Sthalekar's legacy goes far beyond cricket field
Few of her on-field feats were broadcast to the world. Lisa Sthalekar is making sure the same won't be said for the generation after her
Laura Jolly previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and is now cricket.com.au Women's Cricket Editor providing dedicated coverage to all aspects of the women's game
That Lisa Sthalekar would follow the likes of Belinda Clark, Ricky Ponting and Karen Rolton into the International Cricket Council's Hall of Fame has long seemed inevitable.
A former Australia captain and four-time World Cup winner.
A two-time Belinda Clark Award winner.
An outstanding contribution to the game, on and off the field! Huge congratulations to @sthalekar93 on your very well-deserved induction to the @ICC Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/uft7OFNuQ5— Australian Women's Cricket Team 🏏 (@AusWomenCricket) August 23, 2020
The first woman to achieve the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in one-day internationals.
One-hundred-and-eighty-five games for Australia across all formats, reaping a total of 3913 runs and 229 wickets.
All numbers that make an irrefutable case for elevation to the game's elite – and those are just Sthalekar's achievements on the playing field.
For many cricket fans, Sthalekar will be more familiar for her constant presence in the commentary box through the Australian summer – something of an irony, given how few highlights exist of her illustrious career in the green and gold.
Sthalekar, who celebrated her 41st birthday last week, is the 27th Australian inducted into the Hall of Fame, and one of three 2020 inductees alongside Zaheer Abbas and Jacques Kallis.
Her inclusion was welcomed by Australia wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy, who sang the praises of Sthalekar after learning she had been added to the exclusive club.
🌟 ICC Hall of Fame 2020: Lisa Sthalekar 🇦🇺 🏆 ODI World Cup winner in 2005 & 2013🏆 T20 World Cup winner in 2010 & 2012🥇 First woman to achieve the ODI double of 1000 runs and 100 wicketsA true ambassador of the game! pic.twitter.com/Qt3ZKVH11f— ICC (@ICC) August 23, 2020
"It's no surprise to anybody involved in the game that this is finally happening," Healy said in a message of congratulations to Sthalekar.
"Your contributions both on and off the field so far in your life are pretty remarkable and it's something that's thoroughly well-deserved.
"The impact you had as a player is there for everyone to see in your stats but more importantly the impact you've had on women's cricket as a whole, both when you were playing and when you finished your career is pretty special and should be celebrated."
What was not inevitable, early on, was that Sthalekar would find her way to the Australian cricket team at all. That was the result of a very happy set of circumstances starting in India in 1979.
Born in the city of Pune – and named Laila at birth – a newborn Sthalekar was placed at the Shreevatsa orphanage by her biological parents, who were unable to support her.
There, she was fortunate to cross paths with a couple from Michigan, Haren – himself born in Mumbai – and Sue Sthalekar.
The Sthalekars had already adopted one daughter, Caprini, six years earlier and wished to complete their family.
A bond quickly formed and at just three weeks of age, Laila – now Lisa – travelled with her new family to the United States.
They eventually moved to Sydney, via Kenya, where Sthalekar was introduced to backyard cricket by her father.
It was after watching children play organised matches at a nearby park that a nine-year-old Sthalekar asked her father if she too could join the local club.
"He enquired at the local club and they said, 'Well, she'll be the only girl in the whole club of about 600'," Sthalekar told the SCG Podcast earlier this year.
"My dad said, 'She'll be fine'.
"So I rocked up to my first training session in Under-10s as a nine-year-old kid and I got there and looked at all the kids mucking around in the nets and said, 'Dad, I don't think so, I think I'm out'.
"And he goes, 'You'll be fine'."
A spinner from day one, Sthalekar's career had started out like most girls at the time: playing against boys and unaware women played international cricket.
It wasn't until she was introduced to the Gordon Women's Cricket Club at age 13 that her eyes were opened to the fact women could also play for their country.
"Back then it wasn't seen on TV, there were no articles … It was the players' families and friends who knew about women's cricket," she said.
"I was playing boys' cricket in the morning, women's cricket in the afternoon.
"It probably took about two or three years before I got on the radar of rep sides, and things like that."
Among those who noticed the potential in a young teenage Sthalekar was Belinda Clark.
When Sthalekar broke into the senior New South Wales team during the 1997-98 season, it was Australia's greatest ODI run scorer who was her first state skipper.
"I've watched Lisa grow, I think I first came across her when she was a 14 or 15-year-old," Clark told cricket.com.au this week.
"She was certainly playing in the state team that I was captaining when she would have been only 17 or 18.
"I feel like I've watched her grow up."
A maiden international call-up followed in 2001, where Sthalekar became Australia ODI cap No.93 at the County Ground in Derby and collected two wickets on debut.
A Baggy Green followed 18 months later, the allrounder becoming the 143rd woman to play Test cricket for Australia, and in just her second Test she struck her maiden century, an unbeaten 120 against England at Bankstown Oval.
Over the 12 years that followed, Sthalekar was part of two winning ODI World Cup campaigns, in South Africa in 2005 and in India in 2013, and two T20 World Cups titles, in the West Indies in 2010 and in Sri Lanka two years later.
At the peak of her powers Sthalekar was the world's premier allrounder, and claimed both the 2007 and 2008 Belinda Clark Awards as Australia's preeminent female player.
At Lord's on July 7, 2009, she became the first woman to take 100 wickets and score 1000 runs in one-day internationals.
Today, she remains one of only eight Australians, and only two Australian women, to have more than 2000 runs and 200 wickets in international cricket.
She captained her country on three occasions in 2006, while as New South Wales skipper she led her state to the first five of 10 consecutive titles they won between 2005-06 and 2014-15.
It was that triumphant 2013 One-Day World Cup final West Indies in Mumbai, the birthplace of her father, that provided a fairytale finish to Sthalekar's international career.
She would walk away as Australia's second highest wicket-taker in the ODI format behind Cathryn Fitzpatrick (though has since been overtaken by Ellyse Perry), and their third highest run-scorer (now sixth, leapfrogged by Perry, Meg Lanning and Alex Blackwell).
"To finish by playing in a successful Women's World Cup in the country of my birth is quite special for me," Sthalekar reflected at the time. "I feel that this is the right time for me to retire."
Still, she could not resist coming out of retirement two years later when the Rebel WBBL was introduced, spending two seasons with the Sydney Sixers before packing the kit bag away for good.
The lower profile of women's cricket through her playing days meant few of her on-field feats were broadcast to the world.
Sthalekar is making sure the same won't be said for the generation following her. She is now a household name around the country for her work on Channel Seven's cricket coverage, at ICC events and for the Indian Premier League.
Her work behind the microphone, and the myriad other roles and causes that Sthalekar is involved in, has seen her contribution to the game go well beyond the impact she made with bat and ball.
Having held various coaching and game development roles with Cricket NSW, both through her playing career and after her retirement, Sthalekar continues to mentor and offer advice to players at all levels of the game.
In the lead-up to the T20 World Cup earlier this year, she was spotted in the nets talking with teenage India batting sensation Shafali Verma, having just finished a long day of commentary.
She is also a passionate ambassador for Adopt Change, an organisation founded by Deborra-Lee Furness raising awareness of issues affecting adoption, and through her work as Director of The Chappell Foundation, she organises the annual Sports Star Sleepout at the SCG to raise money and awareness of youth homelessness.
For Healy, who forged her way first at NSW Breakers and then for Australia with Sthalekar as a captain and teammate, the influence the allrounder has had on her career was enormous.
"(She) had a great impact on a young Alyssa Healy walking into a New South Wales program at 12 years of age," Healy said.
"There she was running the program, captaining the New South Wales side and playing for Australia which was pretty inspirational.
"That was inspirational for a lot of the girls right throughout those programs."
Those sentiments are echoed by Clark.
"I'm just really pleased for her and proud of the impact she's had, not only on the field but the work she's done off the field as well has been quite remarkable," Clark said.
"To forge her way into the journalism industry, through the commentary box has been outstanding.
"She's a great talent, and the sport has been better off for her being a part of it."