Breaking the barriers

Cricket: Rajeshwari has beaten many odds to secure her place in India side
Last Updated 11 July 2015, 17:30 IST

The fact of having successfully represented Indian women’s cricket team for a year has not sunk in yet for Rajeshwari Gayakwad.

Shy and humble, Rajeshwari, the left-arm spinner, hails from Vijayapura, a sleepy district headquarter in north Karnataka.

The emerging cricketer, despite limited facilities and exposure to the game back in her home town, made her debut for India in January 2014, in a bilateral series against Sri Lanka in Visakhapatanam. Since then, Rajeshwari has been impressive enough to secure her place in the side on a regular basis.

Currently part of the Indian Senior women’s side which is playing in the on-going bilateral limited overs series against New Zealand in Bengaluru, the 24-year old recollects the start to her cricketing journey.

The youngster reveals that the arrival of a women’s cricket academy in 2006 in Vijayapura was the turning point. “Compared to big cities like Bengaluru, there is a great dearth of sporting facilities in smaller towns.

“In 2006, a women’s cricket academy was established in my hometown. My father encouraged me to join the academy and my love for cricket began from then onwards. That was my first exposure to the game and I enjoyed the game. “

It was not just the struggle to get better infrastructure that challenged Rajeshwari but the financial hardships of a middle class family that she comes from also pushed her to strive hard and excel. “My father was a teacher in a government school and to raise a family of seven was a daunting task for him. But fortunately for me, he was very supportive towards my passion for cricket.”

Consistent hard work resulted in her selection to the Karnataka State side within a year and regularly represented the team for seven years.

Good performances in the domestic circuit raised her hopes of representing the country and it was just a matter of time she received a national call. “In 2014, I was playing the Women’s Challenger Trophy in Ranchi when I got the news of my selection to the Indian side. It was a dream-come-true for me and I will always cherish that moment,” she recollects.

Rajeshwari’s career began in fine fashion, when the youngster emerged the leading wicket-taker against Sri Lanka. “Though I was a debutant, I was fortunate enough to play in all the three matches of the series. It was a great experience and I finished with nine wickets in three matches to become the leading wicket-taker for India in the series.”
Having travelled to England for a three-match ODI series and a one-off Test, Rajeshwari feels there is still a long way to go for India to match the standard of women’s cricket that is currently witnessed in teams such as England and Australia. “Unlike in India, where stadiums remain largely empty, people show great interest in women’s cricket in England,” she says.

Rajeshwari, however, believes the game is gradually growing in popularity in the country. “Though I am the only women’s cricketer to represent India from Vijayapura, there are a lot of girls showing huge amount of interest in cricket and represent the country. Often during State selections, the competition is very stiff and it makes me happy to see many girls so enthusiastic about the game.”

Now an employee in the Railways and residing in Mumbai, Rajeshwari is proud of her family, which has produced many sportspersons. “My younger sister Rameshwari has also played for Karnataka and she has represented India Green in the Challengers. It is a wonderful feeling to have your sister play the same game and I am sure she will break into the national side soon.

“My older sister Bhuvaneshwari represented Bijapur district in hockey and my younger brother Vishwanath is an emerging volleyball player,” she adds, proudly.

The demise of her father Shivanand Gayakwad last year, indeed a great loss, has only made Rajeshwari more determined for further success. “I miss my father who played an integral role in my growth as a cricketer. But now, in his absence, I make sure I perform well and make my country proud,” she says.

The year is turing out beautifully for Rajeshwari but she aims to take success and failure in equal measure and believes in consistent hard work.

The 24-year-old bagged a match-winning four-wicket (4/25) haul, playing for India Red in the Challengers in June against India Green and helped her team reached the final.

Even in the recently concluded ODI series against New Zealand, Rajeshwari bagged eight wickets from five matches and troubled the White Ferns’ batswomen, by taking wickets at crucial junctures. “I enjoy the game and do not give too much attention to statistics. I want to keep performing well and learn from my mistakes.”

The Karnataka girl is thankful to her team members in the Indian side for their regular inputs and support. “Right from the beginning, the seniors in the side such as Jhulan Goswami and captain Mithali Raj infused confidence in me and I am grateful for their encouragement. It has helped me grow as a player,” she concludes.

(Published 11 July 2015, 17:30 IST)

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