Susan Itticheria: ‘We’d convert luggage bags into beds to sleep in unreserved train coaches’
Susan Itticheria’s fond memories of women’s cricket in India are mostly about her stay in NIS Patiala. For a bunch of players, who hardly got to play cricket together, the three-four week camp that the institute used to host for women’s cricket was a god send gift if they were ready to put up with the rotis and cold weather.
That camp at NIS wasn’t always fruitful in terms of raising their standards on field, but was an essential one because it made them eligible to get some funding from the government when the game was yet to see any money flow.
“I still shiver when I think about those cold mornings in Patiala. Coming from south to get adjusted to that climate was not easy,” Susan says. “And even the food, oh my god. We used to get two rotis and sabji and it was the same for the entire duration. Some of us didn’t even have money to buy two bananas. So managing these things and waking up at 5 in the morning every day and run was not at all easy. Diana (Edulji) would give some excuse like wheezing and sleep off till 9. Even Sharmila (Chakraborty) would make up something and stay back. But we had to train for two hours.”
In the very next moment, Susan sounds astonished as to how much the sport has grown off late and the emphasis the current players place on fitness, especially after watching the recent T20 World Cup. “Our standards were not even close to what it is now. We had no gym, no fitness training and whatever we did was getting up early at 5 am in Patiala and running in the cold and doing a little bit of exercise here and there. Today, the players are professional and have documented diet charts to follow. It is just day and night,” Susan says.
Part of Indian women’s early teams, Susan like many of her contemporaries has faced numerous challenges just to play the sport. Taking those issues in her stride, Susan recollects how the passion for pursuing the sport made them reach out to others and help teammates. “Since we were so interested in the game, we didn’t worry about the funds. 15 of us used to go collecting ad materials and for our trip to Europe, we successfully managed to convince the British Airways and KLM Airways manager to give us some discounts. We had to do it on our own because it was like a club. Each of those tours to UK, Caribbean happened only because we looked after each other’s needs because the game was not even recognized,” Susan says.
Being part of the school and zonal athletics team meant Susan was used to taking long train journeys, but with the cricket team it was different. “I’d travelled in second class coaches, but when it came to cricket, we mostly travelled on unreserved coaches. In a berth of four, 8-10 of us will stay and we will convert our luggage bags into beds and sleep,” she says.