This article first appeared in '' Seamstress ", my column for Wisden India
With Mithali Raj recently becoming the only the fourth female cricketer to be awarded the distinguished Padma Shri award, I decided to compile a list of all female cricketers who have won major government awards. The exercise took me firmly out of my comfortable world of flowing prose and into the unyielding and inflexible realm of statistics, but it was an enriching one all the same. This post is dedicated to all those incredibly talented and hard working women who deserve every accolade they can get, and to the many more whose way these awards may not have come.
In chronological order:
Arjuna Award- 1976
Shanta was the archetypal pioneer, at a time when women's cricket in India was in its infancy. She captained the country in 12 of the 16 tests she played, and 16 of the 19 ODIs. In an era where Tests were the prevalent and sometimes only format, she played an attacking and entertaining brand of cricket. The Bangalore all rounder could be destructive with the bat, as well as with her big inswingers. In a playing career that spanned 14 years, she accumulated 750 runs and 21 wickets in her 16 matches. She is now a senior officer in a nationalised bank and currently a BCCI selector as well.
Arjuna Award- 1983
The first female cricketer to be awarded the Padma Shri as well as the Arjuna, left arm spinner Diana Edulji was another member of the pioneering women's test team. Hailing from Mumbai, she is India's highest wicket taker in tests, and is third on the all-time list, with 63 wickets in 20 matches. Known for her unerring accuracy, she was the cornerstone of India's spin attack in those formative years. She also led the country in four tests and 18 ODIs. Now as Western Railway's Sr. Sports Officer, she has helped increase the employment opportunities for talented women cricketers in the country, and helped shape the sports policy of Western and Indian Railways.
Arjuna Award- 1985
Leg spinning all rounder Shubhangi Kulkarni scalped 23 wickets in the seminal home test series against the West Indies that the Indian women played in 1976. Thereafter, she regularly contributed with ball and bat, and sits just behind Diana Edulji as India's second highest wicket taker, with 60 wickets in 19 tests. Her greatest legacy though, may be that of an administrator. She was Secretary of the Women's Cricket Association of India in 2005, when India registered their best ever performance in a World Cup, finishing runners up in South Africa. Previously, she had helped ink a sponsorship deal with Sahara, who were sponsoring the BCCI at the time. She also played an instrumental role in the talks preceding BCCI's takeover of women's cricket in 2006. She currently runs a popular sports shop in her hometown of Pune.
Arjuna Award - 1986
With an astonishing test batting average of 50.45 in 13 tests, Sandhya Agarwal was Indian women's cricket's run machine. Opening the batting, her presence at the wicket gave the Indian batting much needed stability. With four test hundreds, two of those on foreign soil, she is just behind England's Janette Brittin (five), who holds the record for highest number of centuries in women's tests. The Indore born cricketer was also a crucial member of a strong Indian Railways team for most of her career. She is now involved with the women's wing of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association.
Arjuna Award - 2003
Padma Shri - 2015
Mithali has been the face of women's cricket in the country for more than a decade. She has been the ever present silver lining in an era of inconsistency for Indian women's cricket. Some of her famous exploits with the bat - her test double hundred at the age of 19 for instance- have single handedly raised the profile of the women's game in the country. Her heroic double ton won her the Arjuna in 2003 making her the first woman in 16 years to win the award, and her overall contribution has also earned her the Padma Shri, which she said took her by surprise, considering Virat Kohli was also in the fray. In an era where one dayers and later T20 matches were the popular formats, her numbers are staggering. With 4888 runs, she is second on the all-time ODI leading run scorers list. She has led the team in roughly half of her 153 ODIs. With 1267 runs in 47 matches, she is India's highest T20 run scorer, male or female, ahead of Virat Kohli (972). This coming from a player who said in an interview recently, that it took her many years to actually start enjoying the sport!
Arjuna Award - 2005
Wicketkeeper-opening bat Anju Jain was honoured with the Arjuna in the year that she helped the Indian team make the finals of the 2005 World Cup in South Africa. She was the mainstay with the gloves and at the top of the order for almost a decade. Her diminutive stature belied the power she could pack in her strokes, and lent her agility behind the stumps. The Delhi player was also a key member of the successful Air India team on the domestic circuit. She currently coaches the Assam Cricket Association women's team.
Arjuna Award - 2006
Padma Shri - 2014
Anjum Chopra, with 2856 ODI runs, is India's second highest run getter, and also 10th on the all-time run scorer list. The stylish Delhi left hander is one of the most recognisable faces in women’s cricket, as she is a regular feature on television commentary for both women's and men's international games. Another Air India stalwart, her fluent batting style and safe hands in the slips were a prominent feature of her playing career. She led the Indian team to their first ever overseas test victory in South Africa in 2002. She also played an instrumental role in the historic away series win against England in 2006. She is now a professional orator, sportscaster and writer.
Arjuna Award - 2010
Padma Shri - 2012
Along with Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami's achievements have made her the poster girl of Indian women's cricket. Her height, aggression and pace have helped her captivate the imaginations of onlookers unlike any other cricketer. With 167 wickets, she is no. 2 on the all-time ODI wicket takers list. Since breaking into the Indian team as a precocious teenager, she has spearheaded the Indian attack for almost 15 years now. She bowled India to a famous test series win in Taunton, England in 2006, with one of the most clinical displays of fast bowling seen in the women's game. Her match haul of 10 wickets helped her claim the ICC cricketer of the Year award in 2007, the only Indian ever to do so. The tearaway from the small town of Chakda (in the outskirts of Kolkata) went on to lead the country in 42 internationals, including a third place finish in the 2009 Women's World Cup.