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Introduction of U-23 age-group ensured many women’s cricketers are not lost to system, reckons Shikha Pandey

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Pandey will represent Velocity in WTC


Introduction of U-23 age-group ensured many women’s cricketers are not lost to system, reckons Shikha Pandey

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Bastab K Parida


Shikha Pandey has stated that the addition of the U-23 pathway system for women has ensured the players are finding more opportunities to bolster their chances for the senior national team. Earlier, the lack of a pathway system used to result in many promising talents fading away to oblivion.

The world will look back at the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia as the proper watershed moment and what the future had to offer in terms of marketing and attracting people to the venues in the women’s cricketing domain. While the quality of cricket was undisputable, the factor that attracted the most is the rise of young talents in the country and the way India blended both youth and experience for a cracking campaign.

It was visible from the fact that a 16-year-old Shafali Verma was the centre of attraction while a 31-year-old Shikha Pandey used her experience to give early impetus with the ball. The rise of Richa Ghose spoke about the pedigree power but none was so evident before the shift in guard.

The addition of U-23 cricket at the domestic level allowed them a certain amount of exposure to pursue it as a career and not being fizzled out of the system so fast. Even though the match fees don’t stand to the expectations, with a lot of work needing to be done in that regard, there has been a sense of affirmation. Not losing hope for a national selection in the current ecosystem that has had a lot of beneficiaries who couldn’t make it to the senior state team on the back of their U19 exploits.

As women’s cricket plots its way back with the much-awaited Women’s T20 Challenge in United Arab Emirates, SportsCafe caught up with Shikha Pandey to discuss a range of topics and she passionately spoke about the change in dynamics.

“A lot has been done since the time I started my cricket career. As an 18-year-old, I just got to play one year of under-19 cricket. But now we have a better pathway for u-19 cricketers to graduate onto senior cricket with the introduction of the U-23 tournament,” Pandey told SportsCafe.

“A lot of women cricketers were lost to the system because there wasn’t an U-23 tournament as not everyone was able to make the transition from U-19 to the senior team, which is not the case anymore. Also, now with zones actively conducting U16 tournaments is the best way forward. The planned U-19 World Cup for girls would further be a great incentive for girls wanting to take up cricket.” 

History was created on the International Women’s Day when more than 86,000 spectators flocked to the giant MCG to cheer for the Indian and the Australian national teams but in a sad pause to the incredible wave, cricket had to stop due to the effect of Coronavirus. Men’s cricket was affected but not as much as women’s cricket, which was riding a surge of momentum. Pandey is absolutely ecstatic at the opportunity to make a return and credited the BCCI for organising the T20 challenge.

“I am absolutely excited to get back on the field playing cricket, it’s been a while since we have played any form of competitive cricket. Credit to BCCI for organising the T-20 challenge in these difficult times. I am glad that we are getting back, which is a good start. I don’t think it shall be a problem, but yes it shall be a good challenge to encounter since we haven’t had any cricket since March. I have been having net sessions to get back into rhythm, but yes nothing can come close to playing games.”

 © ICC

But was it difficult being locked down and being negative about the skillset? For Pandey, who was the first international cricketer from her state since Dillip Sardesai who played first-class cricket for Mumbai, it was certainly not a big problem thanks to Goa Cricket Association’s facilities. The pace-bowling all-rounder, who has a knack for living her life beyond the usual framework of a professional cricketer, used that time to hone her other hobbies apart from spending some quality time with her parents during the lockdown.

“I have had a decent set up at home with regards to strength training, and I have been using the Goa cricket association facilities in isolation for my skills training after the lockdown was eased. These few months have been really difficult not just for us for a lot of people outside of cricketing circles. 

“Sometimes it’s better to look at the bigger picture. I guess the best way forward is to look ahead optimistically and get women’s cricket back up and running. As professional athletes, staying this long at home is a privilege. But honestly, it's been a while now and I am itching to get back on the field. Lock down period was great because it allowed me to spend some quality time with my parents and pursue hobbies that I haven’t had time for,” Pandey concluded.

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