Colleges rejected me for low marks until cricket got me a seat: ICC’s first woman match referee GS Lakshmi
“Whatever I am today is because of cricket. At every step of my life, cricket has saved me,” said Lakshmi speaking about her cricketing journey in an exclusive interview to Asiaville.
Indian woman match referee GS Lakshmi recently created history by becoming the first ever woman ICC cricket match referee. She will be officiating in all kinds of international matches, including men’s matches.
From the time of her humble beginnings in Andhra Pradesh’s Rajahmundry, Lakshmi always relentlessly chased her passion for cricket. Cricket too did not let her down. When young Lakshmi was living with her parents and two brothers in Jamshedpur, hurdles awaited her as she scored low marks in her Class 10 exams.
“Whatever I am today is because of cricket. At every step of my life, cricket has saved me. My Class 10 marks were pathetic. No colleges in Jamshedpur admitted me,” she said.
Finally, her father met the principal of Jamshedpur Women’s College. The principal too saw the marks and said she would not be able to give Lakshmi a seat. However, she asked the young girl if she participated in any extracurricular activities.
“My dad mentioned I play gully cricket with tennis balls. He also admitted he couldn’t judge my abilities because I had no experience playing with proper cricket balls. But, the principal agreed to ask the sports instructor to look into my case, said Lakshmi.
Later, the sports instructor tested Lakshmi’s batting, bowling, and fielding. She managed to prove that marks weren’t everything.
“He (Sports instructor) was very happy with my bowling. I had a natural action. He said I deserved admission and that I would go a long way if I took serious practice,” said Lakshmi.
She went from strength to strength and became a quality outswing bowler for Railways. Lakshmi never got the chance to play for India, although she was a part of the national squad during India's tour of England in 1999. Sadly, she had to retire in 2004. Though she later took up coaching, Lakshmi regrets her short playing career.
“I regret I couldn’t play enough for India. My career as a cricket player ended early. I cried when I could not make it to the national team. I wanted to just hang up my boots. Now after this achievement, I’m slowly healing,” she said.
Lakshmi coached South Central Railways for 10 years. She later debuted as a match referee in 2008 after the BCCI introduced women referees for the first time in women's domestic games. By 2014, she was selected to stand in boys' and men's domestic games.
“To be a referee, you have to be a player first. Former cricketers are the ones who often become referees. You have to play at the top levels and gain experience. Only then you get to know the laws and nuances of the game up close. Communication skills are also important,” she said.
Currently employed in the Railways, Lakshmi is married and has a 26-year-old daughter. She is grateful to her mother for allowing her the freedom to pursue her cricketing dreams.
“I had the full support of my family. My mother took care of my daughter when she was little. It gave me the freedom to play cricket,” she recalled.
Lakshmi is hopeful of a bright future for women’s cricket in India. She urged institutions and academies to create awareness to take up cricket and other sports as careers at the grassroots level in both rural and urban spaces.
“The 1983 World Cup revolutionized men’s cricket. The same way, the 2017 Women’s World Cup, in which India ended runners-up, has changed women’s cricket. More people now know women cricketers well. Girls are no longer hesitating to choose cricket as career. There is so much talent with the potential to shine, especially in villages,” she said.