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The Path(way) to Success: From Grassroots to Intra-Regionals (and beyond…)

By Mira Das

USA Cricket’s expansion of the Women’s Domestic Pathway has opened the doors for hundreds of young athletes across the country who are looking for support and guidance in their cricket careers. The end goal for many, if not all of these girls, is to make their way up into the USA Women’s National Team, a dream that’s become more attainable with USA Cricket’s pathway.

We reached out to a few girls who share this same goal to talk about their experience as intra-regional youth players, and how they are able to balance their athletic, academic, and social priorities.

Akshara Anand, 13, is joining USA Cricket’s intra-regionals for the first time this year. Like many other athletes, she found her passion for the sport at a young age. Based in the Bay Area, Akshara has been a part of the California Cricket Academy ever since she could enroll in a cricket class at the age of 7, and her excitement for the sport has only increased.

We also spoke to Anjana Marella, who is returning to the 2024 intra-regionals from playing them last year. She was first introduced to cricket when she was just eight years old, but her passion fully developed a few years later. Through watching the sport and playing for fun with her family, it inspired her to take the sport seriously. She commented on her training experience for last year’s intra-regional tournament:

“I never miss my regular training sessions with my coach, where we focus on specific aspects of my game, such as bowling, batting, fielding, and fitness. This training really helped me during the tournament, as I was able to contribute to my team’s success,” Marella said.

“This tournament was particularly special because I had the opportunity to be part of a team with senior players. Being able to observe and learn from them up close was an invaluable experience.”

Similar to Anjana, Akshara found that being able to compete with and against senior players provides the best learning experience. This past February, she played in the San Diego Open with many senior women, including the current captain of the USA Women’s National Team, Sindhu Sriharsha. Sriharsha was Akshara’s team captain, which allowed Akshara to learn more about captaining. She also enjoyed playing against other senior team members, like Anika Kolan, the national teams’ vice captain. Being surrounded by seasoned players was all the encouragement for Akshara, and she won the emerging Most Valuable Player for the SD Open: “It makes me want to work harder and get better.”

Other than senior players, both girls have found that being surrounded by their teammates motivates them to learn from each other, as well as reminding them to have fun. Anjana is currently training with the Dashrath Sankhe Cricket Academy, where she has the opportunity to practice weekly with U13 and U15 players. It’s with this that she not only is exposed to players with higher levels of skill, but she enjoys and values the friendships that she has made within her team.

“My team members are really good and a lot of fun. We enjoy the experiences we have together during practice and games. And at home, I play lots of fun cricket games with my brother and dad.”

Navigating the demanding journey these young girls are undertaking involves managing the challenges of being a teenager, as well as their academics and athletics. Yet, thanks to the support of their parents, coaches, and academies, this journey is becoming more attainable, fueled by the everlasting and growing support for cricket. Anjana’s parent noted the significant impact a supportive network can have on enabling positive growth

“Balancing both cricket, school, and other activities becomes more challenging as the kids grow. We are teaching Anjana to manage her time effectively and focus on things that are most important while having some fun along the way. We also encourage her to speak with local senior women cricketers to learn how they balance multiple demands of school and cricket. We look for good infrastructure and coaches who are invested in the kids’ all-round development in cricket as every kid needs special help in certain areas. Having consistency in coaching can also greatly help the kids as they grow and create a strong foundation in cricket.”

Akshara’s parent attested to the same sentiments that fuel USA Cricket’s women and girls programs, commenting on how wonderful the new development of regular support for women in cricket is.

As USA Cricket’s Women’s Domestic Pathway continues to flourish, it serves as an inspiring beacon for the younger generation of girls eager to embrace the sport. With each match played and each milestone achieved, these young athletes demonstrate unparalleled dedication and skill, igniting a passion for cricket that transcends boundaries. We hope to not only nurture their talent but also to motivate parents and guardians to wholeheartedly support these cricketing dreams. Cricket is a gateway to camaraderie, personal growth, and a vibrant community, and we aspire to give everyone the opportunity to be a part of it.

Anjana and teams Bay Area Blues and Seattle Amazonians (Photo Courtesy: Sameer Marella, Anjana’s father)