Chamari Atapattu has built an impressive career for her national cricket team Sri Lanka as well as becoming the first Sri Lankan woman to play in franchise cricket after she was signed by Melbourne Renegades for the 2016–17 Women’s Big Bash League in Australia.
The 31-year-old left-handed bat, who can also bowl right-arm medium, is the current captain of the Sri Lanka women’s Twenty20 team and is the first and only Sri Lankan woman cricketer to score a century in Women’s Cricket World Cup history.
Here is what the Kurunegala native had to say about her career for clubs and country:
When did you start playing the game?
I started when I was four because of my uncle, who’s a coach, but my mother and father helped me a lot.
Was it just boys you were playing against as a child?
Yes, with my cousins and my relatives. I could play better than the boys. Some would say, “Her play is really good, don’t give her the bat”, otherwise I would play for one or two hours as they couldn’t get my wicket. They told me to not bat but bowl first, and then have a bat. It’s a very funny story!
You are a trailblazer for Sri Lankan and women’s cricket. How does it feel to inspire a generation?
I know a lot of young girls are now interested in women’s cricket and some girls want to play like me, so that’s really good. I believe we have a good bunch of young girls in Sri Lanka, but you have to inspire that journey. I always try to inspire those girls.
Growing up, is it fair to say you didn’t have those female role models to look up to?
Yes, for me it was Sanath Jayasuriya. The Master Blaster is my all-time cricket hero. He could change a game just like that. Bowlers and fielders didn’t know what to do with him next.
Do you bat with the wrong hand because of him?
I do everything else in my life right-handed, but I bat in cricket left-handed because of him.
When did you first meet him?
It was my 21st birthday. I met him in the nets. He was playing in another net than me I batted for maybe one hour. After I finished my session, I explained to my coach that I wanted to meet him. My coach introduced me and said, “Sanath, this young girl is really like you and wants to play like you”. He said I was a really good cricketer and that he had seen what I can do. My coach said, “You know, it’s her 21st birthday today”, so he asked if I had cake and I did. I gave him some of my birthday cake and he gave me his gloves, pad and bat – three golden things for me.
Have you ever batted better than your unbeaten 178 in the 2017 World Cup?
That innings changed my career and I think Sri Lanka women’s cricket, so I’m very grateful. I felt like most things I tried worked well. I started pretty slowly but, after I passed 100, I started scoring with big shots. The innings was really good against the best team in the world with such good bowlers.
Do you feel pressure to score big every time now or do you thrive on it?
In Sri Lanka, we don’t have many big names in world cricket so I know I have to score runs. As a captain, I lead from the front and I have pressure but I like it. I know my skills and trust my skills, so I try to play positively and freely.
What do you think about when out at the crease?
Before a game, I focus on my mental strength because I think cricket is 20% skill and 80% mental. I do spiritual and motivational things before the game. When I walk to the wicket, I’m blank. I free my mind, focus on the cricket. See the ball and hit the ball, that’s it.
Women’s cricket globally feels massively on the rise. Is it in a good place in your opinion?
Yes, now women’s cricket is increasing all around the world especially in Australia, England, India and New Zealand too. There’s a great fan base and in Sri Lanka I feel now that it will increase, so the next two or three years will be good for cricket globally.
Away from cricket, do you have time for anything else?
I’m a cricketer but, if I’m not playing cricket, I have to go to my work for an insurance company. I sometimes go to the office, but mostly it’s cricket training in Colombo, competing or going to see my mum at the weekends. I also have some free time to see my friends.