Lisa Sthalekar, who will go down as one of the legends, not just in Australia, but in the women's game. Sthalekar, 33 and one of the best allrounders in the women’s game, announced her retirement from international cricket on Monday (February 18), a day after Australia won its sixth World Cup title.
Sthalekar's 12-year international career saw her play eight Tests, 125 One-Day Internationals and 54 Twenty20 Internationals. Along the way, she became the first woman to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets in ODIs. She ended her career as the top-ranked alllrounder in ODIs and T20Is, and was also a part of the winning teams in the Women's World Twenty20 in 2010 and 2012.
Sthalekar, still basking in World Cup glory, took time off to reflect on her journey, what made her a modern-day phenomenon in the women's game and her road map for women's cricket. Excerpts:
To quit the game immediately after World Cup glory, it must be an emotional time for you.
Oh yes, it is emotional but so far, it has been well under check. The journey has been fantastic. I've been part of some really successful teams. When I first came into the team, I was part of a group of players who dominated the game and that culminated in our World Cup win in 2005. After that, to go through a rebuilding phase was quite difficult at some point, but to actually finish it off with the next generation of players and having done a double of the World Twenty20 and the 50-over World Cup is really special. I feel on top of the world.
Did you ever dream of leaving the game as the best allrounder? How did your role change through the course of your career?
I came into the team primarily as an offspinner who wanted to bat higher up. It took me a number of years to do that. As usual, there are a few hiccups moving up and down the order, but bowling allowed me to stay in the team and allowed me to perform well. I was really happy that even in the T20 format, I was able to adapt and still score runs and pick up wickets. At the end, when I've retired, it feels good to be looked upon as a mentor to the younger bunch of girls coming through.
When did that moment arrive, when you decided 'this is it'?
I had thought about it for a while. It is all about picking the right time. I wanted to go out on top. Two World Cups within a span of six months was a good opportunity to do that. I thought if we could win both, it could be a perfect way to end, and it panned out exactly that way. Before I came in to this tournament, I had decided this was going to be the end, no matter what. And to finish off with a World Cup victory, especially in the place where I was born feels all the more special. I didn't really tell anyone, but in my mind I knew the end was here and I was comfortable with that decision.
Given that Test cricket is a rarity, there must have been a temptation to stay on for the Ashes?
Yeah, the Ashes is huge no doubt, and I was a part of six Ashes campaigns, so I can tell you how important it is for all of us. But I was also very aware of the fact that there is a certain amount of time, effort and professionalism that needs to be put into your game and training to perform at that level and I felt this was the right time to go. As an older player who doesn't enjoy the fitness side of things and getting older in my body, I just thought maybe I would regret if I go on one more tour just for the sake of it. I could have played well or I could have played poorly, but I didn't want to take a chance. To leave on a high, it doesn't get better than this.
You have also worked as a talent development manager at New South Wales. What is your take on the young generation of cricketers coming through?
I have been fortunate enough to have played a big part in the development of cricketers not just within the team, but also back home in Australia. There is immense quality and potential there. Holly Ferling and Megan Schutt have come into the side and become key players in such quick time, and I can say confidently that Australian cricket is in safe hands. I'm going to enjoy watching them from far or up close and cheering them on. Not just from an Australian level, but from a global perspective, it is great to see a lot of quality coming through the ranks and this tournament proved that. I just think women's cricket is about to take off as it should.
As someone who has seen the game grow since your debut in 2001, how far are we from that take-off point you've been talking about?
I don't think we're far off. The fact that Sri Lanka knocked over India and then beat England just shows that. Obviously Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies have poured in a lot of money and that is beginning to show in terms of results. Such things take time, but when it does, it pays off. The top sides also need to support these teams. That can only happen if these teams play more often. Ideally, you'd want Australia to play Sri Lanka and maybe South Africa to play England. The women's game has already accelerated well beyond imagination and the first signs were visible in 2010 at the World T20 in the Caribbean where the West Indies qualified for the semifinal. And then three years later, they're here in the final, so that proves how the game has grown in leaps and bounds.
Was there a turning point in your career, after which there was no looking back?
I've had two or three moments, in the sense every time I've made it to the next level, be it at New South Wales team or Australia, the first tour I haven't really performed. My priorities were clear. I didn't want to be a tourist who would be in and out of the team. I wanted to be a key player and a type of player that players, coaches and selectors never wanted to drop. That is why I tried to do everything one could possibly do – bowling, batting and fielding. That moment where I decided I'll be an allrounder, and the steps I took to working towards it, was the moment for me.
Is there some regret there that you weren't a very successful captain?
I had five years of captaining my state side and we had a lot of success. Obviously, things at the Australian level did not work out as well as we would have all wanted, but that didn't stop me from expressing my views and helping the captain in charge, and I think I can be really happy and proud that I've been able to achieve that purely as a player. Even when I didn't have that tag as captain or vice-captain, I always saw myself as one of the leaders of the group and the good thing is I've had the support of the players all the time.
You spoke about batting depression in your book. That phase was bang in the middle of your career. How did you come out of it?
It was really difficult. There was a period of 18 months where I struggled through everything cricket related, and that also became a part of my personal life. I've always been bold and I didn't want to leave the game at that time because it would have not have been the way I had imagined. I had wonderful support from my team-mates, especially Sarah Andrews who really helped me a lot. Also, I had friends and family who gave me that emotional support. Now when I'm sitting here and reflecting on everything as a dual World Cup champion, I feel so proud that I stuck at it in the tough times and came out victorious.
What is the kind of role you see yourself playing going forward?
I'm really excited at the next phase of women's cricket and I'd love to be a part of that. Whether that is coaching, mentoring in Australia or abroad, it doesn't bother me. I want to give back something to the game and see it grow further at a global level, get the kind of reach we all want it to and what it deserves. Hopefully more and more matches will be televised....I was just joking with a few of the girls that they'd hear a lot about themselves from me as a commentator. But yes, whatever should work out will work out and I would want to play a significant role in the development. After ,all the game has made me what I am and this is what I've done for a majority of the last 15 years.