‘If You Are Good, Your Gender Doesn’t Matter’

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
She has been at it for over two decades now, a lone woman in a man’s world. But Sunita Sharma, India’s first woman cricket coach, is finally getting her due.

Prevented from representing the country due to the “dirty politics” that pervades the system, Ms Sharma says she feels a deep sense of achievement when she sees her students playing well.

“I always knew I had it in me to play for the country and was even chosen in the final 11 for the first Test against Australia in Delhi in 1975, but on the morning of the match, they kept me out,” she recalls.

And perhaps that is why she feels a quiet pride when pupils like Deep Dasgupta and current captain of the Indian women’s team Anjum Jain don Indian caps.

“I have always believed that hard work never goes waste and that’s what is happening now,” she says. “My kids have given me the satisfaction that I could personally not derive.”

At the Sai cricket camp, Ms Sharma in action is the quintessential Dronacharya. In the scorching heat, she trains her proteges with an eagle’s eye as she makes them slog in the sun. With none of the pupils missing out on her personal attention, Ms Sharma looks in total command of the situation.

Ms Sharma represented Delhi and the North zone for five years. She was also chosen in the Indian team for the first Test against Australia. But, says she, “On the morning of the match, I was told that I was not in the final 11.”

“Disillusioned and distressed”, she retired from cricket and took up coaching at the young age of 21. “I took the exam conducted by the Sports Authority of India and went through the one year course, with the hope that if I could not prove my worth in active cricket, then I would do it in coaching.”

Today, Ms Sharma stands out as one of the few women who have entered this male domain and emerged successful. “If you are good at something, then I believe your gender does not make a difference. In the beginning, I did have a problem because people did not take me seriously. They felt that I was too young and plus I was a woman, and of course, what do women know about cricket”

Gradually, however, there was a marked change in their attitudes. “They realised that I was dead serious about my work. I was strict in my dealings and they could not take me for a ride.”

Yet, being a woman does have its drawbacks in this overwhelmingly male bastion. “Like others, I am also a housewife, I have little kids and, sometimes, balancing both is a problem. That is something men do not have to face. I cook, take care of household chores and am present here every afternoon at the nets.”

Ms Sharma also agrees that coaching does not end with a stint in the field. “We are involved 24 hours a day.”

“So many times, I lie awake at night, contemplating the next day’s schedule, and many a time, we even keep practice matches on Sundays, which is the only day we can rest. It’s a hands on job,” she says.

“That is how a coach should function. It is our responsibility to shape the child from the time he comes to us. We not only train him in the basics, but also in the mental aspects of the game.”

But it is not roses all the way. “We feel very bad when a kid whom we have trained, worked on for three or four years, and is talented, shifts to a private academy because the person who runs it claims to have clout in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) and promises him a place in the state team.”

Striking a philosophical note, Ms Sharma observes, “The politics that victimised me are still prevalent and are victimising other kids as well. That is why I feel very good when I see someone like Deepu (Deep Dasgupta) or Anjum rise above all that and make a name for themselves.”