AS HER world champion teammates return home from India on Tuesday, and Lisa Sthalekar unrolls her towel on a Goa beach, she will reflect not only on a career well batted and bowled, but a slow-burning evolution. She knows she leaves women's cricket in a better place than she found it.
At a Cricket Australia staff meeting on Monday, which happily doubled as a celebration of the Southern Stars' second World Cup triumph in four months, chief executive James Sutherland pondered the rise in interest and appreciation of the women's game in his dozen years in the job.
Early in Sthalekar's career, no amount of agitation could excite mainstream media interest; now, the players' feats demand it.
''Everyone who watches women's cricket is surprised" ... Sthalekar. Photo: Getty Images
''Everyone who watches women's cricket is surprised - which I get a bit annoyed about - but the fact they really enjoy the game shows we're playing an attractive brand of cricket,'' Sthalekar said from Mumbai.
The 114-run defeat of West Indies was a stunning example, from player of the match Jess Cameron blasting sixes in anchoring an imposing 50-over total of 259, to Ellyse Perry gritting her teeth against an ankle injury and hobbling to three crucial wickets, to Sthalekar's diving, one-handed catch that sealed victory.
In the West Indies' innings, a partnership between captain Merissa Aguilleira and big-hitting Deandra Dottin had proved threatening until both were bowled by Sthalekar.
It is the sixth time the Stars have won the 50-over World Cup and the result matched England's feat in 2009-10, when they held the 50-over and 20-over titles.
''Well, we are in both formats, we've got the No.1 ranking. That's fantastic,'' coach Cathryn Fitzpatrick said. ''We're the No.1 team in the world, so these girls deserve to celebrate hard and be really pleased with what they've done.''
Where not long ago it may have passed unnoticed, the final was broadcast live on Foxtel, and aired ball-by-ball on BBC radio.
Sthalekar, departs the international scene with four World Cup winners' medals.
This one had special resonance, won in the country of her birth, and the home city of her father, who with Sthalekar's late mother adopted her from a Pune orphanage when she was three weeks old. ''I've got really happy memories of coming here as a child, spending time with family. I couldn't have scripted it any better.''
When she made her Australian debut in 2001, the 33-year-old joined a team of mature-aged women for whom cricket was very much a part-time pursuit. Many fitted playing and training around shift work, and the days of paying their own way on tour were fresh in the memory.
Now they study marine biology (Alyssa Healy) and exercise science (Erin Osborne), and work (as Sthalekar does for Cricket NSW) for state associations. ''Now it's a young group who tend to do one or two subjects per semester - they coach, have ambassador roles [like Perry], and they train,'' Sthalekar said.
Close friends and relatives were in the Brabourne Stadium changeroom when an emotional Sthalekar momentarily hushed celebrations by announcing what many suspected, that her 187th appearance for Australia would be her last.
with JESSE HOGAN