Chamari Athapaththu was playing for Yorkshire Diamonds in the Kia Super League in England in August this year when she got a call from Vernon Thisara, her journalist uncle in Melbourne. Thisara had been approached by Melbourne Renegades to know if Athapaththu would be keen to join them for the 2017-18 Women’s Big Bash League. Once Athapaththu confirmed her availability, the franchise’s manager, head coach, and Amy Satterthwaite, the captain, spoke to her before offering a contract. Incidentally, Melbourne Stars and Perth Scorchers were also keen but Athapaththu went with Renegades because they were first to make an offer. She is expected to join her teammates on December 3.
Athapaththu, who made her debut for Sri Lanka in 2009, has never played in Australia. She is, however, confident that her experience of having done reasonably well in England and New Zealand in the past will be useful.
“Lot of Sri Lankan fans are waiting for me. First time a Sri Lankan girl is playing for the local team so they are excited. I am already getting calls from people in Melbourne wanting to know when I am coming and how many matches I would be playing.”
“I am really excited about playing in the Big Bash. This is a really good news for me, and I am sure it will be a good experience. I have been trying to join one of the teams for the last two years, and it has finally come through,” Athapaththu told Wisden India over telephone from Colombo. “Definitely it is not going to be easy. I have, however, played in New Zealand and England and I hope the wickets will be similar. So I am hopeful I can manage that.”
Athapaththu is high on confidence after being named Sri Lanka Cricket’s Women’s Cricketer of the Year earlier this week. She has also spoken to Sanath Jayasuriya and Lasith Malinga to get an understanding of what to expect in Australia.
“They said the wickets will be very good for batsmen but it is fast and bouncy,” Athapaththu, who is currently doing gym and running sessions and plans to start skills training next week, said. “That’s why I am planning to practice with Under-17 and Under-19 boys because their strength is very good. I know my role in the team is that of an opener, so I have to do range hitting in the middle and target to score more runs in Power Play overs. I will also have to practice for slower balls and slower bouncers.”
Athapaththu returned home from West Indies, where Sri Lanka lost all their six matches, only a few days back. It was a particularly tough tour for her as she fractured the middle finger of her right hand after the first match. She endured the pain and played all the matches, but finished with an aggregate of 98 runs. What also made things tougher for Athapaththu was the change in conditions from England, where she was Sri Lanka’s top performer in the Women’s World Cup before playing two match-winning knocks for Diamonds.
“The West Indies tour was horrible,” she says. “There was more spin and wickets were slow and low. We had played in good tracks in England, and to suddenly adapt to West Indies was difficult.”
One of the biggest takeaways for Athapaththu, the first Asian to play in the KSL, was the chance to be a part of a multi-cultural dressing room. “Sophie Devine, Sune Luus, Lauren Winfield, the captain, Jenny Gunn, Katherine Brunt and others, they were all very helpful,” she adds, reflecting on her experience of the English league. “They knew I am an Asian and a bit shy, so they made me comfortable and it helped me give 100 percent to the team. Winfield was very friendly. Sophie Devine is a funny girl. As she is a hockey player, she gave me tips on how to generate power while hitting the ball.”
Diamonds have already shown interest in retaining her for the next edition. It has been a bonanza year for Athapaththu, and it is largely on the back of one innings she played against Australia in the World Cup in Bristol. Even as wickets were tumbling at the other end, she shifted gears seamlessly to make an unbeaten 178 off 143 balls. Everyone who saw the knock was left spellbound and Meg Lanning, the Australian skipper, had said that she would love to have Athapaththu as her teammate in the WBBL.
“I am really proud and happy about that innings. I started slowly, but finished well,” she remembers. “It was a life-changing innings. It got me KSL and BBL contracts.”
Tim Coyle, the Renegades head coach who is a part of the Australian backroom staff, was at the venue, and he knows exactly what he has signed up for. “Chamari brings an international x factor, which you need in T20 cricket,” said Coyle.
Melbourne has a large Sri Lankan contingent, and by signing up Athapaththu, Renegades have ensured that there will be a wider demographic coming through the turnstile to support them.
“Lot of Sri Lankan fans are waiting for me. First time a Sri Lankan girl is playing for the local team so they are excited,” Athapaththu adds. “I am already getting calls from people in Melbourne wanting to know when I am coming and how many matches I would be playing. I expect good crowd to come to watch our matches.”