No sooner had they experienced the rush of playing with Australian legend Adam Gilchrist on Monday morning than a group of Jammu and Kashmir women cricketers face a barrage of queries. The questions included, among others, “Which team did you support in yesterday’s Champions Trophy final, India or Pakistan?” and “What will you say to people who are living in India but cheering for Pakistan?”
Having been asked essentially the same thing in different ways, Abida Khan snapped back.
“It’s really unfortunate that people ask such stupid questions to sportspersons,” said Abida, coach of the Jammu & Kashmir cricketers who played a six-overs a side exhibition match between the Gilchrist-led Australian High Commission team and the Jesus & Mary College women’s team.
“We are representing the state, and in a way playing for India. These questions affect the team, the players who dream of playing for the national team one day. We are Kashmiris, but we have to prove that we are Indians.”
Abida added, “On a day, there are two teams who are trying their best to win. India had a super tournament, with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma performing. But on the day Pakistan played better, and Fakhar Zaman played a good innings. You have to look at it in a sporting way. You cannot force someone to cheer for a team.”
Abida’s charges agreed with the sentiment. “I played the zonals, and obviously my next target is to make the national team. Why do we have to prove that we support India?,” says off-spinner Bushra Ashraf, who represented North Zone in an Under-19 tournament in 2015.
“Again, it is a sport and it is a personal choice to cheer for a team that is playing well. We lost to the JMC (Jesus and Mary College) team today but we were still boosting their girls up and celebrating with them.”
Interaction with the JMC team — inaugural champions of Delhi University’s Women Cricket League — was a reminder of the lack of infrastructure back home. Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, secretary of the state’s sports council, had earlier told The Indian Express that while states such as Haryana and Gujarat spend over Rs500 crore on sports annually, J&K spends Rs 4 cr. Turf wickets are not available in various districts but Abida believes the newly-launched cricket academy in Srinagar, as well as opportunity such as Monday’s, are hopeful signs.
A big dream
“When they were told that they will be meeting and playing with Gilchrist, they refused to believe it. It is a big deal, a dream come true for a Kashmiri girl,” says Abida, who represented the state for 10 years, before completing level A women BCCI exam and NIS coaching course in 2008.
While the situation has improved since her playing days — “girls today travel by air, get good boarding and lodging, money from BCCI” — resistance from family, society and increased militancy mean the scenario is far from ideal for an aspiring woman cricketer and has led to top talent such as Jasia Akhtar to leave the state and play for Punjab.
Abida informs there are girls from the highly affected districts such as Shopian, Baramulla and Bandipora who manage to come out and play despite their families not supporting them.
“Then the violence makes it difficult to take part at Nationals,” the coach says. “They are not getting camps and are usually informed of a national camp only 3-4 days before. But this group proves that when you really love the game, there is a passion jo marke bhi khatam nahi hota.”
“Last year, we went for trials during a curfew,” says opener Farkhanda Khan. “There’s no cricketing atmosphere for us. No grounds and facilities. There are more opportunities for the boys. But there’s no point thinking of the situation. Without cricket our life is meaningless.”
Bushra, who spends her downtime studying R Ashwin’s variations on YouTube, agrees. “Cricket gives us purpose. Because of our loyalty to the game, we today played under Gilchrist. Soon, we will play in the India jersey.”