Shashikala Siriwardena - Queen and Motherly figure of Women’s Cricket

By Vimukthi Adithya | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 24 2021
Sports Shashikala Siriwardena - Queen and Motherly figure of Women’s Cricket

By Vimukthi Adithya

Let's take our memories back to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup. ‘A perfect farewell for a legend!! Siriwardena retires on a high; Lankan ladies get a consolation win', quoting few headlines when the Lankan ladies thrashed the Bangladesh Women’s team in their final outing of the 2020 T20 World Cup.

It was indeed a special match for a special player, a lady of sheer class and calibre. It wa s on 2 March 2020, after representing the country for 17 years, Shashikala Siriwardena decided to bid farewell from international cricket. 

The Lankan ladies were already out of the T20 World Cup after losing two close matches against Australia and New Zealand, and then going down to a strong Indian outfit. Their last game was against Bangladesh and the girls beat them comprehensively by 9 wickets. 

Bangladesh were restricted to just 91 runs with the 35-year-old soon to retire Siriwardena grabbing the best figures of the 2020 T20 World Cup; 4 for 16 in 4 overs. The ladies chased down the target in just 15.3 overs. 

Siriwardena made her debut as an 18-year-old on 13 March 2003 against West Indies, scoring a quick 29 and grabbing 2 wickets; showing glimpses of a great player in the making. She made her T20 debut in 2010 against the same opposition

Shashikala was made captain of the ODI team in 2005, and to date no other female cricketer has captained the national ODI and the T20 team longer than her. The former old girl of President’s College Kotte has led Sri Lanka in 58 ODI matches and in 40 T20 matches. 

She goes into history as the only female cricketer to take 100 ODI wickets in WODIs for Sri Lanka. Also, she is the only female cricketer to take 100+ wickets as well as 2000+ runs in WODI’s for the country, the first Asian player to do so and the 4th in the world. Currently six players have achieved this rare feat of 2000 runs and 100 wickets, namely Stefanie Taylor of West Indies, Lisa Sthalekar and Ellyse Perry of Australia, Dane Van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp of South Africa and our own Shashikala. 

Shashikala is also the first Women’s cricketer to play 100 ODI’s for the island nation. In 118 ODI matches she has scored 2029 runs and grabbed 124 wickets, while in 81 T20 Matches she has scored 1097 runs and taken 77 wickets. 

Born on 14 February 1985 in Kotikawatta to Denzil and Anoja Siriwardena, Shashikala was lucky to be the middle child between an older brother Chamara and a younger sister Madushika. From Grade 1 up until she ended her school career, she decided to remain loyal to her alma mater, President's College, Kotte. 

Her brother Chamara used to play cricket for his school, Wesley College, and one of the most favourite activities of the kids back then was to engage in street cricket with friends. When Chamara played with his friends, Shashikala, who was just over eight years old, engaged in the games with him. Chamara later represented the first X1 team of Wesley and played a bit of club cricket too, but his sister who learned the game from him had a better script written for her.  

One fine day a family friend, Jayantha Dissanayake, saw the little girl playing with the boys and brought up the idea of making her play hard ball cricket for a sports club. This suggestion was made to her father and he immediately agreed, and that is how Shashikala, at the age of 13, joined the Palink Sports Club which was coached by Palitha Gunasekara. 

From 1998 onwards she played for Palink Sports Club, and since her school did not have a female cricket team, she was involved in Athletics. She did the high jump event and excelled in it, reaching up to Provincial and District level. 

It was an era where girls were reluctant to engage in hard ball cricket. Even though Shashikala joined the club in 1998, they were not able to form a team. This meant that she had to practice and play with the boys during her under 13’s and 15’s. 

With time more girls joined Palink SC to play cricket, and in 2001, they participated in a domestic tournament conducted by the Cricket Association. She then played in the Sri Lanka Premier Tournament in 2002 before getting affiliated with the Sri Lanka Women’s Cricket Association.

Two years later, the teenager got the opportunity to play for her country. In 2003, the Sri Lankan Women’s Cricket team toured West Indies to play 6 ODI matches, and the Lankan ladies, led by Sutherishini Sivanantham, whitewashed the Windies ladies 6-0. 

In the first match of the series, 18-year-old Shashikala received her ODI cap and became the 27th player for the paradise nation. On her debut, she showcased her all round skills scoring 29 and grabbing two wickets for just 20 runs in eight overs. Well, that was the start of a 17-year-old international career with an unmatched legacy and tons of records. 

Two years after making her debut she was made Captain of the National team in December 2005. She was 20 years and 317 days old when she was handed this huge responsibility. This also saw her entering the record books as the youngest ever captain of Sri Lanka women's cricket team in WODIs. She is the 3rd youngest captain in WODIs behind Arran Brindle of England and Kari Anderson of Scotland. 

She first led the girls from 2005 to 2009, and her second stint was from 2010 to 2014. She was made the captain again in 2015. Under her leadership, Sri Lanka became the runners-up of the 2005, 2006 and 2008 Women's Asia Cup. This humble, down to earth legendary cricketer has led Sri Lanka in 58 ODI’s and in 40 T20 matches. 

She was employed by MAS Holdings in 2006 and played Mercantile Cricket for them for two years. Afterwards, she joined Slimline and played from 2009 to 2010, and in 2011 she decided to join the Sri Lanka Navy.

“I was a very silent kid at school who would focus on my own work during class. My involvement in sports added a lot of character to my personality. From my young days, I was able to learn a lot of life long lessons because of my involvement in cricket. The value that sports adds to the personality of a human is immense. I learned the roots of teamwork from my younger days because of sports.” Shashikala discussed the impact sports had on her personality. 

In an era where you don’t see many girls getting involved in a game like cricket, it was refreshing to see her parents providing her the needed strength and motivation, and backing her always. “I am really blessed to have great parents and siblings like them. Until I got married, my late father was motivating me and taking care of my needs. My mother wanted me to excel in studies too and had me balancing both of them to perfection. Not many of my relatives had any idea about female cricket, but everyone backed me up. I would say my father deserves the credit for half of my career.” Shashikala spoke about the support given by her parents.

Shashikala was a first year A/L student when she played for the country in 2003. She followed the Maths stream, which is considered to be a bit tougher than other streams. Her mother had few rules in place and the teenager engaged in her studies during the weekdays and on Sundays she was allowed to play cricket. Her mother motivated her to complete her studies and helped her to get through her advanced levels while playing for the national team. 

“I was in grade six when Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup, and from there onwards Arjuna Ranathunga became one of my role models. Then I learnt a lot about Sidath Wettimuny and started to follow him and made him one of my role models. Former Sri Lankan skipper Mahela Jayawardena became my role model together with Arjuna Ranathunga and Sidath Wettimuny,” said Shashikala, speaking about her role models.

Shashikala married Namal Seneviratne in 2013. Namal was also a first-class cricketer and the duo met through cricket back in 2006, when she was representing MAS Holdings while he was the assistant coach at the Mercantile Cricket Association. 

The turning point in her career came not on the field of play but off it, and pulled her back from the brink of a premature retirement. Just like many Asian women, she wanted to hang her boots after marriage and concentrate more on her family, but it was Namal who had other ideas and encouraged her to continue playing, and he was surprised when she wanted to stop at her peak. With his guidance, Shashikala continued to play for seven more years. When men used to restrict their wives’ professional career after marriage, Namal is a perfect example on how a man should understand his better half. His encouragement had her running for seven more years. 

In 2014, Siriwardene became the No.1 ranked T20 all-rounder and was a part of the World XI side. In the same year, she was part of the team that won a Bronze medal at the Asian Games. She also became the Women’s ODI all-rounder of the Year, 2016, at the Dialog Cricket Awards Ceremony 

Siriwardene is a Level 1 coach with Sri Lanka Cricket, and has spent three years at the Devi Balika College coaching young girls. From 2010 she has been representing the Navy Sports Club and still plays for them. 

“We played cricket because of the passion we had and never knew where we would end up. Money was not something that was with the Board and we had to use our own money to play. But it is different now; we are financially stable, mainly with the job opportunities that were created by the Forces and because of the good Board contracts. Right now, being a professional in women's crickets would give you stability as a player, and even after retirement good opportunities are created as coaches, scorers, umpires and many more. Kids being involved will have good career opportunities. It doesn’t matter what sport you play and where you end up in your career, parents should involve their kids in a sport as it gives many benefits.” Shashikala discussed the rewards of games.

One memory Shashikala and her girls would cherish forever is their two wins in the 2013 World Cup. Under her captaincy, the ladies defeated the defending champions England in the last ball after chasing 239. Shashikala scored 34 and grabbed a couple of wickets for 62 runs. Then they demolished a strong Indian team and won by a mammoth 138 runs. Shashikala contributed 59 runs and grabbed a couple of wickets for 20 runs. 

With four WODI World Cup appearances and with tons of records - which are difficult to be penned - broken by Shashikala, the humble lady is arguably the best women’s cricketer produced by Mother Lanka and the first real superstar among the ladies. 

By Vimukthi Adithya | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 24 2021

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