When her love for cricket became a thorn in the flesh for her ‘conservative’ relatives and society, young Sumaiya Jan from Shopian decided to hold on to her game instead of grumbling around. Today as she is on the cusp of becoming Kashmir’s second woman cricket coach, she recalls it as the game worth playing for.
It was a blistering sunny day when a teenage girl measuring her run up from the bowling end delivered her fierce bowling spell to a great surprise of the spectators. Among the twenty two cricket players on the ground, she was the only female player, who sent two batsmen back to the pavilion.
Later, she was confidently staring at the bowler—reading his moves through the grills of her helmet—before swinging and sending the ball out of the park. Next time, her powerful strike skyrocketed the ball to such a height and distance that it was never found.
Coming from the village Kachdoora, of district Shopian, 25-year-old Sumaiya Jan still remembers the day when her all-round flamboyance at Degree College Shopian ground wonder-struck both the players and the spectators. Otherwise dominated by 21 male cricketers, the single girl’s turf domination that day went on to become the talk of the town.
But before she would finally arrive with a bat and a ball, the young Sumaiya had gone through the arduous journey where people ganged up against her to troll her passion. However, she chose to respond to the naysayers with her bat, instead of her mouth.
As a kid she would play the gentleman’s game—like she would play marbles—with a handmade bat and a lightweight plastic ball in her courtyard. With time, she would often slip out to play cricket with local boys in a nearby ground.
“I would often get beaten up at home for going out with boys and playing a game that my parents considered improper for girls,” Sumaiya widens her eyes over childhood musings which somehow have stayed with her. “But I would never mind such pulls and presses and continued playing cricket because I loved it.”
Then came the day when she graduated from a gully cricketer to a professional one.
“It was 2007 and I was in Class 11,” she recalls, seemingly loving the reminiscence of the day she finally arrived on the scene. “My performance during my first School Nationals at Sonawar, Srinagar impressed the people around, including the coach, N P Singh.” In that match, Sumaiya scored quick-fire 47 runs and took 5 wickets. She had arrived.
After being registered by Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council in 2008, Sumaiya, a year later, stole the show once again, while playing an under-19 tournament. As her ‘good performances’ with the bat and ball continued, she became the only player from Kashmir and among two other girls from J&K to be selected for North Zone team in 2011.
In the times to come, she went to play more than 16 senior-junior Nationals, including almost 14 senior Nationals, bestowing her with many awards. But before the recognition could even come, she was literally slogging to create a mark as a sportsperson.
She remembers her first National tour with only Rs 600 in her pocket. During the nights on that tour, she would use newspapers as mattress and leg-guard as a pillow. Her ‘madness for the game’ made it a worthwhile experience for her. Back home, however, she remained grappling with ‘what will our society think’ taunts.
Today as she walks down the memory lane, she finds her relatives’ and society’s support clearly missing. “Instead, they always forced me to give up on my passion,” she says, turning thoughtful. “Infact, many of my relatives would pretend as if they don’t know me. A few of my cousins won’t even talk to me—simply because, I was holding a bat and a ball in my hand.” For the young girl, it was simply too much indifference to handle. But that wasn’t all.
She went on to receive threats in person and was questioned by elders in her society for playing a game ‘tabooed for girls’. She had nearly become a social outcast. “It went to an extent that I had to leave my studies for one year, as I insisted, if I give up my game, I give up my education, too.” But she was left heartbroken at the moment when her own best friend parted ways with her “as she couldn’t understand the sportsperson inside me”.
The only silver-lining during that terrible period came from her ‘humble parents’—unfazed by criticism—standing by her side like a rock. “If a girl can go to college or university for achieving her goal in life, then she can also fulfill her dream on the play ground,” they would say, to motivate her amid all the negativity. But their conviction came at a huge cost.
A few years back when she returned home from her playing trip to spend Eid with her family, she was stunned to learn how her brother was thrown out of a local religious body for ‘allowing his sister to play cricket’.
“That day I was hurt and was forced to question myself, that what price do I have to pay, and can make others pay, for following my passion,” she says, becoming tearful. Although she shortly resumed both her sports and studies with the help of her supporting family, but she could never understood the raging hostility against her for simply playing the sport she loves.
She went on to complete her Bachelors in Physical Education from RTM University, Nagpur, and is currently persuing a Diploma in Cricket at NIS Patiala. Once done, she is looking forward to become the second woman cricket coach from Kashmir.
Apart from exploring the game of cricket more closely to overcome her weaknesses as a player, Sumaiya is busy organizing tournaments for boys in her district, in a bid to support the talent. “There’s no lack of talent in Kashmir,” she says. “But what lacks is the infrastructural support, which the government and J&K Sports Council must provide.”
Sumaiya believes there’re no fairytales in cricket. “But the only thing which can sustain your passion in the game is your ability to convert brickbats which people throw at you into milestones,” she ends the talk with a smile and returns to her game.
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