Terrific trio: SK Anritha, M Sabrina & MU Poojashrini

DT Next caught up with SK Anritha, M Sabrina and MU Poojashrini, the only women competing in the ongoing season of the Thiruvallur Championship, which is open to everyone above 13 years of age.
(L) SK Anritha, M Sabrina and MU Poojashrini
(L) SK Anritha, M Sabrina and MU Poojashrini

CHENNAI: Their numbers do not tell the entire story. The teenage trio of SK Anritha, M Sabrina and MU Poojashrini has been punching above its weight by competing in the ongoing TNCA Thiruvallur DCA League Championship 2021-22.

Anritha, Sabrina and Poojashrini are the only women – all three technically girls – to have made at least one appearance in the ongoing season. What makes their participation startling? The fact that only eight women have played a competitive fixture across divisions in the well-run Thiruvallur Championship, which is open to everyone above 13 years of age.

While leg-spinner Anritha turns out for Fourth Division outfit Frankworrell CC, wicketkeeper-batter Sabrina and left-arm pace bowler Poojashrini represent Second Division team Seshadhri MCC.

Anritha is in her second season – she first played in 2019-20 – with Sabrina and Poojashrini making their debut in the league.

They are undoubtedly new kids on the block, but the three young players, in a recent telephonic conversation with DT Next, said that they have started adapting to the challenges of men’s cricket. “I am able to play my natural game; there are no restrictions. I am able to bowl freely,” said Anritha.

“Initially, I had a bit of fear and struggled with my batting (referring to playing against men in the Thiruvallur Championship). I missed a few balls. I took some time to settle down. After connecting some balls, I found my rhythm and played better. I feel that I will play even better in the future,” explained Sabrina.

On her part, Poojashrini said: “I have played with and against boys in age-group cricket, so it helped. There was fear at the start but as days passed by, I got the confidence, thanks to my teammates who have been encouraging me since the beginning.”

According to the trio, the experience of playing against men in the Thiruvallur Championship would give it the edge when competing with fellow women. “The batters (men) usually try to go after my bowling. At that point of time, I would feel demoralised. But, I would pick myself up to make a comeback. When I bowl to women, they do not hit me as much as men do. I have been learning a lot,” added Anritha.

“In general, men bowl faster than women. Playing in the Thiruvallur Championship has been helping me tackle fast bowlers,” Sabrina went on to add. Echoing Anritha’s views, Poojashrini said: “Of course, my game has improved. When I am up against women, they struggle to hit my deliveries. I am picking more wickets [than before].”

SK ANRITHA, FRANKWORRELL CC LEG-SPINNER

SK Anritha’s father AH Srikanth, who runs the Fine Star Cricket Academy, introduced her to the sport at a tender age of eight.

Anritha, currently a Class X student at the St. John’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Villivakkam, started taking cricket seriously when she was around 10. She plays cricket six days a week, allocating three or four hours to the sport each day.

While honing her skills at Fine Star CA, Anritha also trains at the St. George Cricket Academy (exclusively for women). She began her career as a medium pace bowler, but was converted into a leg-spinner about eight months ago. Her academy (St. George) coach was the one who turned her into a slow bowler. The coach felt that her action was better suited for spin bowling.

Anritha has taken to spin bowling like a fish to water as she already has two four-wicket hauls under her belt in the ongoing Thiruvallur season. “When I got my first four-wicket haul, I understood that I was ready to compete at this level. I have tried to maintain my consistency. I am trying to stick to my game plan,” said Anritha.

She would not be at this level if not for her father’s support. “My dad owns three teams in the Thiruvallur cricket set-up (one each in the First, Second and Fourth Division). I was eligible to play after I turned 13. My dad put me in his Fourth Division team, so I have been playing for it since last season (2019-20),” Anritha added.

“I want to deliver my best and get my team promoted [to the Third Division]. We are trying our best, but some matches have not gone our way,” said Anritha, who was part of the TNCA developmental camp for Under-19s last year.

2019-20 SEASON

Matches: 3

Overs bowled: 10.5

Wickets: 5

Runs conceded: 53

Economy rate: 5.05

Best figures: 3/22

2021-22 SEASON

Matches: 4

Overs bowled: 16.3

Wickets: 10

Runs conceded: 107

Economy rate: 6.56

Best figures: 4/32

M SABRINA, SESHADHRI MCC WICKETKEEPER-BATTER

M Sabrina took to cricket at 12 after watching her younger brother play the sport. She first trained at the Padma Sarangapani Cricket Academy for three-and-a-half years.

She currently polishes her skills at the Green Field Cricket Academy (been a year since joining) and St. George Cricket Academy (been two years since joining). Pursuing Class XII at The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), Sabrina spends about seven hours for cricket. “My aim is to become a professional cricketer. I wanted to concentrate on cricket. That is why I opted for open schooling,” said Sabrina.

She has been actively taking part in tournaments since 2018 and was called up for Thiruvallur Championship selection after impressing in private competitions. Representing St. George CA in the latest edition of the Iron Lady Trophy, Sabrina led her team all the way and also clinched the ‘Player of the Series’ award.

She was part of the Tamil Nadu Under-19 girls squad last year, but did not feature in the playing eleven. Sabrina has made only a solitary appearance in the Thiruvallur Championship, where she scored 16 runs and performed wicketkeeping duties for her team.

“My teammates have been sharing their experiences and helping me. The senior players in the team have been supporting and encouraging me,” said Sabrina, who idolises the legendary MS Dhoni. She is a fast bowler-turned-wicketkeeper who bats at the top of the order. “I could not generate a lot of pace. Also, I am not tall. That is why I switched to wicketkeeping,” added Sabrina.

2021-22 SEASON

Match: 1

Innings: 1

Runs scored: 16

Balls faced: 48

Strike-rate: 33.34

MU POOJASHRINI, SESHADHRI MCC LEFT-ARM PACER

MU Poojashrini started off by playing cricket on the streets. Her father Ulaganathan wanted her to get into sports, so she played squash at the ISA (Indian Squash Academy) for two-and-a-half years. Since her family could not spend a lot of money on travelling for tournaments, she stopped playing squash.

As Poojashrini was interested in cricket, she asked her dad if she could take up the sport. And, his positive response led to the switch at nine. After training at the Padma Sarangapani Cricket Academy, she recently moved to the Green Field Cricket Academy. She has been having one-on-one sessions with noted coach Shyam Sundar for about two years now.

Her school – Velammal Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Surapet – has been extremely supportive in her cricket journey. “I am a Class IX student there. All students must report to school at 7:30 am. Since I am playing cricket, my school has given me permission to join by maximum 9 am. All teachers know that I play cricket. Without their support, I would not be here,” revealed Poojashrini.

With support from all quarters, Poojashrini has been delivering the goods. In different editions of the Iron Lady Trophy, she bagged the ‘Best Bowler’ and ‘Star Player’ awards. But, the 13-year-old is yet to set the Thiruvallur Championship alight as she has not picked up a wicket in two matches thus far.

What makes her standout from the rest is the left-arm pace bowling, a rare commodity in women’s cricket. “Many asked me to bowl spin, but I took interest in becoming a left-arm pacer,” said Poojashrini, who has bowled to India internationals N Niranjana and D Hemalatha while competing in private tournaments.

2021-22 SEASON

Matches: 2

Overs bowled: 6

Wickets: 0

Runs conceded: 40

Economy rate: 6.67

REACTIONS

The standard of women’s cricket is not at the same level as that of men’s cricket. It is slowly getting there. When these girls play with and against boys (men), they will improve their game. Right now, we do not have enough members to form a women’s team [for Thiruvallur]. We have only about 25 women who have registered. Hence, we are giving some of them the opportunity to play in the league (championship).

RN Baba, Thiruvallur District Cricket Association secretary

This season, three women are playing in the Thiruvallur Championship. The number might increase in the coming years. I expect more teams to register women. If the trend continues, the Thiruvallur Association might organise a separate league for women In the future. We can start a league with four or five teams.

AV Loganathan, TDCA vice-president and league sub-committee chairman

It (participation of three women) is a welcome move. Young girls will get inspired by watching them play. Our secretary (RN Baba) has been encouraging us to give more opportunities to women. When women get into the league, I would suggest them to start with one of the lower divisions teams.

K Sudhakaran, TDCA vice-president and women’s selection committee chairman

Women players have been doing well and they will only improve. At Seshadhri MCC, we have two players. M Sabrina faced bowlers who were bowling at 130 kmph. By playing with and against men, they will get more ideas. If you look at the improvement that the left-arm pacer (MU Poojashrini) showed, It was good.

V Ganesan, TDCA vice-president and Seshadhri MCC authorised representative

After watching SK Anritha play [in the previous 2019-20 season], another club began to register women players. After competing against boys and men, the girls will find it easy to play against fellow women.

AH Srikanth, TDCA vice-president and Frankworrell CC authorised representative

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