Interview
51-year-old GS Lakshmi, who was a former cricketer, on Tuesday became the first woman to be appointed to the ICC International Panel of Match Referees.

India’s former cricket player, GS Lakshmi, achieved a rare honour on Tuesday becoming the first female to be appointed to the ICC International Panel of Match Referees. Lakshmi will be eligible to referee international matches with immediate effect and there is much cheer about it in the Telugu states as she has been residing for long in Hyderabad.

“I am really elated about the achievement. I want to thank the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) for encouraging and nominating women for such professions. This is sure to open a lot of avenues for women, and to all my ex-cricketers, this comes as proof that there is life post-retirement. Women can still work after retirement if they are passionate enough,” the 51-year-old tells TNM.

Lakshmi has been a resident of Hyderabad for almost three decades. But her passion for cricket goes back to her college days in Jamshedpur where her father was an employee with Tata.

“To cut the story short, I was a really poor student. I scored terrible marks in my class 12 exams and I couldn’t get an admission in any college. One college that my father approached, the principal was considerate and asked if I was good at any other co-curricular activities. The only game I could then think of was cricket since I used to play gully cricket with my brother and his friends back home. The sports coach of the college lost no time in calling me to the ground and asked me to bowl. I had a natural skill at bowling and I did two rounds, wearing chappal with my duppatta tied around the waist. The coach was impressed and assured the principal that I would be an excellent player for the college’s cricket team and would go a long way,” Laskhmi laughs.

Lakshmi played for the Indian Railways team for a long time before breaking into the Indian women’s cricket team in 1999.

“I landed a job in South Central Railway in 1989 and shifted base to Hyderabad. The Indian Railways team at that time had stalwarts and it was difficult to match up to their levels due to tough competition. For a long time, I used to only warm the benches. Finally, my day came in 1999, when I got selected to play for the Indian women’s team. But as age was catching up, it remained a brief career. But I can say that I had made the most of the time I spent with some of exceptionally brilliant women players the women’s team ever had,” says Lakshmi.

“I always regretted that fact that I didn’t have a long career with the Indian team, but now I think this achievement has made up for that,” Lakshmi adds.

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 T20 matches. She has also supervised the men’s Under-16 (for the Vijay Merchant Trophy) and Under-19 (Cooch Behar Trophy) domestic games.

“I was the official referee for a match in Patiala where Shubman Gill was playing an Under-14 match. He hit a century and I knew he would go a long way. He recently received the best emerging player trophy in the IPL where he played for Kolkata Knight Riders,” Lakshmi shares.

There is still a long way to go for women’s cricket in India, but Lakshmi feels things are moving in the right direction.

“Until the 2017 World Cup, there was hardly any recognition for women’s cricket in India. Our girls have been doing well internationally but it’s the 2017 World Cup performance that catapulted the team to fame. Earlier, people only knew either Mithali (Raj) or Jhulan Goswami. But now, a lot of women are making it to the fore with the media also actively following women’s cricket. A full-fledged IPL is now being launched for women. I think things are going the right way but it will take a little more time for people to consider women’s cricket at par with men’s,” Lakshmi opines.

While there is no doubt that the Indian women’s team is doing an exceptional job, Lakshmi says that in hindsight, whatever recognition the current players are getting is due to the hard work of the yesteryear cricketers who always kept the flag flying high.

“Women have always had it tough. But I think it was more difficult for women back then from conservative societies to break barriers, convince their parents and venture into a world that was until then dominated by men. If things are going in the right direction now, it is the determination of women like Diana Eduljee, Shubha Venugopal who always kept the fire in themselves alive.”