In the pages of the doomsday book are continuously recorded illustrious names; but as often as new names are written, the old names disappear. Only a few stand in illuminated characters, never to be effaced. To this elite group belonged the pint-sized left-arm spinner extraordinaire, Sharmila Chakraborty.
Hailing from a family where sports would have been the last thing on their minds, Sharmila's success story could well make a good best seller. West Bengal's dominance in the domestic circuit from 1973 till 1985 was primarily because of players like Sharmila.
If I were to be entrusted the task of naming the best Indian XI in the 27 years of their history, one name that will not be missing for sure is that of Sharmila.
She had the ability that could be matched by very few. She was the epitome of left arm spin and if ability alone was the criteria, Sharmila could have stolen a march even over Diana Edulji. But where Sharmila relied merely on talent, Diana was temperamentally far above her and came up trumps because she was a better thinker.
Comparisons between the two becomes inevitable, since both were contemporaries and both were highly successful.
Sharmila's disconcerting spin and tantalising flight-control could even mesmerise batsmen of high calibre. As Rachel Heyhoe Flint, the grand lady of women's cricket, found out one day in the 1982 World Cup in New Zealand, when Sharmila enticed her out of her crease only for Fowzieh Khaleeli to do the needful.
She had a lot of variations and her armers were better disguised than Diana's were. But big fame eluded her as her performance was eclipsed by Diana's, who besides her talent knew the art of outwitting the batsman.
Sharmila had a very good loop and had deceptive flight in her bowling armoury. She was a superb fielder and was no rabbit with the bat.
In the 1975 series against Australia, she was my roommate and both of us spoke very little Hindi at that time. It was fun communicating in languages both did not understand, Sharmila in Bengali and I in English. Our action filled communication interspersed with broken Hindi was hilarious, to say the least, and we both would have a big laugh over it.
Indian spinners have dominated the scene in Women's cricket also and Sharmila heads my list of all time spinners. The initial period of women's cricket weathered all sorts of storms because of the presence of three excellent spinners at one point of time in Sharmila, Diana and Shubangi Kulkarni.
If one has to choose a spinner of that class besides these three, only Purnima Rao (nee Janardhan) will fit in this class considering both ability and effectiveness/ performance. As if to counter the famous Indian spin quartet amongst men!