Like Virat and Rohit, Smriti and Harmanpreet are also stars now: Mona Meshram [Exclusive Interview]

Mona Meshram went unsold in WPL Auction 2024 but has not lost hope. She is working hard to get back to her best. In an exclusive interview, the batter spoke about her cricketing journey and much more.

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Mona Meshram
Mona Meshram.

Experienced batter Mona Meshram has represented India in 26 ODIs and 11 T20Is and scored 352 and 125 runs, respectively. She has also picked up one wicket in each format.

The right-handed batter recently spoke about her troublesome initiation to cricket and how she fought adversities with her mother by her side during an exclusive interview with CricTracker. Mona also revealed her pre-match routine and named the captain she would love to play under in the Women's Premier League (WPL).

It's really difficult to be a woman and start your journey in cricket. Why did you choose cricket?

I was a volleyball player initially because I come from a family of volleyball players. In school, when you play one sport, you become athletic. My school cricket team needed players. So, sir asked me if I would play cricket. I agreed to play. Cricket is a game which anyone could play back in the day. Like I played gully cricket with my brothers. In the school matches, I scored well and got called up to the under-16 trials. At that time, cricket didn't merge with BCCI. I got selected in the under-16 team. I had to choose between volleyball and cricket and I chose the latter.

We were not a well-to-do family. Cricket is a very expensive game. I did not have a kit, nor did I have clothes. My school helped me a lot at that time. Honestly speaking, I read in a government school. You know about the facilities in government schools. There was only one kit for the entire team. Sir told me that you are the first one from the school to get selected and he gave me the kit. At that time, I did not even know the weights of the bats that female cricketers used. My bat was 1200-1250 grams at that time and I had no idea about it back then. I used that kit back then and scored as well. I did well in the under-16 matches and my journey started from there.

Because my family background wasn't great, I had to maintain a balance between studies and cricket. I used to travel a long distance to the ground from my home on a cycle. My mother would come to drop me off sometimes as well. We just had one cycle in the family. Sometimes, my mother would come to drop me and I would also go to pick her up on some occasions. Even in testing times, my mother didn't let us feel deprived of anything. We also understood her struggles and didn't ask for much. Even for our basic needs, we would not bother her 10 times. We used to tell her just once. So, we had our share of struggles. My initial days taught me a lot.

Were you ever told you shouldn't venture into cricket because you are a woman? 

No, in my home, we were all having a sports background. I had two sisters as well, my cousins; nobody told them anything. My family also never told us to prioritise studies. They supported us. So, I was very fortunate. My mother wasn't very educated but she backed me to do what I enjoyed. 

How was your experience in the 2017 Women's World Cup final? What was the mood in the dressing room during the tense moments in the closing stages?

In the 2013 Women's World Cup, which was held in India, we lost four out of our five matches. We won just one match against Pakistan in the qualifiers. The 2013 World Cup is also very special for those memories. However, cricket took a 360-degree change in the 2017 World Cup. Not many would have seen the 2013 World Cup as women's cricket wasn't popular. When we played the 2017 edition, whoever followed women's cricket, celebrities and well-wishers, came to watch the matches. Whatever the result, we were standing up for one another. People were appreciating women's cricket.

When we went to play England in 2012, the men's Ashes was going on at Lord's. The women's team was practising outside. One guy asked another, "Girls are going to play as well, are you going to come and watch them play?" He replied, "Who would come to watch women's cricket?" I still remember that conversation.

We had empty stands back then but the craze now is great for women's cricket and the sport has reached new heights. Now, along with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur are also the stars of the sport. They (Smriti and Harmanpreet) have become idols and changed the landscape of women's cricket.

Rohit Sharma recently said that he grew up watching ODI cricket and the ODI World Cup is more special to him. Which is more special to you - ODI World Cup or T20 World Cup?

I feel the ODI World Cup [is more special]. T20 arrived recently. ODI, the more you play the more you want to improve and have fun. But be it T20 or ODI, cricket is cricket. We just want to win the trophy, irrespective of the format.

Do you think you have fulfilled all your goals in cricket or are there any regrets?

As a cricketer, I miss the Indian dressing room. A lot of things are there to achieve. As a cricketer, as long as I am playing, there is nothing called fulfilment. But I do miss the dressing room.

Is there anything on your bucket list that you absolutely want to achieve?

Winning the World Cup. Even if I'm not in the team, the World Cup should come to India because the girls work really hard. If you see the struggles of the girls, the kind of family backgrounds they come from. I see the hardships of the girls and I understand what they have been through. Winning the World Cup will be a huge thing. Recently, we won the under-19 World Cup and a lot of young girls have been picked in the WPL teams. Even if I'm not there, we should get the World Cup. It is on my bucket list.

Against which team did you enjoy playing the most?

Australia! When you play against the Australian team, it is a challenge in itself. We are always ready for challenges and tough situations. The Australian team is the toughest, I feel. So, I love playing against them.

Stories of dressing room pranks are quite popular. Have you ever pulled off a prank on someone in the dressing room or has anyone pranked you?

We don't generally prank our teammates. Obviously, we do have light-hearted moments. However, we do pull off pranks on players from other teams. Especially, the Pakistani players. We have pranked them a lot.

Any particular prank on the Pakistan team you would like to share?

We played the Asia Cup in China in 2013 or 2014 [2012]. In the finals, we played poorly and got out for 93 [81]. However, Pakistan were even worse on the day. Whenever India plays Pakistan, it's a high-voltage match. A lot of sledging was going on. The match wasn't televised. Their manager came onto the field and was almost about to beat us. I still have those memories. I have never seen a manager come onto the field like that.

Sledging is on a different level when we face Pakistan, it's a lot of fun. Pranks and leg-pulling happen a lot. But yes, Pakistan were bowled out for 63 and we showed our mettle with our performance. Also, I would like to mention the match we had against Pakistan in the 2017 World Cup in Derby, England. The atmosphere was something else as there were a lot of fans of both teams. We were in awe of the atmosphere.

If you get a chance to play in WPL, which is the one team you would like to pick and why?

First, let me get picked [laughs]. I like [Meg] Lanning. I have played under Mithali di [Mithali Raj], she is a legend and it was a lot of fun playing under her. Lanning is also a legend and it would be fun playing under her. However, that doesn't mean that I don't want to play under Smriti and Harmanpreet. But Lanning had captained Australia for so long and won so many trophies. There must be an X-factor. She looks different on-field and I would love to play under her.

India is playing so much cricket of late but both the men's and women's teams are not winning trophies. Do you want to point out any reason behind the long wait?

You are asking me all the difficult questions [laughs]. The way we are preparing, other teams are also doing the same. The team is doing really well. We are reaching the finals on almost every occasion. We need to go just one step ahead. The kind of cricket the Indian women's team is playing is commendable. As far as trophies are concerned, winning is important but what is even more important is to go to that stage and perform well. If you see the previous Indian teams and the current one, there is a huge difference. Girls are getting to the finals. There can't be anything bigger than this. Just the little problem is that the other teams are winning the final and we are not.

The WPL is helping a lot to reduce the margin between international cricket and Indian domestic cricket. Earlier, the players would get selected for international cricket after playing in domestic cricket. When cricketers would go to play internationals, it would be a huge stage. Players would take a lot of time to get accustomed. However, WPL has ended the barrier. It is a platform where international players are playing and you are getting to share the dressing room with the stalwarts of the game and learn from them. Sooner or later, the ICC trophy will be coming to India. 

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