Women’s Cricket in India needs more attention. What you are about to read is the fascinating story of ace cricketer, Manali Bhandari, who is striving to drive more attention to women’s cricket.
Picture this: Women’s Box Cricket at Goregaon Sports Club is going on. The atmosphere is ringing with the loud sounds of the bat connecting to the ball. One turns to see a petite, thin girl taking every member of the opposite team head on. Her form, stance and power of batting, bowling and fielding takes everyone by surprise. Every person on the grounds had only one name on their lips that evening – MANALI! She won so many trophies that day that she had no space in her hands to hold them!!
Yes, that is my first memory of 25-year-old, Manali Bhandari – the gifted, all-rounder and exceptionally promising woman cricketer.
All across Mumbai, Manali Bhandari’s name is taken with respect in Women’s Cricket. She is one of the most sought-after team mates in the city. Simply because of her nature, performance and winning attitude.
As a player who has entered cricket just two years ago, I have learned a lot from Manali. We both play for Smashing Divas, a Malad-based team of amazing women cricketers. I also play open ground cricket with her as part of Yuva Mann team of seasoned cricketers from Malad.
Watching Manali practice is inspiring. She takes every player along with her during practice and nudges us to give our best during the game. Her nimble-footedness, alertness and commitment towards the game leave us awe-inspired.
Here’s a simple girl who PLAYS TO WIN, and this is her story….
We met at the GSC turf on a sunny Saturday afternoon. After winning 3 tough matches that day, one would expect a player to be flamboyant about it. But Manali being Manali was her usual humble self with a classic chirp in her sweet voice. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation.
Me: Thanks a million, Manali for talking to DiaryOfAnInsaneWriter. I have been playing with you for the past 2 years and I LOVE the way you treat the sport; you inspire me!
Manali (looks away shyly and smiles): I feel grateful and happy to do this one for your readers. I hope more and more women enter cricket after reading my story.
When did you first discover your passion for cricket?
Manali (looks at me and her eyes light up): I started playing cricket when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I did not know that women cricket even existed. I played with the boys in my building but it didn’t matter to me because I just wanted to play…
(Her voice trails off as she is transported to the fond memories of her childhood. I smile and ask my next question.)
Why cricket, why not any other sport?
Manali (shrugs and says): Well, sports has been my interest right from childhood, however, I feel a different joy when I play cricket.
You are an artist with a hectic schedule managing workshops and orders. How do you divide your time between work and cricket?
Manali (clicks her tongue and continues in her classic soft but firm voice): You always take your time out for the things you love. And for me, the cricket field is the place where I forget all my life problems.
How has the support from the family been for your passion for cricket?
Manali (looks down, takes a deep breath and continues): Honestly speaking my family is never happy with this game. They are always like, ‘kya cricket khelti hai…. kuch aur kar isme kya raka hai‘. However, when I win the trophies, it makes them thrilled. But the mindset is still the same with the question, ‘cricket konsi ladki khelti hai?’ But my game and my performance will surely make them understand ki cricket sirf ladkon ka game nahi hai.
Can you take our readers through the many cricketing achievements you have had till date?
Manali (smiles shyly and continues in her classic soft voice): I have been playing different types of tournaments of our community, Mid-day, turf tournaments, open ground tournaments, box cricket among others. I don’t really have the exact count of my trophies but I guess it’s around 30 to 35.
How do you approach challenges while preparing for and playing the game of cricket?
Manali (shuffles her feet and continues): You know, Mayura, I feel challenges make life intresting. They are important for improvement; they give us opportunities for growth. So I accept the challenges positively and try to play better every day.
How is the scenario for women’s cricket in India? What would you like to change?
Manali (her tone changes – she looks straight into my eyes and replies):: Society has always made look like cricket is just a gentleman’s game and it’s not for women. But this is not true. We need as many girls on the practice ground as there are boys.
What is your ultimate dream and ambition for cricket?
Manali (she smiles fondly and replies) I would love to play this game till I die. I feel that my passion and love will only grow with time. I just want to encourage and inspire more and more women to enter cricket because it’s not a gentleman’s game anymore it’s everybody’s game now, and that’s how it’s going to be.
What drives you to be the best in women’s cricket?
(I purposely asked this question, knowing Manali will deflect it. That’s how talented players are, they never admit that they are the best. They allow the game to speak. Check out her reply – personally, I was blown away by her humility.)
Manali (replies in a matter-of-fact manner): I am always trying to learn from my mistakes and trying to get better every day.
What do you do to ensure you stay ahead of the rest in the game?
Manali (smiles): Good vibes are very important for a sports person, I surround myself with players who can give me that during the game. Calmness and good vibes help me during the game. I always think positively and tell myself that I can do it and god is with me.
What are your thoughts when you come to the crease? How do you deal with the expectations of your fans and followers?
Manali (takes a deep breath and says): I just want to give my very best in every game I play. When you play well, your team always wants you to perform amazingly well. And for your team you always want to do that and get them to the victory. My passion for the game of cricket helps me deal with everything.
Any special message for the readers?
Manali (takes a pause and replies with a steel-like resolve): It’s a special request to everyone who reads this interview. Please support women’s cricket, because it’s not a gentleman’s game anymore.
I complete the interview and leave the turf as a happy and enriched individual.
Did Manali’s story inspire you? Leave a message in the comment box, I would love to hear from you.
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