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Howzat! Kashmiri Women Cricketers pad up for Bigger Dreams

Army organises the first Kashmir Women Cricket League.
Kashmiri Women Cricketers pad up for Bigger Dreams

Srinagar: The temperature is higher than the usual 30 degrees Celsius as August has been hot and dry. The light is brighter and the historic Sher-i-Kashmir Stadium looks greener and livelier as young women cricketers participate in the first Kashmir Women Cricket League (KWCL), organised by the Army’s Chinar Corps and the local administration, in Srinagar. 

Some players are enrolled in schools while others in colleges and local universities. 

Fancy Jan captains the Anantnag Rebels, one of the prominent teams which has won several tournaments in the last two years. Jan is a Ranji player and also coaches her team—most of whom admire former India captain Virat Kohli. They are excited to participate in the tournament and consider themselves the favourites in the contest. 

“It is a wonderful opportunity to play here against the rest of the teams in Kashmir. Many of us are here for cricket, but some also for maintaining fitness,” Jan tells Newsclick

The tournament is said to be a first of its kind for women cricketers from across the Valley with most facilities,  including uniforms, provided by the organisers.

Twelve teams are participating in the League, including from urban Srinagar and north and south Kashmir districts. The tournament began on August 19 and the final match will be played on August 27. 

Despite being a Muslim-majority region, playing cricket for girls is not an issue in Kashmir. But the players believe that the opportunities are very less. 

Playing in a tournament organised by the Army is also not easy. Violence in J&K spiked in the last decade as hundreds of young men picked up arms in the epicentre of south Kashmir, including Anantnag. More than a thousand militants—mostly youth—have been killed since in gunfights with security forces since 2018. 

The women players, however, say they are playing with full support. “We have faced no problem at all. In fact, our families encourage us to play and we thank the Army for organising this tournament,” another player from Anantnag Green says.

Unlike Anantnag Rebels, Women’s College Blasters is playing for the first time in a major tournament like the KWCL. Its youngest member is a class seven student from the city’s Delhi Public School who remembers most of the players from India’s national women’s cricket team. 

“My father could not pursue the game for personal reasons but wants me to make it big. I am following his passion and hope to play in an international team,” the resident of Jawahar Nagar says. 

For decades, cricket has been at the centre of major controversies in the territory which have triggered violence and arrests. 

In the same stadium, the first-ever international match was played on October 13, 1983, when West Indies toured India. The Indian team faced hostilities as the guests were cheered by Kashmiri spectators, later mentioned by India’s cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar in his book Runs ‘n’ Ruins

On October 28, 2021, three students enrolled in Uttar Pradesh’s RBS Engineering College were arrested for allegedly posting a WhatsApp status praising Pakistan players after their victory against India in a T20 match. The students spent months in jail and were released in April next year. Many cases of Kashmir youths being beaten after India’s defeat were reported. 

Inside the stadium, however, a psychology student from Srinagar’s Government Women’s College feels that the ground is a playing field and a vital space for them as there is little scope for women to socialise. 

The players also see it as a platform to help them compete nationally and internationally. “Even if we don’t play for India, we can still hope to find an opportunity with the Women’s Premier League (WPL), which is a big opportunity,” another player from Srinagar says. 

Apart from three teams from Srinagar, Anantnag Rebels, Budgam Strikers, Kulgam Knights, Shopian Strikers, Pulwama Fearless and Royal Strikers Ganderbal, among others belong to other districts. 

According to an Army officer, renowned cricketer Mithali Raj is expected at the final match to further encourage the young cricketers.

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