Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s rise to the top from the bylanes of Bijapur has been one filled with guts, glory, and sacrifice. Embracing the 22 yards was not her first choice as she initially tried her hand at javelin and discus throw. Before taking up cricket, the left-arm orthodox spinner was also a part of the junior volleyball district team.
It was her father Shivanand, a government primary school teacher, who backed her and encouraged her to take up cricket professionally and on January 19, 2014, Gayakwad became the first woman cricketer from the Bijapur district in Karnataka to get selected in the Indian national women’s cricket team.
Rajeshwari’s father passed away a year after she made her debut for India and the responsibility of a family of five fell on her young shoulders. But that burden never deterred her from the path to success as she completed all the challenges, in and outside the field, with ease.
Recalling her journey, Gayakwad in an interaction with the indianexpress.com said, “There were a lot of financial issues at home when I began playing cricket and at times it felt like I wouldn’t be able to play the game for long. Money is important in this game because you need to buy kits or a bat and that does not come cheap.”
“So yes it was a long hard tussle.”
Enroute to her journey a move to Bengaluru was inevitable to complete her graduation and get wider exposure. “When I attended camps in Bangalore, sometimes it would get difficult to arrange meals or have food,” she recollected before adding, “But only one thing was there in my mind — to practice hard and do well for the state.”
Her ability to provide breakthroughs cemented her place in the national side and her best effort was at the 2017 Women’s World Cup where she picked up 5/15 against New Zealand and propel India to the final at Lords. However, in final India succumbed to a bitter defeat against hosts England.
Women’s cricket — Then and Now
“When I began playing, a lot of the girls joined the camp in our district (almost 200) but most of them could not continue. Bijapur is a small district, and it lacked facilities and grounds. A number of those girls belonged to a middle-class background and had to leave the game due to a lack of financial stability and support from the family. Even right now there would hardly be a few girls who will regularly practice there,” said the 29-year-old.
“But on a national level, the situation has improved and if a family supports the child then I am sure any girl can go a long way.”
“Now girls want to go out there and prove themselves. They have a burning desire to do well and that has lifted women’s cricket considerably. Financially, we are stronger as well, not as same as the boys, but much better than before,” she added.
Role of captain Harmanpreet Kaur
Harry di as Gayakwad fondly calls the Indian captain has been instrumental in keeping the women in blue glued together. Hailing from a small town in Punjab, Harmanpreet Kaur knows the difficulties that a small-town girl could face and ensures they feel comfortable the moment they step into the dressing room.
“She personally goes and talks to the youngsters and keeps them motivated,” said Gayakwad.
When asked about one difference with former skipper Mithali Raj, Gayakwad smiles and says, “Mithali is very calm and cool on the ground and never shouts on the field. If she has to say something, then she will come to the team meeting and talk about it. Harry di is aggressive and can’t stop herself. She speaks right at the spur of the moment.”
Gayakwad has played 40 ODIs, 28 T20Is, and 1 Test match so far, picking a total of 107 wickets. But what stands out is her miserly economy rate of 3.36 in ODI and 6.37 in T20s.