Sonali Gaunder is a star in the making. After playing just two years of competitive cricket, the 19-year-old from Britona has emerged as the mainstay of the Goa senior women’s cricket team.
The right-arm fast bowler was named ‘Best player of the series’ at Goa University’s inter-collegiate cricket championship for women held earlier this month after she led her college, St Xavier’s, Mapusa, to the title. An all-rounder, Sonali bats at No 5 for Goa while for her college, the captain comes in at one-down.
Sonali’s story is as interesting as it is intriguing. A born athlete, Sonali was always interested in cricket but her talent remained unnoticed as she only played gully version of the sport with the boys of her neighbourhood.
“I used watch the boys play cricket near my house. I would return them the ball. I kind of became their ball boy. Then I started playing with those guys. They were all of my age group and I played with them every day,” says Sonali, a first year BA student.
But Sonali didn’t get to play her favourite sport in school. From the available choices, she chose athletics.
“When I was in second standard, I took up athletics as my first sport. 800m, 400m and 100m hurdles were my favoured events but we had to participate in six to seven disciplines, so I also got involved in other sports,” says Sonali, who completed her schooling at Holy Family High School, Porvorim and also trained for two years in boarding at Sport Authority of India hostel in Peddem, Mapusa.
Football is another favourite with Sonali. She also enjoys playing baseball and handball.
“I started playing football in the fifth standard. I played as a centre forward for Sporting Clube… Unfortunately, a knee injury forced me to drop the sport. My parents were apprehensive and I heeded their advice of not continuing playing football.”
By that time, Sonali had discovered another, more tempting option — cricket.
“One day I was playing badminton at the Indoor Stadium at Campal. A senior cricketer, Freida Pereira, was scouting for talent and enrolled me in a 20-day coaching camp conducted by Goa Cricket Association. Then I was selected to train at a two-month summer camp,” Sonali says of her meeting with her first coach.
There was no looking back for Sonali, who in a short span, managed to secure a first XI place in the Goan senior women’s team.
“Freida taught me the basic techniques of batting, bowling and fielding. I trained with the other up and coming girls and boys and honed my skills. Being an athlete helped. I practised hard to learn the art of fast bowling,” says Sonali, who practises cricket four hours a day.
Sonali was selected to represent Goa under-19 team at an invitational tournament in Andhra Pradesh in 2011. The team secured third position in the tournament. Soon after, Sonali earned a place in senior women’s team. She represented Goa in the BCCI senior women’s tournament and helped her team qualify for the Super League.
“Qualifying for Super League was incredible. We got to face big teams like Delhi and Maharashtra and got to interact with all the star woman players,” Sonali said. “I met former India captain Anjum Chopra. After watching me play, she advised me to focus solely on cricket.”
Sonali idolises current national team captain Mithali Raj but as a bowler she imitates Indian men’s team pace spearhead Zaheer Khan.
“When I watched Zaheer Khan on TV, I liked his run-up and the way he jumped high while loading. I tried to imitate his bowling action. Then Freida helped me to fine-tune my action. Now, I have developed a bowling style similar to that of Zaheer.
“That style suited me because as an athlete I was good at long jump.”
Sonali now has a bigger dream. She says, “I want to get selected in the Indian national team. My coaches tell me to keep working hard. They say if I work hard enough, I will get there one day.”
Given her rapid progress over the last two years, that dream seems reasonable. [NT]