Express Message Service
CHENNAI: When skipper Theertha Sathish took a singles from Thailand’s Sunida Chaturongrattana in the first ball of the 18th over, she helped the UAE U-19 cross the line in their final game of the ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifiers on Thursday get. the entire Kinrara Academy Oval in Kuala Lumpur was filled with emotion. Tears flowed not only in the dressing room, but also from the parents who had traveled from the United Arab Emirates to watch their children play. After all, they had just secured their place at the inaugural U-19 World Cup in South Africa early next year.
“It was the decisive game, with both teams winning four games each. From the outside we were very stressed. We could feel how the team would have felt. When the game was over, everyone burst into tears. This feeling cannot be put into words. It was an absolute team effort,” said Theertha’s mother, Rathna Sathish, an architect in Dubai.
Theertha, the left-handed wicketkeeper-batter, was born in Chennai and raised in India until she was five. Growing up, she was involved in various sports, recalls her father, Sathish Selvanambi, a finance professional. In her early years she competed in several sports, including cricket, at age group level for her school – the GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai – where the UAE women’s cricketers used to train.
In 2018, she performed well in an inter-school tournament, which caught the attention of a UAE coach, who asked her if she would be interested in joining the U-19 development team that was being formed.
“I wasn’t sure at the time,” Theertha said daily. But the turning point came when she saw the Tamil film Kanaa – which tells of the journey of a young girl, Kousalya Krishnamurthy, from a remote village who dreams of winning the World Cup for India.
“Movies generally make me emotional. It was all about women’s cricket. It was a humble film and it touched me. I thought why not try it and here I am,” laughs the 18-year-old, who is currently playing with the UAE senior team in Malaysia for Asian Cup qualifiers.
“Growing up, she was interested in all sports — athletics, basketball, soccer. She was even selected for a U-17 soccer camp in India. It was at this time that she switched to cricket. She saw Canaa, and she felt that in a predominantly male sport, the girl in the film had that passion and showed up despite the constraints. Basically, she’s a Tamilian at heart and somehow it touched her,” Sathish said.
From there, her cricket career was on a fast track as she made her senior team debut against Malaysia in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Asia Regional Qualifiers in 2021 at the age of 17, scoring a 48-ball 46.
“During this time she also had her XII class freshman exam. She used to play in the morning. We drove her to school and brought her back to the hotel for the game the next day. She performed well and became the tournament’s top scorer (165 carries in 5 innings). It gave her a lot of confidence to compete at the highest level,” said Sathish, appreciating the support of the Emirates Cricket Board and the team’s support team.
In May 2022, Theertha was part of the Falcons team that finished second at FairBreak International – an ICC sanctioned private T20 tournament. Sharing the dressing room with international stars like Suzie Bates, Marizanne Kapp and Danielle Wyatt was a huge learning curve for her.
“In the final against the Tornados we found ourselves in a similar situation after losing early wickets (like the World Cup qualifier against Thailand). I couldn’t finish the innings well that day. But in the game against Thailand I used that experience and did well. I also spoke to Suzie about captaining my coaches. She gave a lot of tips and that helped me a lot. Not only me, but also many of the UAE players were net bowlers in the tournament. That also helped the team,” said the southpaw.
Theertha finished the ICC U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifiers as the top run getter with 175 runs in five innings. Captaining a team for the first time, batting for the opener became something she just wanted to enjoy. “It felt like meditation as I hit the center. I just wanted to see the ball, hit it and have fun,” said the wicketkeeper-batter.
A big fan of MS Dhoni, former Indian men’s captain Jemimah Rodrigues and South African all-rounder Kapp, Theertha likes to stay in the present. UAE have a packed calendar ahead of them with both senior and U-19 teams and Theertha could have the opportunity to lead the latter in next year’s inaugural edition of the U-19 World Cup. But she doesn’t look too far into the future, wanting to stick to her strengths, playing game after game and playing the best cricket possible.
In the film Kanaa, Kousalya was a rookie who jumped at the opportunity to shine for India at the World Cup. At 18, Theertha – who was a serious cricket player inspired by the film – along with her teammates helped UAE get to the global event. And judging by her accomplishments to date, this could just be the first of many dreams she is about to conquer.