By Shail Desai
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It was an unforgettable debut for Delhi Capitals’ Tara Norris in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), earlier this month. Australian legend, Ellyse Perry, was in fine nick for RCB. In the previous over, Perry had led the charge against Delhi spinner, Radha Yadav, who had been smashed around the park for 16 runs.
Norris realised she would have to bring her best against the experienced batsman. “It was all a bit of a blur. I just remember being extremely nervous," Norris, 24, recalls. “The idea was to keep it simple and just bowl at the stumps."
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Three deliveries into Norris’ first over, Perry had been packed off. And by the end of the night at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, Norris had picked up the WPL’s first five-wicket haul (5/29). This included the wickets of India’s wicketkeeper, Richa Ghosh, and the England skipper, Heather Knight. Delhi won the tie by 60 runs and Norris earned the Player of the Match award for her exploits.
And though Delhi eventually lost to the Mumbai Indians in the final on Sunday, it was a dream tournament for Norris, who picked up seven wickets in her five appearances. “I was following the WPL auctions on Twitter for a bit and then went out for training. So I didn’t actually get to see myself getting picked until I checked my phone later on. I was pretty shocked to be honest," she says.
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The WPL rules allow for a five foreign players to be fielded, as long as the fifth player is from an Associate nation. Delhi made the most of this rule, picking up Norris—the only American in the league—at a base price of ₹10 lakh. And it took little time for their gamble to pay off, as the left arm pacer made her presence felt in her very first match.
“I had never played in India, so these were very different conditions that took time getting used to. The wickets were not the most bowler friendly, but that’s just another part of the experience. And it’s given me a lot of clarity on how to execute my plan against batters," she says.
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Cricket and Norris wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for the family’s itinerant lifestyle. She was born in Philadelphia in the United States, and soon moved to Spain, where she picked up tennis and football. It was only after her family shifted base to England that Norris had her first go with the bat.
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“I mostly played with the boys, since there wasn’t a girls’ set up when I was young, nor was there a massive demand for women’s cricket. It wasn’t until I joined a local girls’ club and played county cricket for Sussex that I started competing against other girls," Norris recalls.
“I think I had good hand-eye coordination as a kid and tried to do as much as I could, playing all sorts of roles on the ground. What excited me was the team aspect of cricket. And the fact that there are two dynamics to the game—if you didn’t particularly pick up wickets, you could always contribute with the bat," she adds.
The early success with Sussex came in the form of two junior national finals against Lancashire in her very first year. Norris was backed by her parents, who would drive her around so that she could play as many matches as possible. A degree in sports science and management from Loughborough University followed. But academics was never her interest and luckily for Norris, a phone call altered her career path for good, much to her relief.
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“The week I handed in my dissertation, Southern Vipers offered me a domestic contract. So had it not been for them, I would have been a postgraduate like a lot of others, not too sure what to do after university," she says. Norris featured regularly on the domestic circuit with the Vipers and even turned out for the Southern Brave in The Hundred in 2021. It was when she landed her opportunity to represent the United States.
“Julia Price, who was the coach of USA Cricket at the time, got in touch with Brave’s coach, Charlotte Edwards. Price told me about the tours coming up later that year, the T20 Cup in Mexico City and the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe. It was an unbelievable opportunity to play cricket during the English offseason. Vipers fully supported my decision and allowed me to play," Norris says. “The experiences over the last few years have been brilliant and it is what led to my WPL stint in India," she says.
But the time with the United States team also got Norris to realise the challenges on hand. Just getting players together for a few weeks at the national camp was often a struggle. “The squad right now is quite young, which is really exciting. So it will be unbelievable if the United States latches on to cricket five years on," she says.
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Norris believes that handing out professional contracts would be the first step towards taking the sport mainstream. “You look at the NBA and the NFL—the marketing for these sports is ridiculous. The worldwide audience that they have gathered is just amazing," Norris says.
“I think Major League Cricket, starting with the men, is going to be really exciting. Hopefully, it can attract a bigger crowd and get more people to play cricket, which in turn will increase demand for coaches, improve facilities for training and add more fixtures to the season," she says.
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.
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- FIRST PUBLISHED29.03.2023 | 08:30 AM IST
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