Women's Cricket

Meet Merissa Aguilleira, the Windies cricketer committed to getting young lives back on track

The 30-year-old is a key member of the West Indies women’s team and is passionate about giving troubled youngsters in her country new opportunities.

After being whitewashed 0-3 by India in the One-Day International series, the West Indies women’s cricket team roared back in the Twenty 20 series against India, taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series at the Mulapadu stadium on Sunday.

West Indies were limited to only 137 but they bundled India out for only 106 to win by 31 runs. Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin had contributions with the bat but it was Hayley Mathews who stole the show with a miserly spell of 2/15 in her four overs.

Later, content with a 23-ball 21 in that match, Merissa Aguilleira was a contended self. That was a much-needed win for the West Indies team to restore the team’s faith in themselves, and Aguilleira’s contribution goes beyond the runs she scored. She is a born counselor, helping everyone with her positive vibes, inspiring, motivating, and resolving the grave issues that had helped reinvigorate the team.

The former West Indies skipper and wicket-keeping batter, Merissa Ria Aguilleira, is a person who literally lights up a room when she enters it. Poised and graceful, she smites the people around her with her habitually charming smile. At 30, she is looking at ways in which she can spread this happiness to light up the lives of the many youngsters in her country who are victims of drug abuse, violence and trafficking.

“I want to change that, I really do. Our youngsters are not all rotten or spoilt, they need support, they need work, they need encouragement, and they should understand their worth. And I want to work towards that after I retire from international cricket,” she said passionately.

Aguilleira made her ODI debut against the Netherlands at Utrecht in July 2008. Appearing lower in the batting order, so far, she has played 86 innings in 96 ODIs and collected 1,544 runs at an average of 71. In 80 T20Is, her tally of runs stand at 604. Until September 2015, when Stafanie Taylor took over the responsibility of the Windies women, Aguilleira managed the captaincy with élan. But it was time to select a new captain for the forthcoming World Cup Championship in women’s cricket.

Image credit: Swati Sanyal Tarafdar
Image credit: Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

In a candid conversation with Scroll.in, the 30-year-old from Trinidad revealed that she was trying to enjoy Indian cuisine, although she was not particularly fond of spicy food, that she found the weather in Vijayawada very conducive to the game, and that she was really scared to go out on the streets because the traffic seemed unruly and unlike her country where the traffic stops when they try to cross the road at the crossings.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have played in India earlier and you have good memories of that. What do you find challenging here this time.

Well, we have just finished our run with England and now we are away from home, and that’s a challenge in itself because of the time differences. But the pitch is good, it is a batting wicket and it is slowly getting better, it is definitely getting better. We are lot more comfortable now. We also have some great memories and it is time for us to remember that and act accordingly.

How has the World Twenty20 win changed things around women’s cricket back home?

Oh, it has definitely helped us in a big way because people came to know about our team that plays cricket, the matches were shown on the television, our performances were highlighted on the television, and that has drawn attention of the people in general and it has become easier to find more girls coming to play.

I think that is the most important thing that has happened with the World Twenty20 that it has encouraged more people to join the game and it has also helped us cut some deals when it came to sponsorship and contracts. We have now to make sure that it gets as big as the men’s and for that we have to make sure that we market that win properly and there is still more to come out of it.

How are your audiences reacting to your performances – has there been an increase in their size?

The size of our audience has definitely expanded and they notice our games, they track how we are doing and when we will go back to our countries, they will come to discuss and take photographs with us. The good thing is that they are responding to our games and sharing on social media – we get to hear some nice things from our countries and from the Indians too who are following the games.

..and here at Mulapadu?

Here the stands are not at all empty like previous times; they are noisy. And that is what I love about Indian cricket that they are so passionate about cricket. And they are not only cheering for India, they are cheering when we are playing well too which is motivating.

Why is there a stark difference between the West Indies ODI team and the West Indies Twenty20 team?

Well, I wish we had the answer to it. You know there was a time when our 50-over side was better than our Twenty20 team and somehow we have managed to turn that around. I think we are yet to understand that these two are different formats of the game and then do justice to both of these formats. Yes, we are at the wrong for a very long time but we are learning from our experiences.

We are in introspection mode right now, and we have to know what the problem is and then we have to know how to get beneath it. The main thing is to find a solution to the problem. And I believe every problem has a solution and we’ll find ours. And I also believe that everything goes through a bad patch sometimes and I believe in the team that we have and I believe that very soon India will find themselves in trouble.

What do you feel after the change in captaincy in 2015? Do you have teammates discussing their problems with you still?

Always! My doors are open for them all the time. In my earlier days, I have also had disappointing times, and I have found inspiration in random sources. And I have learned that if I am able to inspire others, even if I am demotivated, it does me a world of good because while motivating others, I too get rejuvenated and inspired. We all maintain the relationship that we had shared earlier and some of them are not so cool like the others but that does not really matter for me. I am also a people’s person, I like to help people, but if somebody says, “That’s ok, I don’t need your help”, it is fine with me because it’s your opinion and that doesn’t change what I think about you.

As a senior person in the team, it is not just about me and I like to help and advise others and although I am just a wicketkeeper bat, I am also responsible for the team’s performance and I am happy when they win. So I will continue to play my role in the team as much as I could to help people in m team and lead them towards success.

Would you tell us a little about the trials and tribulations that you faced in your country growing up?

They are still there, right now as we speak. The young people in my country are going through so many hardships. They are into crimes, abuse, violence, drugs. I like to see people moving on the right track. The people in my country need guidance. We are all stressed, we know we have so many issues, but it is also important for us to share our experiences to tell people that I too have been through various trials and have been through tribulations, and I have been there and came out. So you just need to let them know so that they also get the confidence, the good vibes to fight their situation.

People are losing faith and older people call them names. But I am one of those people from the younger generation and I do not want any of us being called names. So I want to stand face to face and say that you are not right, I want to be one of these peoples who can stand and defend young people because we are the future, because if there is no us, there is no future. So this is what I talk about when I go to visit schools and clubs and other places as ambassador for my sponsors. And I want to do it in a bigger way later on.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.