealand girls loved having, I think it’s Gracy, isn’t it? Yeah.

So I think that’s a huge development of the game since the last World Cup and it’s only going to get better and I’d like to think that other national boards ensure that they start putting these type of policies in place, because I think there’ll be a lot of females that want to have a family, start but they want to and still have a little bit more to give from a sporting point of view.

Lavanya: Going back to the IPL, maybe a criticism that comes often for the sort of advocacy that happens for the women’s IPL is that this is not going to solve all the problems that Indian cricket scene has. Like you said you need a feeder line that really puts talent even into a women’s IPL. It’s not that there is no talent to start it on, but to keep it going for a number of years, you need systems in place at the grassroots level. The Indian board has had a long time to figure out its domestic structure so do you think we should just get going with the IPL and then figure out allied systems? How do you sort of see that balance – the whole domestic system- IPL balance?

Lisa: I’ll be fascinated to see, firstly, which franchises jump at the opportunity. I like the idea of a little bidding war. I wouldn’t be surprised if those franchises start to put things in place as well for them so that they ensure that they capture the best. That might be required. Maybe it will take outsiders to kind of put a system in place that may work for Indian cricket moving forward.

The thing is you’re right, where do you start you know? What do you do?  Mel Jones and I were quite open at the start of WBBL and we said I don’t think we should go to eight (teams), we just don’t think the talent pool was enough. But fast forward now and they proved us all wrong and it’s generated so much so  it will change women’s cricket globally this IPL. First, it will put women’s cricket (on) center stage, and it will inspire so many young girls to take up the game, and that in itself will push states, cities, cricket clubs and academies to all of a sudden go ‘hey we probably need to put something in place for all of these girls that are rocking up now that want to play’. So hopefully the swell of female cricketers that want to play the game might be enough just to push everyone into the modern era.

Lavanya: And you were talking about outsiders coming in putting things in place. Is that maybe a way of saying a foreign coach might do some good for an Indian setup as well?

Lisa: No, I was talking purely about the private investors, you know, with the franchises. Some people that aren’t necessarily intrinsically involved in BCCI. in terms of the foreign coach, I mean you’ve got some talented cricket in there, don’t you? I just and I look at all of the players that have played for India over the last two to three years and I think there’s still a lot you could probably get out of those players , like they’re not done and dusted yet, we don’t need to put them on the shelf. You can take them off the shelf and get them to still do their job.

I think I think there needs to be a clear guideline, a clear vision and and it goes back to what the Australian team did as well, like when 2017 happened and it was almost like the coaching staff, the senior players and the selectors all went “Right, if we’re going to win a World Cup, this is what we need, and we all need to be on the same page”. Whereas sometimes I feel not everyone’s on the same page in India and I’m not privy to any of those conversations, so this is just me looking from afar.

But if you can get everyone on the same page, then one thing that will come out of it shortly is probably the future tours program for the women. So all of a sudden you’ve got mapped out to the next World Cup when all your tours are taking place and where you’re going.

So start to put in place a vision of okay, this is a core group we want to blood, certain people here, what are we deficient in, what are we missing. How do we find it,let’s go to domestic let’s try and find the next one, let’s give them an option, you know it’s that type of collaborative approach that is needed. Can that happen with an Indian coach at the helm? Yeah, it can. Can it happen with a foreign coach at the helm? Yeah, it can. you just have to find the right person for the group going forward but there’s a wealth of talent there.

Lavanya: Does this really require somebody to take up women’s cricket separately, because we did have like a women’s cricket association which then merged into the BCCI. These are two completely different streams, do you think this requires maybe a separate executive?

Lisa: Yeah I mean I look at how integration happened here in Australia and Initially it was separate like it was in in India, and then it merged. You had maybe one person kind of overseeing women’s cricket but what they thought about integration was let’s integrate everything, because we are one big company.

But at the end of the day it is an extra team, extra players, extra coaching staff, extra junior pathways – it’s a whole other job. So what we found here is and I’ll give the example of cricket New South Wales. We’ve got head of cricket operations, which is Greg Mail and then you’ve got Michael Klinger who is head of men’s cricket/boys and then you’ve got Leah Poulton as head of women’s cricket now those to report to Greg who oversees everything.

So you’ve actually got people in place to just look after women’s cricket. Now this is Australia, which is a very small population compared to India and the distance isn’t as big okay?  And that’s just in a state. So you look at India as a whole and you can start to do that, not only in BCCI, but you can start to do it in states and there’s nothing stopping states actually doing that. I believe there’s nothing in the mandate to say you can’t employ someone solely looking after your women’s programs, and there may be people out there, I’m not quite sur,  I don’t know all the state systems, but having one person dedicated to running or administering or coordinating makes a big difference.

Lavanya: And enough as a final question this World Cup is sort of a clean slate because one cycle is done now and we’re at the start of the next. So what is a clean slate look like for a team like Australia that’s already on top of the mountain? Where where do you think they should improve from here on?

Lisa: Now you know I look at this team, and I think they’re there once-in-a-lifetime players, some of them and they’re going to retire. And that’s going to be a big gulf for Australia to kind of fill so they’ve got to start to look to blood new players as well. At the moment, they should sit back and reflect on a wonderful campaign of five years. Commonwealth games is coming up, there’s another T20 World Cup. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few players start to retire in the next 12 to 18 months. I don’t know if we can convince them all to continue for another three years because a lot of the players have started with the Australian team at such a young age as well, they probably want a bit of a life. That’s one thing when they probably came in. Initially it was one tour a year, whereas now it’s two to three tours a year and a jam packed calendar. Put The hundred, WBBL, maybe a women’s IPL and you don’t have much time off so it’s been a big jump quite quickly. So it’s about making sure that the next players coming through can pick up where they left off, which will take some time and the Australian team may take a bit of a hit. But that’s expected when when you are kind of restarting again.

Lavanya: Do you see the same thing applying to our dealing with Mithali and Jhulan being where they are? Do you see this applying to India as well.

Lisa: Yeah, one thing that I know is is different to Indian cricket as compared to Australian cricket is we tap players on the shoulder and tell them to go. Doesn’t matter who they are. Ricky Ponting is a prime example. And that was one thing I was very conscious of as a player. I didn’t want to get tapped on the shoulder so I went before they could tap me. You know, so I think people need to be honest with all players; going through what their role is, can they contribute, are they the right fit for the team moving forward.

I’ll give you another example, not an Australian example is Charlotte Edwards. What’s his name, I can’t remember the coach’s name. I can see him anyway, he sat down with her and and no doubt I would imagine, Charlotte thought 2017 is my swan song, you know home World Cup and she was still the leading run score for England and all of the series, but he tapped her on the shoulder and went,”Sorry you’re not what we need right now. You’re actually holding the group back.” Which is devastating for a legend like her. But then it’s justified isn’t it when they win the World Cup. So sometimes your best players can sometimes hold back the next generation because they’re always in awe of of what you do.

And same thing with them Ellyse Perry this summer, she got dropped from the T20 side because she doesn’t fit in Now I know a lot of people in India tweeted about it and a few of my friends over there said I can’t believe you’ve dropped Ellyse Perry and I’m like but her numbers don’t match up to what they’re trying to do so regardless of the aura of who she is, she doesn’t fit the brand that they’re trying to play. So I mean we’re quite ruthless, whereas in India it’s almost like you’re waiting till the players says thank you I’ve had enough now.

I would have loved to have seen, because obviously Jhulan got injured and she didn’t get a chance to play that last game, I would have loved to seen India kind of put on a series soon after this World Cup, which was almost a swan song for both of them, I mean I don’t know what they want to do moving forward, but you would imagine that going out the way they did is not ideal, so how can you and I’m sure BCCI will speak to them as well, how do we give them the proper farewell because they’ve been the two leaders of Indian women’s cricket for such a long time, and you just don’t want them to disappear, but you know, at some point you have to move forward.

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