New Australian Cricket Hall of Fame member Lisa Sthalekar fears COVID-19 has stalled women’s cricket’s momentum and is urging the sport’s powerbrokers not to treat it as an afterthought.
The spin-bowling allrounder accepted the honour on Friday, joining Merv Hughes and the late Johnny Mullagh as 2021 Hall of Fame inductees.
The former national captain and women’s international player of the year won a combined four World Cups with Australia in 20 and 50-over formats during more than a decade in the green and gold, retiring after the 2013 World Cup win in Mumbai.
Now a leading broadcast commentator, she was among 86,174 spectators who saw Australia beat India to win the T20 World Cup at the MCG on March 8 last year.
The event was one of the last before COVID-19 stalled world sport and the India women’s team has not played since.
“It has felt like that (an afterthought) for some countries,” she said.
“Women’s cricket was building up really nicely and the T20 World Cup on March 8 showed what you can do if you invest heavily and market it properly.
“I felt women’s cricket was about to kick off, then a week later the whole world shut down.
“Everyone went back to automatic pilot (and thought) ‘what’s going to give us revenue?’ It’s the men’s game.
“I urge national boards and the ICC to ensure that the women’s game globally grows off the back of that World Cup because I’d like to think 80,000-plus at the MCG can be a common occurrence.”
Playing more women’s Test cricket – the off-spinner only played eight Tests during her time – is another project Sthalekar believes is achievable, with the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and India all capable of incorporating a four-day match into their tour schedules.
Regardless, the India-born Sthalekar, who was adopted by American parents, marvels at the progress since she arrived in Sydney as a child.
“It’s been an interesting road as an immigrant coming into Australia and trying to fit in, and sport was certainly the way that I did it,” she said.
“I didn’t even know women’s cricket existed … because they were all boys that played on a Saturday morning.
“I went down to my first trial, it was all boys there and I didn’t want to step out of the car.
“But my father insisted and I’m glad that he did.”
Hannah Darlington, Elyse Villani, Will Sutherland and Shaun Marsh were also honoured on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s virtual Australian Cricket Awards.
Darlington and Sutherland were named Betty Wilson and Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year respectively, while experienced duo Villani and Marsh earned domestic player of the year honours.