Struggling for meals to World Cup final – Rajeshwari Gayakwad recalls path to success

Rajeshwari Gayakwad celebrates a wicket. © Getty Images

Behind every cricketers’ rise, there has to have a hand of their parents. India left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad too, is no different as it was her father Shivanand, a government primary school teacher, who backed her and encouraged her to take up cricket professionally.

Initially a javelin and discus thrower, Gayakwad didn’t disappoint her father becoming the first player from the Bijapur district in Karnataka to be selected in the Indian women’s national team. However, the journey from the bylanes wasn’t a smooth one.

“There were a lot of financial issues at home when I began playing cricket and at times it felt like I wouldn’t be able to play the game for long,” Gayakwad recalled in an interaction with the indianexpress.com. “Money is important in this game because you need to buy kits or a bat and that does not come cheap. So yes it was a long hard tussle.”

A year after Gayakyad made her international debut in 2014, she lost her father and the entire responsibility of the family fell on her young shoulders. But she didn’t let that burden deter her from the target as she completed all the challenges, in and outside the field, with ease.

“When I attended camps in Bangalore, sometimes it would get difficult to arrange meals or have food,” she said, before stating that her move to Bengaluru was an inevitable one to complete her graduation and get wider exposure. “But only one thing was there in my mind — to practice hard and do well for the state.”

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The 29-year-old rued the fact the state of women’s cricket hasn’t changed in her district as a lot of youngsters would fade away after the initial start because the lack of facilities and proper grounds but stressed on the improvement at the national level.

“When I began playing, a lot of the girls joined the camp in our district (almost 200) but most of them could not continue. Bijapur is a small district, and it lacked facilities and grounds. A number of those girls belonged to a middle-class background and had to leave the game due to a lack of financial stability and support from the family. Even right now there would hardly be a few girls who will regularly practice there,” she said.

“But on a national level, the situation has improved and if a family supports the child then I am sure any girl can go a long way. Now girls want to go out there and prove themselves. They have a burning desire to do well and that has lifted women’s cricket considerably. Financially, we are stronger as well, not as same as the boys, but much better than before.”

Known for the ability to provide breakthroughs at crucial junctures, Gayakwad has been an integral part of the Indian setup and her best efforts of 5/15 came during the 2017 World Cup in England against New Zealand which propelled India to the final at Lords. However, in final India succumbed to a bitter defeat against hosts.

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Drawing similarities with T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, Gayakwad fondly calls the Indian captain has been instrumental in keeping the Women in Blue glued together. Hailing from a small town in Punjab, Kaur knows the difficulties that a small-town girl could face and ensures they feel comfortable the moment they step into the dressing room.

“She personally goes and talks to the youngsters and keeps them motivated,” said Gayakwad. When asked about one difference with former skipper Mithali Raj, Gayakwad smiles and said, “Mithali is very calm and cool on the ground and never shouts on the field. If she has to say something, then she will come to the team meeting and talk about it. Harry di is aggressive and can’t stop herself. She speaks right at the spur of the moment.”

Gayakwad has played 40 ODIs, 28 T20Is, and 1 Test match so far, picking a total of 107 wickets. But what stands out is her miserly economy rate of 3.36 in ODI and 6.37 in T20s.