As the Indian women's cricket team battles it out with their counterparts from England in the World Cup finals on Sunday, the eleven women representing India are already champions. Their stories are of extraordinary determination and continued will to fight against odds. They have broken financial, social, and patriarchal barriers to represent the country.
Twenty-one-year-old Smriti Mandhana grew up watching her father and brother play cricket at the district level. At age nine, she made it to the Maharashtra under-15 team, and two years later she was playing for the under-19 team. At 17, she became the first Indian woman to score a double hundred in an ODI game, when she made 224 in a match between Maharashtra and Gujarat state teams.
She signed a one-year deal with Brisbane Heat for the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) last year, becoming one of the first two Indians to sign for the league. The young cricketer had an injury earlier this year which made her participation in the World Cup doubtful, but she later recovered to return as opener for the Indian team.
The 27-year-old from Mumbai is the daughter of a cab driver, who borrowed money to send his daughter to cricket coaching. Raut was only six years old when her obsession with cricket began. Now she's an opener for the Indian national team, and works for the Western Railways in Mumbai.
She made history alongwith teammate Deepti Sharma earlier this year when they made a 320-run partnership in an ODI match against Ireland.
Mithali Dorai Raj was 16 years old when she made her One Day International debut in 1999. The young cricketer would go on to score 114 runs not out against Ireland, making her the youngest to score an ODI century, and leading her team to an easy victory. Two years later, she beat the then-world record of highest score in women's Test cricket when she made 214 against England. Only one person has beaten that score since then—Pakistan's Kiran Baluch who scored 242 against West Indies in March 2004.
Raj started learning cricket when she was 10 years old, thanks to her father who worried that she was too lazy. She and her elder brother studied and were coached in St Johns school in Hyderabad. She would also practise with male cricketers in the nets. Raj also learnt an Indian classical dance—Bharatnatyam—for eight years before giving it up for a fulltime career in cricket.
Since her debut, the 34-year-old's ascent in the cricketing world has been swift, and she's frequently called the "Tendulkar of women's cricket". In 2003, she was given the Arjuna award, and the next year she became the youngest captain of the Indian cricket team at 21. She led the Indian team to their first World Cup final in 2005, though they lost to Australia that year. The next year, she led the team to an extraordinary series of uninterrupted victories to win the Asia Cup for the second time.
While the right-handed batsman is known for her ability to rack up the runs on the scoreboard, her style of rolling her arm over bowling leg-spinners provides variety in India's attack. In 2015, she was awarded the Padma Shri.
The 28-year-old all-rounder is a fierce batsman and a formidable bowler. Just like her idol Virender Sehwag, Kaur likes hitting the ball for sixes and fours often. She can do it all—rack up quick runs, keep batsmen in a tight leash while bowling right-arm medium-fast, and haul plenty of wickets that decimate the opposite team.
She's one of the first two Indian cricketers to have signed a Big Bash League contract with Sydney Thunder in Australia, where she hit three sixes and two fours in her debut game. She is also the first Indian to sign with Surrey Stars in ECB's Kia Super League.
Since her debut in 2009, Kaur has emerged as an important asset to the team. In 2012, when both Raj and Goswami were unable to play because of injuries, Kaur was the one who was entrusted to lead the team to victory in the Asia Cup final against Pakistan. When she led the ODI team during an India-Bangladesh series she scored 195 runs in two games and took a couple of wickets as well. Kaur's form in Test cricket is as impressive—in 2015 she took nine wickets during a test match with the South African team.
Kaur's do-it-all skills have come in handy at crucial moments—like last year when helped India win the first series win against Australia by leading the team's highest-ever run chase in T20 cricket, and earlier this year when she hit a six in the final two balls to secure the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier title.
She is just 19 years old but is already being dubbed the team's "all-round prodigy". Sharma, who plays left-hand bat and bowls right-arm offbreak, is a dream mix of boundless talent and single-minded focus.
She was nine years old when she begged her older brother to take her to cricket practice. What followed next could be straight out of a movie--while waiting at the girls' practice area at the Ekalavya Sports Stadium in their hometown in Agra, a ball came rolling towards her. She reportedly threw it casually at the stumps, hitting them.
Former cricketer Hemlata Kala, the current chairperson of the BCCI women's selection panel, and who had also trained Poonam Yadav, noticed. She asked Sharma's brother to bring her to practice regularly, and reportedly predicted that Sharma would represent India one day.
The year was 2005, and the Indian women's cricket team had reached the World Cup final for the first time in the three decades they had played international cricket. Krishnamurthy, at the time just 12 years old and a double black belt in karate, was inspired. Even though the team, led by Raj, went on to lose the final to Australia, it inspired this young girl in Karnataka to become a cricketer.
Krishnamurthy lived in Kadur, a small town with no cricketing facilities, and badly wanted to enroll in the academy in Bengaluru. Her secret hope was also to meet Raj there, who she idolised.
By age 15, the right-hand batsman was practicing in the nets with Raj, and made her ODI debut in 2011. The 24-year-old is a middle-order batsman in the Indian team and has helped her team seal wins consistently since then.
The 24-year-old has been India's "first-choice wicketkeeper" since her debut in 2014. Verma, who used to be the captain of the Indian under-19 team, is the first cricketer from Himachal Pradesh to represent the country internationally.
She used to play hockey, volleyball, and handball, before she turned all her focus to cricket. Her safe hands have often saved the game for her team.
It's been 15 years since this powerhouse player from West Bengal burst into the national stage. Towering over other players at five feet eleven inches, the 34-year-old is a hero to her younger teammates.
The fast bowler is known to take quick wickets, and earlier this year became the highest wicket-taker in the history of women's ODI cricket.
Goswami is known to take young players under her wing, mentoring them and freely sharing her bowling secrets. In 2007, she was named ICC Women's Player of Year, and later promoted to captain of the Indian team. She has been given both the Arjuna award and Padma Shri.
While she is primarily a bowler, she has come through as a fierce and dependable batter in multiple occasions, lending support at crucial points for the team.
Shikha Pandey was an engineer before she started playing cricket seriously. Growing up in Goa, Pandey played cricket with boys in her colony and dreamt of flying one day. But in her second year of engineering college, she started playing at the Goa Cricket Association, and by the end of her degree she had decided to dive completely into the world of cricket.
Becoming a cricketer didn't mean Pandey was going to give up on her plan of joining the Indian Air Force. As a result, the 28-year-old now straddles two careers--one as a fast bowler for the Indian cricket team, and another as an air traffic controller for the IAF.
Pandey's family is from Uttar Pradesh, and she was born in Andhra Pradesh and grew up in Goa, as the family moved a lot as her father was frequently transferred in his government job.
Rajeshwari Shivanand Gayakwad is a 26-year-old cricketer in the national team but it was not her first-choice sport. The district-level javelin thrower played discus-throw and basketball and "did not even know that girls played cricket seriously".
However, a chance brush with the game—she decided to "try it out" at an academy—made her change her fall in love with cricket. Since her international debut in 2014, the left arm spinner from Karnataka has fast become one of the team's star wicket-takers, known for her multi-wicket hauls that have led the team to victory more than once.
The 25-year-old leg spinner is a pocket dynamite. Just under five feet tall, the athlete from Agra can scare the toughest batsman on crease with her trademark legbreak googly.
The youngest daughter of an employee of the Indian Army's education board, Yadav would frequently get hurt while playing sports. Her father, concerned over her bruises, reportedly tried to stop her from playing cricket. But an old cricketing legend, Hemlata Kala, who was training Yadav, reportedly convinced him to not worry.
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