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Footprints: Maiden overs

Updated June 13, 2017
WOMEN cricketers playing tape ball night cricket this Ramazan have far more to celebrate than just a dismissal.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
WOMEN cricketers playing tape ball night cricket this Ramazan have far more to celebrate than just a dismissal.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

THE girl tells her parents that she won’t be back till early morning — and they don’t seem worried. From the safe environs of her home, she drives down to a public park where there are several others like her, all set to break their curfews. They will be alright. It’s the girls’ night out playing tape ball cricket.

Cricket — the centuries-old gentleman’s sport — saw women stepping on the turf first in the 1700s and then more formally in 1926. After getting recognition by the International Cricket Council, too, today there are women’s wings in every cricket board of a playing country, including Pakistan. This country, which has a fine women’s cricket team, also has to its credit the cricket-playing kit for women: before Pakistani women started playing the game, female cricketers played in skirts. That was unacceptable to Pakistan’s women’s cricket team, headed by the pioneering Shaiza Khan in the 1990s, so her team was allowed to play wearing trousers. Soon, other women’s teams followed suit.

It is inspiring to watch the Pakistan women’s team. But not every girl who wants to play cricket can be a part of it. There is a whole process in place to get you there. It requires hard work and patience and even after that there are many broken hearts, the result of insufficient skills or fitness. Politics in sports also kill the fun. Even so, the key word should remain ‘fun’, something which is often forgotten along the way.

A couple of years ago, a group of young women identifying as Girls at Dhabas were looking to break stereotypes and stated advocating public spaces where women could come out to play street cricket. Females don’t play in the streets. Even when they play in grounds, the matches are not open to the general public. But with street cricket … it was come one, come all!

Now another group of women have come up with KheloKricket, a site looking to develop, promote and celebrate a love for cricket at the grassroots level. From the pitch to the portal, it is Pakistan’s first social hub for the cricket player, providing him or her a platform from which to display team news, player profiles, scorecards, schedules, or a gallery of pictures and videos. It is also a forum where a team can find an opponent. All they have to do is register.

Night cricket is very popular during Ramazan. It helps while away the hours between Taraveeh prayers and sehri. So this Ramazan, KheloKricket held the KK Women’s Night Tournament with eight teams playing night tape ball cricket at the Kokan Ground in Bahadurabad. The six matches being played every night had six overs per side, and everyone present appeared to have a great time — including those who watched from the windows and terraces of their homes.

“The matches would usually be over around 2.30am as we would start at around 10pm,” says Hadeel Obaid, founder of KheloKricket. “Most of the spectators at the ground were the parents or older siblings of the players.”

On the second day, one of the mothers wept with joy to see her daughter walk away with the Woman of the Match prize. “It was a real connection with her daughter’s love for the sport that brought on such a reaction,” Obaid says.

There were no selection criteria. “Many of the girls already play for their school teams, academies or clubs and the others found out about the tournament through them. There were eight players per side and though it did turn out to be a competitive event, most just played for fun,” Obaid explains.

One of the teams playing was from the Gigi Women’s Cricket Club. Asif Ali, their coach who is a level-2 Pakistan Cricket Board coach and a former first-class player, says that when coming out to play, women face a number of challenges such as finding grounds to play or conduct net practice. “Preference is always given to boys,” he says. “So there is always a lack of facilities for female players in our country. Then, parents who have no issues with their daughters’ playing cricket expect a lot from them. I get questions such as ‘When is my daughter playing for Pakistan?’ Really, even if it is going to happen, it is not going to happen overnight! Parents need to understand this and be patient.”

“Tape ball cricket is just about having fun,” says a player, Sana Taj. “No one gets hurt. Compared to this, hard ball is tense cricket. It is technical, too. Tape ball is freestyle.”

Test cricketer Maqsood Anwar’s daughter Alina Maqsood was also playing, with her elder brother Khizr cheering from the sidelines, while also serving as her driver. And among the spectators was Asma Hanif, who had come to support a university friend and was thoroughly enjoying the matches herself. Later, she was overheard asking someone if she could register as a player, too.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2017