Pitch Perfect: From player to referee, AP's Lakshmi first woman to be on ICC panel

Hyderabad: As stories go, the journey of Gandikota Sarva Lakshmi from being a player to becoming the first woman match referee on the International Cricket Council panel (ICC) is quite a tale.
Cricket was a chance happening for the 51-year-old from the dusty bylanes of Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. And the ICC announcement on Tuesday that she’s eligible to officiate in international games with immediate effect was just desserts for someone who started playing the game because of her poor show in Class 10 exams and rose to her current position by sheer dint of hard work.
“To be on the international panel is a huge honour for me as it opens up new avenues,” a visibly delighted Lakshmi told TOI on Tuesday. “I have had a long career as a cricketer in India and also as a match referee. I hope to put my experience both as a player and as a match official to good use on international circuit,” she added.
The long career had its beginning in Jamshedpur, where Lakshmi got admission in college on sports quota after faring poorly in exam. The Government Women’s College in Bistarpur in Jamshedpur was her first stop. By then the right-handed batter and medium-pacer had done enough at the U-19 level to catch the eye of the state coach, who immediately selected her for the Bihar team in 1986.
Lakshmi grabbed the opportunity with both hands and went on to represent Bihar, East Zone, South Central Railway, Andhra and South Zone women’s teams in a career spanning from 1986-2004.
Like her first brush with cricket, another chance meeting with Andhra’s Rajni Venugopal proved to be life-changing.Rajni, a top name in Indian women’s cricket in 1980s, helped her land a job with South Central Railways (SCR) in 1989 and Secunderabad has been Lakshmi’s home ever since.
Railways then was virtually Indian women’s cricket team, so Lakshmi shifted her focus to Andhra and continued to evolve as a player. “Since there were several top-class players in the Railways team, I rarely got an opportunity to showcase my skills. I requested the Railway authorities to relieve me and I got an opportunity to represent Andhra in 1999. I also got selected for the England tour in the same year. My dream to represent India nearly came true in the same year,” she said.
It was so close, yet so far for Lakshmi as she was part of the squad that toured England but never got a chance to play for the country. Cricket then took a back seat after marriage. “I took a break from cricket after marriage. I returned to play for SCR till 2006, even though I had retired from active cricket in 2004,” she added.
Passion for the game, however, brought Lakshmi — who was coach of Hyderabad women’s U-19 team and also a selector for a short time — back into the game in the form of a match referee. She made her debut as a match referee in the Women’s T20 Challenge in Jaipur earlier this month and the ICC confirmation was the icing on the cake.
“In 2018, BCCI referred my name for the ICC match referees’ panel. I got the green signal from ICC earlier this month,” said Lakshmi, who was the match referee for all four matches in the Women’s T20 Challenge, including the final, which was won by Harmanpreet Kaur-led Supernovas.
Lakshmi, who first officiated as a match referee in domestic women's cricket in 2008-09, was welcomed aboard by Adrian Griffith, ICC senior manager (umpires and referees). “We welcome Lakshmi and [umpire] Eloise (Sheridan) to our panels, which is an important step forward in our commitment to encouraging women officials. It is heartening to see their progress and I am sure many more women will be inspired to follow their example,” he said.
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