Pic (Right): Erica Rendler keeps her eye on the ball during a USA women’s squad training session at Gateway Park in Brooklyn, NY.[Courtesy Peter Della Penna]
The 29-year-old from San Jose, Calif., has gone from knowing nothing about the game in 2009 to being selected for the USA women’s national team in 2010.
“I was stunned,” said Ben Roxborough, the Australian fiancé of Erica’s older sister Kate, when asked how he reacted after he found out Rendler had made the team. “I was just very happy for her, but you know what, I wasn’t surprised though because I just knew that she’s got a sporting gift, particularly with ball and bat sports whether it’s softball or field hockey. I thought those skills would graft very well across, but the way that she’s been able to pick up the bowling is just extraordinary.”
Indeed, there are several things that are extraordinary about Rendler and how she has taken to cricket. The only American-born player in USA’s squad that will take on Canada this week, Rendler first encountered cricket when the family took a trip in February of last year to visit Roxborough in Australia. Kate, Erica, her younger brother Doug and Roxborough were coming out of the Melbourne Zoo when they saw a local cricket match being played across the street. Erica took notice and became quite curious. It was clear to Roxborough that she wasn’t just being polite, but was genuinely interested with all the questions she was peppering him with about this sport.
“It was probably about 100 degrees and we were out in an open field, not under the shade,” said Roxborough. “I mean we could walk under the shade but she wanted to be as close to the boundary line as possible. So what we did was we stood directly behind the bowler’s arm and this is where she became particularly interested with the swing and movement that you can achieve from bowling, be it through the air or off the pitch.”
Upon returning to America, Rendler’s interest was sustained after she found an ad online looking for players to join a local women’s team.
“I was really curious to try it out and locally in the Bay Area I saw an ad on Craigslist for the Western Firebirds women’s cricket accepting all skill levels,” said Rendler. After contacting USACA Western Region board member Raj Padhi, who was organizing the practices, she came the next day and the rest is history.
“It was really nice,” said Rendler. “I just found everyone to be really friendly and the basic skills I already had from other sports in terms of fielding and throwing. So I think just batting and bowling were the two techniques where I needed to adjust things that I’ve done in the past.”
Prior to cricket, Rendler seems to have taken a stab at just about everything under the sun. She grew up playing soccer, swimming, basketball, track & field, softball and field hockey. According to her brother Doug, she is also quite skilled at alternative sports such as snowboarding and cycling and has climbed the 14,505 feet high Mount Whitney in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Rendler has also been a DJ on “The Delirium Show” for Santa Clara University’s student radio station, KSCU. While Doug gladly talked up his sister’s wide-ranging endeavors, Erica comes off as too humble to even bring them up, let alone boast about them.
“You look at her on the field and you feel just almost that wow factor,” said Doug. “Field hockey she tried out for the first time and immediately saw success with that and a great athlete on the basketball court. There’s few things she doesn’t do well in terms of sports.”
Rendler attended San Jose’s Archibishop Mitty High School, which was ranked by Sports Illustrated as the #5 high school athletics program in the country in 2006-07 and #3 in 2008-09, ahead of many other well known California multi-sport powerhouses such as Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly. The school’s alumni include 2004 & 2008 Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh and 1999 Women’s Soccer World Cup hero Brandi Chastain. Rendler played varsity softball and field hockey at Archbishop Mitty before going on to play two years of field hockey at UC-Berkeley, where she double majored in political science and communications.
Despite playing cricket for just over a year, Rendler’s athleticism has helped her get up to speed. At a training session in New York before the team left for Canada, Rendler appears tall and well-built while fielding between point and cover, ready to pounce on anything coming her way. When it came time for her to practice her batting out in the middle, she demonstrated a straight bat technique that was adequate but with more experience and coaching could become much better. Meanwhile she looked quite comfortable bashing anything short through the leg side. For someone who has played cricket for just over a year, her seam bowling action was impressive.
“I just think athletically I’m definitely one of the top of the group coordination-wise,” said Rendler with a tone of quiet confidence. “I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do so it’s just a matter of time before I can get better at something. I mean I feel very lucky to have made this team but I knew out of [Western Firebirds] that definitely I might be in the top group to possibly be selected, just from our team at least.”
Rendler went into this year’s USACA National Women’s Tournament in nearby Cupertino, Calif., with a strong determination to prove herself in front of selectors. Despite her limited experience, she believed a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent her country could come as a result of her hard work.
“I knew there was a window of opportunity, just for a chance to even be selected to play nationally, that was a goal of mine,” said Rendler. “I thought it was kind of out of reach but that was certainly on my mind, at least play up to that level and be able to face players of that caliber and pretty much not make a complete fool of myself.”
The newcomer did enough to impress the selectors and now she’ll be missing a week of work from her job as a case analyst at a law firm. Her colleagues are behind her, even if they don’t necessarily know too much about the game she is playing.
“They love it. They announced it at one of our firm-wide meetings,” said Rendler regarding her firm spreading the word about making the national team. “When I left my work, they were all going ‘U-S-A!’ as I walked out the door.”
“I think getting selected to the national team and representing your country right after the World Cup where I saw the United States battle and fight so hard to win the games they did and overcome adversity and seeing how soccer is beginning to take more of a bigger stage across the media and viewers, having her make the US team I think meant a lot to her,” said Doug.
At the moment, Rendler is the only American-born player in either the men’s or the women’s USA cricket squads. However, she feels that the game is perfectly capable of catching on outside of expat communities if opportunities are presented to people at a relatively young age.
“I think the more people that start playing, others will follow, in terms of American-born baseball fans,” said Rendler. “I always hear that Americans don’t have the attention span for a cricket game or it’s too smart of a game but there’s so many athletes now I see at the high school level and the junior high level, they can just pick up any sport and it’s gonna just kind of be this peer pressure thing. If a couple people start doing it, I think other people will follow.
“The thing I notice with cricket, once you learn how to play and understand it, then you’re really interested in every part of the game. But if you don’t know what’s going on, then certainly it’s more boring and easier to tune out.”
Rendler enjoys watching Sachin Tendulkar bat, but is looking to soak up as much knowledge as she can from her own teammates who have played at the international level for other countries.
“It’s been great so far and just raising the level of talent here, it’s gonna push my game as well. It feels really good to be playing with such a talented group,” said Rendler. “Playing with Indomatie [Goordial-John] for sure and watching everything she does. She’s a perfect player and very athletic, a great coach and our captain Durga [Das] as well is very good helping give me pointers. So I think I’m focusing on the two of them kind of as mentors.”
Hopefully, her teammates will learn just as much from Rendler during the next week as she will from them. She is proof that Americans are capable of reaching great heights in cricket.