Maiden India tour for Australian women's cricket team
After getting a teaser of the Indian monsoon in Delhi, in the last two days, Australia’s first national indigenous women’s cricket team arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday night. When we reached the Sachin Tendulkar Gymkhana in Kandivali, we spotted the girls in bright yellow and green jerseys taking control of the field. Almost ready to melt away in the summer, they took on Mumbai Cricket Association's Women's team.
Kavita Pepper (the one pointing) instructs her team. Pic/Sebastian Kipman
As bottles of chilled mineral water disappeared quickly from the table, 18-year-old Tylor Wigg tells us that the heat has hit her so hard that she’s not going back on the field for at least an hour. “We can chat,” she says.
As we settle down in an air-conditioned dressing room beside the ground, we are nearly as relieved as her. “I’m from Tasmania. I always went to cricket with my dad and brother when I was little. When I was old enough to join in, I informed them that I looked forward to going to cricket on the weekends. That’s where my inspirations came from,” she says as we try not to get distracted by the thick white sunscreen smeared on her face.
Selected based on performances at club level and at the National Indigenous Cricket Championships – which had a record number of female participants – in February, the tour is the first-of-its-kind. The tour fittingly comes in the year of the 150th anniversary of the ground-breaking all-aboriginal cricket team that played its first match at the MCG in 1866, and later became the first Australian sports team to tour overseas when it embarked on a tour of the UK in 1868
“For me, it started at a tournament held in Alice Springs which is the National Indigenous cricket championship. It was my first year there. I got selected to a squad of 20 and then it got cut down to a squad of 14 to come to India. A lot of prep has been put into it,” she continues.
Wigg is one of the few players who have also played in a men’s team before. “I started playing when I was 12. I played in a men’s competition with my dad. Then the game started growing on me and I took to women’s cricket. Playing men’s cricket is always a couple of levels higher. It helps you grow in skill and career. I feel I had a better understanding of the game than girls who have just played women’s cricket,” says Wigg.
While we are still in conversation, a senior player from the team, Kavita Pepper walks into the room for a quick sip of water. Pepper who is from Shark Bay (a remote part of Western Australia) travels 900 km each week to play cricket and has also played in A Grade men’s competitions in Australia. “My kin play beach cricket. I was good at sports but didn’t take cricket seriously back then. I love the sport now so there’s commitment. It is my first international experience and it is unbelievable. I always tell the girls that we have to train hard and never give up,” says Peppers.
On the field, Ash Gardner, the 19-year-old captain of the team (who has been representing the New South Wales Indigenous team since she was 13 and now plays for the Shooting Stars- the underage Australian women’s team) is shouting out orders and reorganizing the fielders. When we get her attention she says, “Each of us is representing our people back home and I’m excited about the opportunity to captain the side. From a cricket perspective, playing in Indian conditions is one of cricket’s biggest challenges; it will be a big test for us and really help us grow individually and as a squad.”
While we note the different accents floating across the dressing room and that the camaraderie is hard to miss, Wigg reads our mind. “We come from different backgrounds. Some of us hail from a regular playing background where we have made it to state teams; some have played underage national teams as well. Different girls possess different abilities. Sam Hinton from the team has just returned to cricket from time off after having a baby and is balancing motherhood and cricket,” she tells us reminding us of the SRK starrer ‘Chak De India’.