Jaipur: With limited infrastructure and the social atmosphere in Sherpura village of Rajasthan’s Barmer district, even aspiring to make it to college for most girls there is seen as no mean feat. But then, Anisha Bano isn’t an average girl. Her dream started taking shape in 2013 when she first watched the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament on TV.
“I also want to play and be on the other side of the screen,” she told Roshan Khan, a distant cousin who trained boys in cricket. Aware of the possible difficulties ahead, Khan discouraged her from playing. “There is neither a playground here nor resources. And you will not be allowed to play with the boys,” he told her then.
Cut to 2021, and a 16-year-old Anisha had made it to the Under-19 women’s state team for the Challenger’s Trophy. The ultimate validation came this year when a younger cousin of Anisha’s, 14-year-old Mumal Mehar, made headlines for hitting consecutive fours and sixes in a viral video. The news reached master blaster Sachin Tendulkar who praised her batting in a tweet. Dozens of social media fan pages have been created in Mehar’s name. Help is pouring in from all sides and Rajasthan’s BJP chief Satish Poonia has sent her a cricket kit.
Against the backdrop of the Women’s Premier League and the upcoming IPL, the story of these two girls from a far flung desert village is one of resilience, dreams, and difficult realities.
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Daring to dream
Sherpura, a small, nondescript village of 40 households under Kanasar panchayat is situated by state highway 65, almost 100 kilometres from the Barmer district headquarters.
Anisha’s father, Yakub Khan, works at a local court, earning Rs 300-400 daily, while his wife Marvi looks after the cattle and fields. The youngest of five children — four girls and a boy — Anisha’s task till a few years ago was to take the goats out to graze. This would go on for hours — and that’s where she found a window to practise bowling.
“I managed to get a tennis ball and while the goats would graze, I would practise bowling at the walls of the panchayat bhawan or any other building,” Anisha told ThePrint.
She practised for some years, till one of the goats went missing. “My mother ran after me with a broom, almost cursing the tennis ball,” she said. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming.
In 2015, a 10-day village-level cricket tournament was organised by the panchayats, which gave her the opportunity to sit at the boundary and watch the boys play. “I thought I would become a medium-pacer,” she said, recalling the days she practised on her own, away from the gaze of her parents, Roshan Khan, and the boys.
In 2018, she asked a local shopkeeper to get her a leather ball from Barmer market. “But the leather ball was expensive and, I had no money. No one would lend me Rs 350. So I requested the shopkeeper to just lend me the ball for a day.”
Anisha couldn’t sleep the whole night as the ball had a scratch by the end of her practice. Next morning, she tried to cover the scratch with red ink and returned the ball to the shopkeeper. But she couldn’t stop weeping. Since Roshan Khan lived close by, she shared her plight with him. That’s when he realised how seriously Anisha took her sport.
For the next few years, Khan became her coach as she practised in the fields. “There was no kit, no leather ball, no playground and no support system, but she had passion,” he said, his eyes gleaming with pride in his student.
On 25 September 2021, Anisha and her father boarded a bus from Barmer to Jaipur.
Recalling the journey that would change her life, Anisha said, “I was just happy seeing a world outside my village. That was the first time I saw a bus stand, a city called Barmer and then, Jaipur. I felt like I had wings. I was flying in my head.”
The next day, more than 400 girls from all over Rajasthan came for the trials in the under-19 category of the state team for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy. There was another girl from Barmer whose family had enrolled her into an academy. “She played with boys in a boys’ academy. There is no cricket academy for girls in Barmer. Our community would not allow me this,” she said.
But Anisha made it to the 15-member squad as a fast bowler, despite all the disadvantages she faced. Her selection was prominently featured by daily Hindi newspapers. She camped there for 15 days along with other players from the state.
Around that time, little Mumal Mehar sent her a message from her father’s mobile. “I also want to play cricket,” her message read. Anisha shared this with Khan, requesting him to train Mehar as well.
Anisha has since played on the state team in tennis ball cricket tournaments held in Maharashtra and J&K. She was also a part of the state team for the Junior Challenger Trophy. She has attended several camps — Mehar accompanied her to the district-level camp in June 2022. While the bowler is currently not playing for the team, she has set her sights on her next goal – Team India.
Meanwhile, Mehar, an 8th-standard student, has been practising for the last two years. But the hurdles and the challenges she faces are the same that Anisha faced years ago.
Khan told ThePrint that boys became insecure and they didn’t want to play with Mehar. So he organised a 15-day cricket camp in the village. “I deployed her as a fielder and observed her for the next 15 days. She had excellent fitness and her batting was impressive,” he said.
He also started an Instagram account where he documented Mehar’s journey – one video at a time. A month ago, he uploaded the video that went viral. While Mehar feels she has somewhat arrived, the struggle is far from over. Her family is now trying to find an academy where she can be sent for training. “There is none up to Jaipur,” said Khan.
(Edited by Smriti Sinha)
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