Couch Talk 117 (Play)
Guest: Snehal Pradhan, Indian Cricketer
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Welcome to the show, Snehal!
Snehal Pradhan (SP)– Thank you so much. My pleasure to be here.
SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure.
You are now living in Mumbai, but you are originally from Pune. You have played for India since 2008. Could you tell us briefly how your cricket career began, what got you in it and what motivated you to stick with it?
SP– I was always fond of cricket. My family has memories of me watching a match on TV and then picking up whatever is in my hand and using it as a bat and playing around the house. So, I would always be playing with the boys either in school or where we lived in Pune, playing gully-cricket with them. I played a lot of sports as a kid. Finally, my grandmother introduced me to Subhangi Kulkarni, who was a former India captain, whom she knew. She led me to the girls’ practice in Pune, where the Maharashtra State girls practice. Since I was in the 8th Standard, I started practicing cricket with the Maharashtra team. The next year, I represented Maharashtra u-16 and u-19. My grandmother has been my biggest support in the family, and she is the one who put me on the path.
SJ– Oh, excellent! That is a nice story!
You have any cricketing role models, male or female, growing up?
SP– Growing up, among males, I admire all bowlers, especially (Glenn) McGrath and all. But, it was just a distant admiration. When I first saw Jhulan Goswami bowl, that was when I got really excited. She has been my role model for a long time. i was in my 10th Std when she made her debut. I watched her play in the home series against England, I watched it on TV. She took 9 wickets in 5 matches. I was really impressed by her bowling. It got stuck in my mind like a dream, that one day I would like to open the bowling with Jhulan Goswami.
SJ– You have been a part of the setup, you and Jhulan. Achieving your dream, from watching her on TV and then sharing the field. What was that like?
SP– That was a big kick. A very special thing. My first tour, for the Asia Cup – there I did actually share the new ball with Jhulan Goswami. That was a WOW moment. During that tournament, she reached 100 ODI wickets. Being there actually was so amazing. I remember we took a Sri Lankan 100 Rupees note and the entire team signed on it. I was really honoured to be a part of that. We presented it to her. It was a very big thrill.
SJ– That is fantastic. You played for 3 years and then in 2011, you were reported for suspected illegal bowling action. That must have been quite disappointing for you, the sort of stigma that comes with illegal bowling action. What were the circumstances surrounding that? Could you explain that?
SP– In terms of the circumstances, as to why it happened – my bowling action has somehow been catching people’s eyes since childhood. In one domestic match in the season previous to this, the match referee came and told me that there might be some problem with my bowling action as per the videos and what nots. Then, I worked on it. it was a very conscious effort made to get things on track within whatever limitations are supposed to be there, within the rules. I guess it was going pretty well because whatever national camps I was attending, I was observing myself, coaches were observing me.
What happened in England was, it was a case of letting a lot of errors creep into my game over a period of time. It was something that I should have been more vigilant of. I have always had hyper extended elbows, which makes it look like your arms are bent even when you straighten your arm. I have always had that kind of thing where people keep looking at me out of their corner of their eyes. I have always had to keep a check on myself. So, I suppose it was a period where I wasn’t so vigilant on myself, wasn’t so strict with myself and let errors creep into my game. It finally showed up over there. After England, when I came back, the coaches back here in the academies, they saw my bowling and said this is not what I was bowling six months ago. I basically take full responsibility for that, for not being honest with me, not being vigilant enough with myself, of letting that happen. The fact that it happened was one of the biggest regrets of my life, I was getting opportunities in the XI regularly. So, it was disappointing.
SJ– Was it any particular delivery, or was every single delivery taht you bowled under question?
SP– The action, in general.
SJ– OK. As you said, there were coaches in the academy, and in the junior level you were aware about the possible things in your action that you had to keep it in control. Have you been able to put a finger on what may have caused that change? You said that you may not have been vigilant enough. But, I am trying to understand the actual mechanics of it, that led to being reported for it.
SP– In terms of mechanics, I will probably say that there are 4-5 things that come into it. Your body strength is a key factor. If you are naturally strong enough, you don’t need to put in that extra effort to bowl at the pace that you usually do. i have always been of a frail constitution kind of person, lanky person, not a built-up muscular type. If my strength level goes down, I have noticed that these kinds of problems creep in. Secondly, technical stuff like head position, trying to bowl a particular kind of delivery – I have noticed that the problems show up in incoming deliveries than in outgoing deliveries. Hand comes closer to the head as it should be, than -maybe slightly more round arm-ish position. Those technical things also play a big role. So, those were also things that I focused on later to keep things in check.
SJ– When you were reported for illegal action in England, that was in 2011 June, I believe, what was the senior players in the squad and the team management and everybody in the support system – what was their reaction to it? what sort of support did you receive from them?
SP– It was really good. I remember I was rooming with Amita Sharma at that time. she was all for me. Being a pace bowler too, she would understand what I was going through and it was tough sitting out the remaining matches, not contributing. She could see that that was hurting me. Amita Sharma, Jhulan Goswami – they were all supporting me. They told me that this is something that is temporary, it is a phase that i will get through. It has happened to people before. It will keep happening once in a while, I will get through it. There was a lot of support coming in.
SJ– So, once you were reported, I guess you had to undergo tests. I guess you had to go to University of Western Australia where tests were conducted as well. Beyond that, what sort of remedial action did you have to go through. Eventually, after 6 months, your action was cleared and considered legal within in 15 degree tolerance level. What happened in the 6 months from the point you were reported to when you went to Perth to the remedial work, and then the final tests? Can you explain further?
SP– In terms of the process, within 3 weeks after being reported, I had gone to Perth and got the analysis done. Few weeks after that, I got the reports saying that it was above the 15 degree level. Then it came down to it that I had to work on it. The coaches here had to be satisfied that enough work was put in before I could be sent for another ICC review. So, what happened in that period was a lot of hard work, pretty much. A lot of frustration also because the season was starting in October-November. I wasn’t bowling in domestic matches, I was playing as a bat in the state matches. Side by side, with regular on-season preparations, I was constantly working on my bowling, constantly watched by coaches, a lot of hard work and introspection, a lot of frustration also as to whether things are going on the right track as well. “Is this the right way to bowl? Will this get me back to bowling with the same pace and movement that I had before?” A lot of trial and error as to what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, we found a formula that we were happy with in terms of the clean-ness of the action as well as the result of how I was bowling the ball – the accuracy and the pace wise. Once that was done, the coaches in India reviewed that and they were also satisfied with my progress. And then I went back to India.
SJ– OK, so you went back for the tests and you got cleared.
In that 6 month period, were there any international players male or female that you got in discussions with to understand the processes of what you have to go through? It is not just the biomechanics side of it, but the emotional side of it too. Was there anybody that provided guidance to you at that time, who had gone through similar process?
SP– Not directly, but during that time I did a lot of reading about other people who had faced this process. Big names, everything from big names like Muttiah Muralitharan who went through the same process, and Shoaib Akhtar. In women’s cricket, Jenny Gunn’s case was big – something that showed me that there was hope. She has gotten reported and gotten cleared and still came back bowling and keeps taking wickets. That was a good thing. I could take heart from those cases. I wasn’t in touch with any international players besides the ones I knew. Jhulan Goswami was supporting me, keeping tabs on my progress, finding out what the situation is. She was also definitely hoping that I get back on track fast.
SJ– That was 2012 Feburary, when you were cleared. It has been 2 years . Do you believe that your pace and the movement and everything is back to where you were prior to that? Or, whether you had to sacrifice something, either pace or movement, to get the action clean?
SP– I think I am back. I think there were areas that I worked on after that to compensate for what I lost in terms of strength. Especially, after the way I bowled this season, it was big improvement. There are a lot of aspects of my bowling that i was really happy about this season. The last season, it was a very tentative thing, I was trying to get back to competitive cricket in matches. They were the first few competitive matches after being cleared, so confidence was here and there. “Will it be OK? Will I be able to bowl right?” I was almost paranoid, checking videos after matches and checking how the action is coming, and stuff like that. In 2012-13 season, in my second match I picked up 4 wickets against Punjab. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season. In the 2013-14 season, I had a pretty good run with the ball. I think, in terms of pace and movement, I was back to what I was bowling previously, and in terms of action being clean as well. That was also being looked after. In that respect, I was happy.
SJ– Obviously, when there was cloud over your action, you couldn’t play for India at that time. Since then, like you said, in 2012-13, you were still tentative, but in 2013-14season you feel like you are back. But you are not still part of the Indian squad just yet. I am assuming that you issues had direct impact on your selection. Do you believe that you are knocking on the doors right now?
SP– Those issues will always have an impact on the selection as far as the suspensions were there. immediately after the suspension was done, I was available for selection. In February the suspension was removed, and in March I was led the Board President’s XI against the visiting Australian team. In this year, after this season, I was part of the India-A squad which played against the visiting Sri Lankan team. In the view of the selectors, I am there or thereabouts. I was disappointed this season that I could not produce the final burst that i needed to push to the next level with a big performance.
SJ– While you and other players are awaiting your turn to be picked for the Indian squad, what is it that you do to stay in shape, stay fit. What is your practice regimen? Who sponsors it? Do you practice with other members, do you practice on your own? How does it work?
SP– in terms of who looks after it, who sponsors it financially, there are many players in India who are recruited with Indian Railways. I am working with Indian Railways under sports quota, where we get government job and time off work for training and practice. It is good, we can say that we are semi-professionals in that respect. i train in Mumbai. You can train with anyone you want throughout the year. During camps, the whole squad will train together. I train in an academy in Bandra called Sanjeevani Cricket Academy. The head coach is Mr. Satish Sawant. Generally, I train there. I am the only girl in the academy. It is fun, training with the boys which is obviously better. The fitness work they do in the off season is something that helps carry forward to the season. That is the training routine.
SJ– Let’s talk about where the Indian team is in the global women’s game. India has over the years produced some fabulous cricketers. Over the years, what has happened is that they have fallen behind teams like England, Australia who seem to be on top of the game, and teams like New Zealand too. In your view, what do you think has happened?
SP– It is difficult to pin point any one factor. As a player, I would always take responsibility. I have been a part of those sides that has lost to Australia and England on multiple occasions. I have been part of the sides that has beaten New Zealand on quite a few occasions. In 2011, in the Quadrangular, we came in both T20 and ODI events. It is true that India has fallen behind in terms of ranking. There are countries that are rapidly improving, like the West Indies. India hasn’t improved, very honestly. As a player, I am sure all the players will need to take personal responsibility for that. We need to step it up, in our training, in our fitness and fielding – which is an area that we are generally lacking as compared to other teams. Those are areas that we need to pay attention to them in our preparations.
SJ– BCCI has taken over the running of women’s cricket also recently. You were saying personal responsibility, that is fantastic. But there has to be systemic responsibility as well for the improvement of the game. For example, the English and Australian players, they have been given professional contracts. You say that you guys are semi-professional. Maybe that is one aspect that can be done. Overall, in the systemic point of view, what do you think needs to be improved or changed to make sure Indian women’s team is doing as well as they could?
SP– I think the contracts that have come in the other countries, almost all countries, even Pakistan, England and Australia – it is really fantastic. Whether India will reach that much of professionalism, I don’t know. Because in England, the girls upto very recently were semi-professional. It is the officials’ call, it is the BCCI’s call. If it happens, we would definitely love it, nobody is going to complain. Systemically, as far as it goes, the one thing that all these boards have in common is the vision for their team being the best in the world. definitely. I have spoken to players in England and Australia, that is what exists there. That is common from top to bottom – from players to administrators, and administrators to players. That is something that we should have here.
SJ– So, you are saying that sort of vision is lacking in the Indian set-up?
SP– I can only speak for the players. I cannot speak for the administrators. As players, I know a lot of players who can think about getting into the Indian cricket team, which is so difficult as it is because of the amount of talent in India. Once you are there, the vision needs to expand to being world beaters. That is something that the players need to develop. Having a system in place, having a vision in place, having a clear set of people that you are going to achieve the vision with, both player and administrators, will be really helpful.
As a woman sportsperson, it has generally become better in the Indian society, but I am assuming there are still certain hurdles to be overcome. What are some of the things that you would like to see in terms of the attitude of the society to women and women athletes?
SP– It is a lot better. With my family itself, I was lucky that I got almost total support. But, it is strange. It is still strange to be a woman sportsperson. I will be travelling around Mumbai and I will see boys carrying their kits, wearing whites, nobody gives them a second glance. But, when I am wearing my whites and carrying my kits and getting into a local train all the women carrying their purses and laptops think “Where did she come from?” it is a lot better, though.
This is true for sports in general, not just women’s sport – when guys play sports their parents upto one point want them to quit the sport and start studying seriously because they don’t believe that that sport has enough backing to get them a livelihood in the future. That is basically the concern of all parents. In that respect, more opportunities for women in cricket would be amazing. Like, the Indian Railways is amazing in terms of how many women cricketers they employ. I think Diana Edulji, who was the former Indian captain is now a Western Railways sports officer. She has a big role in that. It will be really great if there are more opportunities for women, beyond the Railways also. We have a few players who are employed with Air India. Beyond those two, there are hardly other job opportunities for women cricketers. If there were more job opportunities for women in cricket, I think definitely more parents will be willing to send their children, send their girls to the game knowing that if she is good enough, she will get a job and she can gain a livelihood from the game.
SJ– That is true.
I saw that you have a blog, which you haven’t updated in a couple of months. What are your interests beyond cricket?
SP– Writing is something that has really interested me. I have really started writing a couple of blogs about cricket, and a blog not about cricket. I like to focus on women’s cricket, although I like to write about cricket in general. Because women’s cricket in India has almost no internet or published presence. Even beyond my cricketing days, I would like to contribute to increasing the women’s cricket content on the internet. That is one of my areas of interest. It is a way that I hope to stay connected to the game all throughout my life, I need to combine something that I like doing the writing with – cricket, which is what the most media persons think about. Beyond that, I am involved in a spiritual organization that helps improve the spiritual quality of people’s lives.
SJ– As we are speaking, the squad for the World T20 and the 3 practice T20s against Bangladesh – they are leaving India, and you are not on it. What do you see as your future with the team?
SP– Definitely, I don’t believe that any doors are closed. I know that I put in a good performance in the match in Sri Lanka, the India-A match against Sri Lanka. I am being considered, it is not like I am left out in the wilderness for any reasons. As long as my performance keeps backing that up, my hopes of being back in the Indian team are definitely not over. It is one of my motivating factors, driving factor to keep playing. Most importantly, I just want to keep enjoying the game. After a lot of trial and error, I have realised that I play my best when I really enjoy my game. And, reminding myself that it is only a lucky few that get the circumstance that I have, the skills that God has blessed me with. So, I need to make the most of them in whatever time I have.
Thanks a lot for being on the show, Snehal! I wish you the very best for the rest of your career and beyond!
SP– Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman