Diana Edulji, born on January 26, 1956, was good enough to play in the men’s team. She picked up the skills of the game much faster than her male counterparts while playing at the Railway Colony in South Mumbai, where she lived. It all began there. She is the third-highest wicket taker in Tests, having a long and successful career that span over 18 years.
She honed her skills in a camp that was organised by Lala Amarnath. Three years after her debut, she was made the captain of the national team. Although being a slow left-arm orthodox bowler and coming to bat lower down the order, Edulji was no muck with the bat. In her second Test, she smashed an unbeaten 57 against the West Indies in Chennai.
In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, Edulji speaks to Sudatta Mukherjee about cricket, the BCCI not respecting women’s cricket and bowling to Clive Lloyd.
Sudatta Mukherjee (SM): You had attended a camp hosted by Lala Amarnath. When was this and what did the great man have to say about your bowling?
Diana Edulji (DE): It was right at the beginning of our career, in 1976. [In] 1975, we started playing international cricket and in 1976 we were playing against the West Indies. In Lucknow, the Indian team was having its coaching camp and Lala Amarnath was the coach of Indian cricket team at that time. He was in-charge but he came one or two days late. There was a NIS coach who was his assistant. The day Lala Amarnath reached, he saw the girls running 45 minutes non-stop. Immediately he came and fired everybody asking, “What are you all? Are you playing cricket or training for athletics?” So we were relieved; there was no way we were going to run everyday [for] 45 minutes to an hour. But [that] was the typical NIS training, endurance theory coaching. He really moulded the team in the initial stages and we had a very good series against West Indies, we won, first time we ever won a Test match also. That was a very bright moment.
He was a very unconventional coach. He was basically giving importance more on [our] skills; if you have skills then fitness will automatically come. It is not like today’s cricket; everything is fitness oriented. Those days were very different. We never had gyms; basically, everybody had to work on their skills. We enjoyed our coaching camp.
SM: You also got tips from Bishan Singh Bedi once. What are your lasting thoughts from that meeting with him?
DE: When I started my career, instead of playing with the girls, I always went to the boys’ nets and I was allowed to practice with all the boys. Whether it was the Indian team or any foreign team visiting Mumbai, I used to bowl in the nets. I was even allowed to bowl to the Pakistan men’s team. That is how I improved my game. Then they would give me some tips on how to bowl. Bishan Singh taught me how to bowl the armer. So that was very important, crucial, and it was very helpful to me when I went to England. They have helped, Sunil [Gavaskar] has helped. I used to bowl at the nets, the girls used to practice side by side. So, I have practically bowled to almost everyone.
SM: How was your experience with the Pakistan men’s team?
DE: Very good, it was very nice. In fact, Imran [Khan] and all were very pleased. At that time there was no Pakistan women’s team. It was out of the blue for them. It was not that I was treated in a different way because I’m a girl. In fact, I had a very funny incident right back in 1974, when Clive Lloyd’s team was here. The team had gone to play a match in Rajkot or something, but Clive Lloyd, Andy Roberts, Alvin Kallicharan and one more player was staying back in Mumbai and we were practicing at the CCI (Cricket Club of India, Brabourne Stadium). I felt that Lloyd was playing just to please me. Kallicharan, Clive and all of us were very friendly. So I told him that, “Clive, I think you are playing a little too cautiously.” So he said, “You really want me to play my game against you?” I said that, “Yes, I would like to see my standards and then he hit me out of the ground. We were never ridiculed or anything that why should women play cricket [sic] but, yes, initially we did have a few setbacks. But that was part and parcel of the game.
SM: You lost four front teeth while playing once? When was this?
DE: This happened right before I started playing official cricket. I used to stay in a railway colony – Badhwar Park – and we used to play tennis-ball cricket every Sunday. It used to be 10 boys and I used to be the only girl. We had a little ground over there, which is not there anymore; there is a swimming pool right now. We played on a matting wicket; we used to have gully cricket. First Pasta Lane vs Second Pasta, Second Pasta Lane vs Badhwar Park; it used to be little money matches [and] also and little ego matches [sic]. Badhwar Park used to be superior than the gully. So there was a six footer guy [sic] and I had never played on a matting wicket before, and they say on [a] matting wicket you should never go full forward to play. But I went [full forward] and that ball just rose and smashed my teeth.
Initially I didn’t realise anything and I didn’t want to show that I was hit or something. The moment I took guard again, I saw blood oozing down my hand. So that was when I stopped him and I immediately rushed home. In the lift, when I was going up, I looked at my mouth in the mirror and said, “Oh god, this is bad.” But I still didn’t tell anybody at home. I went in quietly, opened the fridge, took out ice and put [it on the wound]. But then it was just swelling up and I had to rush to the hospital. It was a Saturday evening; it was round about 4 o’clock. I went to St. George’s Hospital. They said it has to be a police case. My sister and I jumped out of the window and said forget it; who is going to get involved in a police case! Then we just rushed to Byculla Railway Hospital and they said that we have to operate it. Then, Monday I went to Nair Hospital and got myself operated and set up everything. Right through my career I played with a danger because they said that I can’t have a fixed setting done because if I get hit again then I’m gone. Only after I stopped playing, I got a setting done.
SM: I’m told that you could have played in the men’s team – long before Sarah Taylor’s opportunity with Sussex? Modesty aside, do you think you were good enough to play alongside men?
DE: I’m not very keen on comparing men’s and women’s cricket; it is a big difference [sic]. There, it is brutal force; [with] us, it is skill and grace. You can have mixed doubles in tennis, you can have mixed doubles in table tennis but in cricket I don’t think it is possible – very rare cases you have. Even Lara has played; there was a bowler from Australia who got him out also. Maybe bowling side, yes, you can get away with it. I think there is a difference, but I was quite happy that I was given that recognition. In fact, sometimes, when the men’s team didn’t play well, they used say Santha [Rangaswamy] and Diana should play for men’s, they will be better off. It was good to hear that, but I think there is a vast difference. They are two different games. The word is cricket but they are two different sports I think.
SM: I’m also given to understand that you used to bowl to the Indian team at the nets ahead of Test matches. What are your recollections of those moments?
DE: I have enjoyed bowling with the men’s. I learnt a lot and there are huge variety [sic], whether it is an Indian or foreign team and that’s how I maintained higher standards. Tthat is how this comparison came [about] that she can play in the men’s team, because I used to get a lot of people out. Once, I was bowling to the late Parthasarathy Sharma and he got beaten. Sunil Gavaskar was behind and he sung that song – Dhoondo Dhoondo re Sajna Dhoondo. Those things really picked you up. It was good moments [sic] and I really enjoyed my stint as a cricketer.
SM: Mithali Raj dedicated her double century to you. What do you have to say about that?
DE: I am very happy that she got 200 because I was absolutely delighted that a women cricketer has been able to do that. The recognition that we have got is very poor. In fact, the first double hundred they say is scored by Sachin Tendulkar. I was the manager of the Twenty20 World Cup team in 2009 in England. We were playing and one of my players – Priyanka Roy – got a five-wicket haul and that was the first five-wicket haul by a cricketer in a T20 game in the World Cup. And in the evening or [the] next day, it was followed up by Umar Gul. The publicity he got, I immediately issued a press release. I said, “I am sorry he is not the first cricketer, he is the second person. The first person is an Indian woman, Priyanka Roy, so please get your facts right.” I sent a message to [the] ICC also and then they corrected it. That’s what I said, Sachin is not the first person to score 200 [in an ODI], it is Belinda Clark. Maybe it was done at [the] MIG but it was an official match, I think the credit should go to Belinda.
SM: Do you think BCCI could have done more for women’s cricket?
DE: Yes, [the] BCCI has to do a lot more. We expected a lot for women’s cricket when they took over. In fact, I and Shubhangi [Kulkarni] and some of the seniors were the pioneers of the merger. We wanted the merger thinking that women’s cricket will prosper but I’m sorry to say it hasn’t. In fact, there is hardly any cricket being played. Where is the domestic cricket for the women? Where are the Test matches for the women cricketers? I don’t see anything. They are just running it for the sake of running it, which is sad.
SM: What should the BCCI work on for women’s cricket?
DE: Everything. Just give some respect. See the way [the] BCCI is treating the World Cup. A Ranji Trophy final has got priority over an ICC World Cup, which is a shame I think.
SM: You were part of the selection team of Railways which won the Ranji Trophy in 2001-02. How was the overall experience?
DE: It was very good. There were some very good male cricketers also in the committee – Hyder Ali, etc. I was given due respect and was appreciated, my views were appreciated. I was never told that you were a woman cricketer, you don’t know much about cricket. In fact, we were such a beautiful team that we won the Ranji that year and did well for few seasons; we won the Irani Trophy also. It was a golden era in Railways.
SM: Any high praise that has come your way in your fabulous career that you cherish most?
DE: Cherished I guess… always comparing myself to a male cricketer. There were times people used to say, Bishan Singh of men’s cricket and Diana of women’s cricket. But I would personally be known as a woman cricketer. And that is something I want Mithali and all to be known as. I don’t want someone to be known as ‘she is the Sachin Tendulkar of women’s cricket’. We have our own entity and until we attain that entity, women’s cricket won’t prosper in India.
I cannot understand why Indian women are not allowed to play Test matches. England and Australia are playing the Ashes, both men’s and women’s [teams]. [The] BCCI is just not allowing [it].
SM: Any regrets as you look back at your career?
DE: No regrets at all. I enjoyed my stint as a cricketer; I enjoyed my stint as a sports officer for the Western Railways and am not a loser if [the] BCCI is not interested in taking my services. I am very happy. But I only want women’s cricket to be respected, that’s it, and not to be taken as a joke and not to be treated as a second-class citizen.
SM: Do you think it is the same for foreign women’s teams also or is it just the BCCI?
DE: I think the Australians are more professional and they do respect women’s cricket. They do respect their players. If [the] BCCI has taken up an assignment, if they have decided to run women’s cricket, they should run it in a proper way not for the sake of running it. Until you make them play the longer version, until you give them the financial support, until you promote it, how will [it] attract people? Why, today, people are going into badminton, squash? Because the game is getting popular on television; the federation is promoting [it]. That is why women are running for badminton, tennis, and squash. Squash, though, is not televised but see the amount of girls [who] play [it]. I was shocked when I saw the entries for junior squash in CCI. The amount of entries! I could not believe that such young kids are taking up squash, which is unbelievable for a game which is not even televised. And [a] very difficult game, very costly game. Why can’t women’s cricket be popularised? [The] BCCI has no shortage of funds. They are rolling in money. So if they roll out a little bit for women cricketers, I don’t think there should be any problem.
SM: What do you think about the Indian women’s team ahead of the World Cup?
DE: I hope they do well. Because the only way to shake BCCI is winning one of the two World Cups. But it is going to be very difficult because, to be very frank, I would prefer a male coach. I have nothing against Anju Jain. She is doing a good job. But I feel the girls require a proper person to have some fear [induced] because Anju has played with some of these players. So that motivation is not going to come, maybe the friendship is still there. I would prefer a good ex-Test cricketer to take over. But if [the] BCCI is not going to pay, no wonder the men are not going to come [sic].
I am not hankering after positions. I was in the core committee in the BCCI, when the first committee was formed. After Sharad Pawar and Shashank Manohar and N Srinivasan took over, I used to have my difference of opinions with them and that is why I was thrown out. I was thrown out of the CIC (Cricket Improvement Committee) in the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) because I had difference of opinion and I’m not the loser. I am quite happy; if they don’t want my services, they are the losers, not me.