Who is GS Lakshmi?
An outswing bowler for Railways, the most successful team in the women's domestic circuit in India, GS Lakshmi shared a dressing room with the likes of Diana Edulji, the former India captain, and Hemlata Kala, the former India allrounder who's currently the India women chief selector. Lakshmi never played for India, but was part of the national squad during India's tour of England in 1999.
Born in Rajahmundry in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Lakshmi grew up in the steel city of Jamshedpur (in present-day Jharkhand) where her father was posted. Due to "terribly poor marks" in her 10th board examinations, Lakshmi was denied direct admission at the Jamshedpur Women's College, in 1986. Upon trialling at the college nets, at her father's behest, the institution granted her admission under the sports quota, convinced she could be their frontline fast bowler.
The most memorable phase in her career
On her wedding day in 1991, Lakshmi received a call-up to the Rest of India team. "As a girl born in a Brahmin family, even if I wanted, I could by no means have gone and played just after my marriage," Lakshmi recounts. After taking a sabbatical, Lakshmi resumed her cricket career and played a key role in South Central Railways winning the inter-Railways title for the first time. "That was one of the most memorable moments of my playing career."
"Through my example, I want girls to realise that there's a life after marriage, after childbirth, and retirement." GS Lakshmi
How did she end up as a match referee?
After retiring in 2004, Lakshmi moved to coaching, taking charge of South Central Railways until 2014. In 2008, the BCCI introduced female referees, albeit only in women's domestic games, for the first time. Lakshmi was among the pioneering group of five female referees to make their debut that season, the other four being former India cricketers Rajani Venugopal (also Lakshmi's best friend), Rajesh Nayyar, Nilima Jogalekar and Gargi Banerjee.
In 2014, the BCCI conducted a first-of-its-kind qualification exam for 120 match referees. Lakshmi, along with the other four women referees, was shortlisted in a pool of 50, from where she qualified to stand in boys' and men's domestic games.
Laksmi has since officiated in the Under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy - where she issued her first ever Code-of-Conduct penalty in a game between UP and Bengal - and women's domestic games across all categories, has overseen three women's ODI matches and three women's T20I matches, and was the match refreree in all four games at the recently concluded Women's T20 Challenge.
The challenge of being a female match referee
"Prejudice about the cricketing acumen of women is the biggest and the only challenge," Lakshmi says. "You could sense that apprehension among the boys and the male match officials. Something like, "Aurat hain… kar payegi bhi ya nahin (She is a woman. Can she even do the job)?' But after observing me in the first few games, and how I go about my job, all those doubts dissipated. I don't think now when I walk out to officiate in men's games, I don't sense that "aurat-mard" (man-woman) kind of discrimination."
Lakshmi also says there are no special perks for being a female match official. "Whether you're a man or a woman, doesn't matter. It's all about how well you're doing your job. I have had nothing come easy to me just because I'm a female match referee."
What is her next ambition?
"I want to officiate in the Women's World Cup, both the ODI and T20I tournaments, especially in the final. Cricket, and more specifically women's cricket, has got me to where I am today, so my heart is still with the women's game. But having refereed in men's games, too, I'd also love to officiate in a men's multi-team tournament run by the ICC."
That's not all. Lakshmi has a "bigger goal" too. "Through my example, I want girls to realise that there's a life after marriage, after childbirth, and retirement. There are several opportunities for women to explore even after curtains come down on their playing career. If the passion remains alive, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams."