Srinagar: Whenever a group of boys on their way to a nearby cricket field would pass by her home, 11-year-old Jasia Akhtar from Brari Pora village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district would keenly observe them, wishing in her heart that, someday, she would be a part of the group and that sport.
One summer morning in 2002, Jasia decided to follow the group of boys to the cricket field. There, when the boys were about to start their game, they noticed Jasia who was standing at a distance. She moved towards them hesitantly. “I asked them if I could play. They smiled and handed me the bat,” Jasia told ThePrint. That was the first time in her life when she had held a bat.
Earlier this week, Jasia, now 28, became the first Kashmiri woman who will play for the women’s Indian Premier League (IPL) due to begin 6 May.
“Since my childhood I have set my own goals for myself. First, I wanted to play for my school, then my college, then my university and then for my state Jammu and Kashmir. When I managed to do all that, I wanted to play the women IPL. My next goal is to play for the Indian cricket team,” said Jasia, who idolizes Sachin Tendulkar.
Jasia will be reporting to Rajasthan on 2 May, the venue of the tournament. She will represent the Trailblazers, one of the three teams playing the tournament.
Jasia’s feat, however, hasn’t come so easily to her, and playing in the IPL isn’t her final destination.
After Jasia started to play cricket in the local boys’ team, other girls from her district took keen interest in the game and it seemed quite smooth sailing. Jasia then played in the states under-13, under-14, under-15 and under-16 cricket teams between 2003 and 2006.
In this period, Jaisa also learnt the game inside out and soon became synonymous with the sport. She also went to Bhopal to play her first national tournament, but things came to a staggering halt when she returned.
‘Didn’t play between 2007-11’
Jasia’s father Gul Mohammad Wani owns a very small apple orchard in Shopian and works as a full-time farmer. Naturally, he wasn’t able to afford Jasia’s passion when she ventured into professional cricket. While her father had until then managed to spare extra cash for Jasia, it was the ailment of Jasia’s younger sister that made her passion expensive.
“My father never made me feel that, but I knew it was too much for him. So, I decided to leave cricket and from 2007 to 2011, I didn’t play any cricket. Then, one day my teacher, Khalid Hussain, came to our home and said that he had come to know I used to play cricket. He encouraged me to play again. He told me to not worry about money and focus on the game and that’s what I did,” Jasia said.
Playing for Punjab Cricket Association
Jasia’s first game after her sabbatical was in 2012, playing for the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA). She scored 65 runs against Himachal Pradesh. Jasia played for JKCA for almost a year, but paucity of funds and poor infrastructure compelled her to move to Amritsar and play for Punjab Cricket Association.
In her first match for Punjab, Jasia scored 56 runs. Her big break came in the domestic T-20 tournament for women held last year. Eight teams had participated in the tournament and Jasia emerged as the third best player scoring 355 runs in the series.
“The situation in Kashmir has not been good in a long time especially in Shopian. But, despite all the gloom, people of my village and of Shopian have always encouraged me. Some used to say I might not get an opportunity because I am a Kashmiri, but they too wished for my success,” she said.
“When my father heard the news (of her selection in women’s IPL), he couldn’t stop his tears. I cried with him too, but in our hearts we were happy,” Jasia said. “Everyone in my village is proud of me.”
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