Shikha Pandey on India return


Shikha Pandey, the India allrounder, has credited former Australia captain Belinda Clark for making her feel “worthy” and “special” during her time away from the national team.

In September 2022, Clark facilitated a three-week stint for Pandey in Brisbane, where she played club cricket. That stint nearly paved way for a maiden Women’s Big Bash deal with Brisbane Heat, but Pandey had to turn it down due to her commitments with Goa, her state team.

Four months since a memorable stint in Australia, Pandey’s immediate future looks a lot brighter now. She is set to make a comeback after 15 months, having been included in India’s squad for the upcoming T20I tri-series in South Africa and the T20 World Cup next month.

“The one thing that I like about Belinda is that there was less sympathy and more empathy,” Pandey told Scroll.in. “She listened to my story and then worked with me to set different goals – not just cricket related, but outside the game as well.

“We worked on my leadership traits, we discussed different podcasts, we worked on how I could make a difference by being in the state side and she made me feel worthy; special, even.”

Pandey highlighted a significant shift in mindset as one of her major takeaways from being mentored by Clark. It helped develop a “squad mentality” by promoting a “more inclusive culture” within the teams she turned up for while being away from the national team.

“The sessions that I had with her helped me immensely to bring in changes in my team environment. We brought in the squad mentality, started believing more in positive reinforcement, we understood the importance of creating a psychologically safe environment in which players feel valued, and we also started to celebrate our differences and tried to create a more inclusive culture.”

“I remember in one of the early sessions, Belinda said something on the lines of how the situations we are facing don’t define us, but what we choose to do in reply to those situations and the decisions that we take to come out of those situations, define us. She kind of made me realise that I had so much more to offer to the game and giving up was not an option.”

Pandey believes those conversations helped her embrace her vulnerabilities and accept her struggles.

“She told me that it was okay to be different,” Pandey explained. “As long as I was being me, it was fine. As a professional athlete sometimes you are so scared of struggles and low phases you try not to do anything that could risk your ‘safety’ in a sense.

“But she explained that you should be willing to experiment, and you need to understand that you will be vulnerable and that’s okay. It’s okay to fail in the pursuit of excellence, that’s how we grow. We need to learn to own our mistakes. Those conversations opened up a lot of things for me.

“I feel so assured of myself right now knowing someone like Belinda Clark has my back. I have kept in touch with her throughout and after I got selected I sent her a message and spoke to her the next day. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ because she was with me at a very low phase and gave me huge confidence to help build myself back up.

“Sometimes when things like non-selection happen you start doubting yourself and your abilities so much that you become your own enemy. Knowing that she is in my corner, that she feels I am really good, helped me more than I can say.”



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