"There's a running joke in our team," says Anuradha Doddaballapur, the Germany women's captain. "The minimum qualification to make it to our women's national side is a master's degree."
Former Karnataka player Doddaballapur is a cardiovascular scientist, and fits right in in a team mostly comprising highly qualified academics. "The balance between science and cricket has been a difficult one, but I've never felt like giving up one for the other," says the 33-year-old. "To have a world record to your name while you're able to do the work you want to do is something I am grateful for." Her 5 for 1 in the fourth T20I against hosts Austria ten days ago made her the first woman to take four wickets in four balls in T20Is.
Doddaballapur is a medium-pacer, but the record came when she decided to bring herself on as a spinner in the 15th over. She says she wanted to put the onus on the batter to generate all the power herself. "The hat-trick ball was quite exciting because we had had one the day before," Doddaballapur says. That was Germany women's first ever hat-trick, taken by Anne Bierwisch. It was quite the day for records; in the second T20I, earlier on the 13th, Emma Bargna had taken Germany women's first five-for.
"The fourth ball - nothing special, really," Doddaballapur remembers. "It was all about going through the over. In fact, my reaction after the four-for was so normal that I wished I were aware it was a world record, so I could have reacted more enthusiastically!"
It was only after checking her social media, where "things seemed to have already blown up a fair bit", that she learnt about the uniqueness of her figures. "To know that only Lasith Malinga and Rashid Khan got four in four before me... it's pretty good company to be in. Can't complain," she says, smiling.
A native of Basavanagudi in Bengaluru, India, Doddaballapur was drawn to sport by her father's love of Test cricket. She remembers being charmed by Sachin Tendulkar's batting, before a "zinc-smeared" Allan Donald's bowling action made her a fan. At the suggestion of a friend 12-year-old Doddaballapur got into the Karnataka women players' organised training group in 1998-99. The group was overseen by former India captain Shantha Rangaswamy and batter Kalpana Venkatachar. Back then, women's cricket in India was still nearly eight years from coming under the BCCI's purview.
Fresh into her teenage years, Doddaballapur was selected in the extended state Under-16 squad. She then went on to represent the Karnataka U-19 and South Zone sides as well as the senior state team over a period of about a decade, honing her skills under coach Irfan Sait at the Karnataka Institute of Cricket, and playing alongside India internationals such as Veda Krishnamurthy, Vanitha VR, Karuna Jain and Mamatha Maben.
Her Karnataka career came to an end with her decision to move to the UK in 2008 to get a masters in Medical Genetics at Newcastle University after finishing a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Biotechnology at Bengaluru's New Horizon College. But it was far from the end for her cricket-wise. "I enrolled myself at a cricket club in Newcastle. A few county coaches noticed me there and I ended up playing a few seasons for the Northumberland women's county side, one for my university and three for my local club, the South North Cricket Club."
An offer to pursue a PhD in Cardiovascular Biology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt came by in 2011. Given Germany's prominence as a hub of biomedical research, the decision to relocate was not too difficult. "But I knew I could live away from cricket only that long," says Doddaballapur, "so after a year of getting used to life in Frankfurt, I started looking up cricket clubs in the city."
She could only find one, the Frankfurt Cricket Club (FCC), and it did not have a women's team. So she decided to play on the FCC men's team for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. She also represented the Cologne women's team in the country's primary leather-ball inter-region tournament, Bundesliga, from 2013 to 2015, and during that time helped lay the foundation for a women's club in Frankfurt.
"I'd been part of this sport for so long, and this sport had been part of my life for so many years," says Doddaballapur, "that I felt if you can do something to grow the game in your country, then you should probably take the responsibility and try to do it."
She criss-crossed the city to promote the game at events or put up pamphlets in universities. The message was simple: "We're looking to start a women's team. If you don't know the sport, it doesn't matter. Just come, give it a try."
Meanwhile, a maiden call-up to a national squad training camp in Berlin came in the spring of 2013. Her debut for Germany in the T20 European tournament followed in August that year. In 2014-15, Doddaballapur and another Frankfurt-based player set up an FCC women's club, which has since 2016 fielded a team in the Bundesliga.
A further step up in her cricketing career came in 2017, when was handed the captaincy of the national team. Last year she also picked up an ECB Level 2 certification, along with 14 other coaches in the country, four of them women.
"The principles of coaching here are slightly different," says Doddaballapur, breaking down a process she describes as unconventional, "unlike how it usually is in the academies" in India. "For example, the kids or girls in Germany probably won't come back if you say, 'Go do the hanging ball for 30 minutes before your turn at the nets arrives.' They won't come in the next session, I can tell you that. So you have to be creative in how you put out the sport to people in this country."
Doddaballapur is looking to continue contributing to both cricket and science "until I tire out - which I hope never happens". And she hopes her record five-for and Germany's series win helps put the women's national team on the world map.
"Ours was the first women's international series after the Covid-19 hiatus," says Doddaballapur. "The ICC did a bit of promotion, reaching out to us for photos for social media - which doesn't happen often for Associate teams, so I'm grateful that Austria successfully staged the series. Our matches were live-streamed, meaning that, aside from the England v Pakistan series, people could watch ours too. The response on social media has been great, and I hope our performance - both individually and as a team - further helps kindle interest in Germany women."