Sports: Rajesh Nayyar - a doyen of Indian women cricket
- a wicket-keeper bat, she was the member of the first Indian women cricket team formed in 1974; then became the coach of the Indian women cricket team in 1989, leading it to the triangular series win in New Zealand in 1995; was also a member of the Women's Cricket Association of India selection committee from 1989 till early 2000s; her latest stint was being a match referee for BCCI since 2006 till 2014; now Ms Nayyar is in Christchurch coaching St Albans [one of the most successful cricket clubs in the City] premier women team
Indian women cricket – a much neglected cousin of the much larger men version – is suddenly going through an interesting phase. First came the news in January that Diana Edulji, arguably the greatest Indian women cricketer of all time, is now the only cricketer, male or female, on the BCCI's interim panel of administrators appointed by the Supreme Court to ensure that the Lodha recommendations for BCCI reform are carried out. Then last week, it was announced that former India women's captain Shantha Rangaswamy will become the first woman to receive the C K Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award at the BCCI Annual Awards in Bengaluru on March 8.
Christchurch is lucky in a sense to be hosting a player these days, who along with Edulji andRangaswamy, has been a part of the Indian women cricket set-up ever since the first team was formed in 1974.
“I played alongside Diana, and under the captain-ship of Shantha. Those days we just played for the love of the game, in-spite of the constant apathy of the administrators, both at the state and national levels,” said Rajesh Nayyar, a former India wicket-keeper bat, now the coach of St Albans premier women cricket team, and who had also been the coach of Indian women cricket team, apart from being a BCCI match referee for women cricket domestic matches.
“That's why the appointment of Diana as the only ex-cricketer in the interim panel is such a welcome development. It's a much needed clean-up exercise being undertaken by the Supreme Court, and cricket would be the overall winner in the end, I am sure. The task ahead is complicated and the panel has to take proper people in confidence to tackle issues of nepotism, political involvement and the perception of unfairness. They have my best wishes.”
Meanwhile, Nayyar's own story is also nothing short of extraordinary. Youngest of the three sisters, her father encouraged her to take up sports ever since she was young. Starting with kho-kho, she soon found that she was good in cricket and hockey. While she played hockey for Delhi and Railways, and once attended the camp for World Cup probables too, cricket was always her first love.
Her cricketing career took a big boost when it was announced in 1975 that the Australian team will tour India soon. Three test matches were scheduled and Nayyar found a place in the 25 probables. The highpoint came when she opened the Indian innings in the second test in Delhi.
Later, when West Indies toured India two years later, though unable to find place in the Indian team, Nayyar captained the North Zone team in one of the tour matches.
Her comeback happened when India women cricket team went on a overseas tour for the first time in 1976-77 to New Zealand and Australia. While all the matches played in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin were one-dayers, the Indian team played a one-off test match across the Tasman.
“The tour was a great learning exercise for the team as conditions were very different from what we were used to at home,” she said.
Then as luck would have it, while Nayyar was in the probables when the World Cup happened in Kolkata in 1978, she couldn’t make it to the team. As there were not many international matches happening in women cricket at that time, she kept playing in the domestic circuit representing Delhi, and North Zone.
“Then in 1982, when I was ignored for a national call in-spite of being the third highest run getter in the zonal tournament, I decided to bring an end to my playing career and got busy raising my family. But one good thing that I did in 1976, I got my diploma in cricket coaching from the National Institute of Sports. That helped me when I decided to take up the coaching role of the Indian women cricket team in 1989,” she said.
This proved to be a god-send for the team as Nayyar, famous for her work ethics and hard work, brought about a welcome change in the cricketing set-up. New talent was identified and groomed.
“It was good mix of youth and experience. Our efforts also led to an overseas tour of Australia in 1989, which provided us a very good opportunity to test our skills internationally. Another great learning experience was the World Cup in England in 1993. But six years of perseverance finally paid off when in 1995 we won the triangular series here, with Australia and New Zealand being the other two countries. The tournament was organised to celebrate the centenary of the establishment of the New Zealand Cricket Council in Christchurch on December 27, 1894. It was a very good decade for Indian women cricket culminating in a narrow loss in the 1997 World Cup semi-final that was held in India.”
She gave up the coaching role after that but contributed as a member of the Women's Cricket Association of India selection committee till early 2000s. In between, she was also the chairperson of the selection committee for one year.
“Then when Shubhangi Kulkarni became the secretary of the Women's Cricket Association of India (WCAI) [which later merged with BCCI in 2006], I was approached for taking up the role match referee for BCCI for domestic matches in 2006. I accepted and was in that role for almost eightyears till 2014.”
“In a nutshell, you can say that my cricketing life is a story of a decade each of being a player, a coach and then an administrator.”
“One thing I can tell you, which might surprise many people, is that Indian women cricket is in far better shape in terms of facilities, job security, infrastructure, and sponsorship. Even when we came here in 1995, Zandu Balm sponsored our team. Other teams struggled then, and still do, as far as sponsorship is concerned.”
Nayyar concluded sharing her future plans, “I have given cricket 40 years of my life. Now I want to take it a bit easy. But I will always be involved in the game in some form or the other. It may be with Delhi Women's Cricket team or some opportunities here in New Zealand, similar to what I have been doing with St Albans.”