THOUGH THE television sets at Jammu & Kashmir House in the capital were not working on Sunday, the excitement about the ICC Champions Trophy final — a match between India and Pakistan — was palpable, as members of the Jammu & Kashmir women’s cricket team skipped practice and huddled together to live-stream the match. In the city to play an “exhibition match” against a team from the Jesus and Mary Convent at the Australian High Commission, the women from the Valley let out a collective gasp as Virat Kohli departed the field.
Among them is 24-year-old Sumaiya, who has been playing cricket professionally since 2008. “I started playing with the boys in the field as a child. My mother was not happy, she would even beat me up at times. But over the years, she gave up,” she says. Hailing from Shopian in south Kashmir, Sumaiya on Sunday underscored the strain of being a cricketer in a conservative society. “I could not step out of home in a track suit or carry my bat in public. I used to step out in a salwar-kameez, hide the bat behind the dupatta, and change my clothes before and after playing.”
To pursue her cricketing career full time, she said she had to leave Kashmir and continue her education at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. “My father is 74, and it was a difficult decision for him to send me outside Kashmir so that I could keep playing cricket. But my parents have been supporting me in every way they can,” she adds. Her teammate, Abriq Zahoor, meanwhile, says she has not received the same kind of support from her family. From downtown Srinagar, Zahoor says that with the lack of infrastructure and the recurrent strikes, the team is left with just a few days to practice.
The team also talks of the added pressure of the sport being “extremely gendered”. “Our families constantly bring up the fact that men’s cricket is about earning and women’s cricket is all about spending. We don’t bring cash home,” one of them points out. But that does not deter their motivation. For Monday’s match, they are more than excited as former Australian captain Adam Gilchrist will coach them for a day. Talking about the girls’ dream of meeting Gilchrist coming true, the state coach, Abida Khan, says the team would love to play more tournaments.
“Boys get to play all year round, halaat kharab sirf ladkiyon ke liye hain,” Khan adds. Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, secretary of the Sports Council, J&K, told The Indian Express that while states such as Haryana and Gujarat spend over Rs 500 crore on sports annually, J&K spends a meagre Rs 4 crore. The architect of the event, Amitabh Mattoo, adviser to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, says the idea behind the event is to provide an opportunity and exposure to talent from the Valley.