Hyderabad: There was much cheer for Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and India as former mediumpacer G. S. Lakshmi bowled the cricketing world over by becoming the first woman to be appointed in the International Cricket Council’s panel of Match Referees on Tuesday. She gets to officiate men’s matches at the highest level now.

Lakshmi termed the feat a major boost to women’s cricket. ‘This opens a lot of avenues for women players. They would be happy and motivated to know that post retirement, there is a profession they can pursue in the game they love,’ she said.

Her cricketing career started in Bihar, ‘where my father used to work for Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (Telco), of which many of our relatives were employees too.
Now, my brother too is with them… we are from the Tata family basically,’ she laughs.

Then, she ‘landed a job in South Central Railway in 1989 and shifted base to Hyderabad. Later, I played for the Andhra Pradesh team when (former Deccan Chronicle sports editor) late T. N. Pillay sir used to take care of the AP Women’s Cricket Association.’

In Hyderabad, Lakshmi ‘used to play league matches at the Amberpet ground and State level games at the Railway Recreation Club grounds in Secunderabad.’

Later, she graduated to bigger teams, captaining South Zone and finding a place on the Indian Railways side before making the Indian team. ‘Unfortunately, I got a chance in the national team very late in my career, when age was catching up and could not break into the playing XI because of tough competition,’ she recalls.

However, it’s all rosy now. ‘There were regrets about not have a lengthy career as an India player but now, I can have a prolonged career as a Match Referee,’ she smiles.

Lakshmi first officiated as a match referee in domestic women’s cricket in 2008-09 and has overseen three women’s ODIs and three women’s T20I matches. She has also supervised the men’s Under 16 (for the Vijay Merchant Trophy) and Under 19 (Cooch Behar Trophy) domestic games.

She remembers being in-charge of her first boys’ match. That was in 2014, an U-16 game between Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in Patiala where a budding Shubman Gill hit a century and Lakshmi ‘knew he would go a long way… was pleased to see him collect the Emerging Player award in the just concluded IPL (where he played for Kolkata Knight Riders).’

‘I have seen some women players too, like Jemimah Rodrigues and Radha Yadav, from close quarters and thought of them as ones with a very good future,’ she says.

Reminiscing her playing days, Lakshmi says ‘I was lucky to play alongside big names in women’s cricket such as Shanta Rangaswamy, Diana Eduljee, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Sudha Shah, Purnima Rau, Rajini Venugopal (the last two from Hyderabad). Now, Mithali Raj (also a Hyderabadi) has made it very big, but I can proudly say that I have played alongside her too. I was on the Purnima-led SCR team that won the national title in 1995.’

Lakshmi is also grateful to the cricket board. ‘I would like to thank the BCCI for sending my nomination (for match referee) which was approved by the ICC. Getting nominated itself was a big achievement for me and to be approved by the ICC was the icing on the cake. The BCCI is the only board that has promoted women match referees, who have been unheard of until now. The gesture is highly appreciated. There were five women match referees on the domestic circuit and this year 13 have been added, taking the number to 18 on the BCCI panel. We get to officiate women’s as well as junior men’s matches,’ she elaborates.

Lakshmi also spoke of challenges in officiating high tension games where tempers could flare up and bad behaviour comes to the fore. ‘There’s a lot of difference between women and men’s matches. The women mostly stick to the game and there are hardly any issues but the boys are too aggressive/ competitive in trying to get at each other. You have to keep telling them to take it easy, cool down and not go beyond acceptable levels,’ she says.

On the day Lakshmi made the ICC panel, Australia’s Eloise Sheridan joined compatriot Claire Polosak (who had become the first ever woman umpire to stand in a men’s ODI, earlier this month) on the ICC development panel of umpires, taking the number of women on that panel to seven.

Adrian Griffith, ICC Senior Manager — Umpires and Referees — hailed Lakshmi and Eloise’s appointments. ‘We welcome Lakshmi and Eloise to our panels, which is an important step forward in our commitment to encouraging women officials. It is heartening to see their progress and I am sure many more women will be inspired to follow their example. We are committed to ensuring greater gender parity among our officials, but all appointments are made purely on merit. Elevation is as a result of a thorough evaluation process that identifies the most talented match officials breaking through to an international level,’ Griffith said.

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