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Fulfilling dreams and proving a point, T20 way

Here’s the story of Kashmir’s Jasia Akhtar and Harleen Deol - the two cricketers whose lives have been changed because of the Women’s T20 Challenge

cricket Updated: May 10, 2019 11:12 IST
Shalini Gupta
Women's T20 Challenge,Jasia Akhtar,Harleen Deol
Jasia Akhtar is part of the Trailblazers side in the Women’s T20 Challenge.(Agencies)

Usually reticent, Jasia Akhtar has stories to tell now. Part of the Trailblazers team in the Women’s T20 Challenge, Jasia has been regaling her teammates — including former New Zealand captain Suzie Bates — about wazwan, apples and the Kashmir valley. And cricket of course.

The stocky 30-year-old opener, who starred in Punjab’s maiden T20 title triumph a few months ago in Mumbai, is yet to play a game in the tournament but is making the most of the exposure. Those aware of her journey — from the terrorism-affected Shopian in Jammu & Kashmir to Punjab — know how people back home in her native village Braripora are preserving their data on phones to watch Trailblazers play.

“I left my village and moved to Amritsar to become a cricketer. Allah has been kind and now I am rubbing shoulders with players like Smriti Mandhana, Mithali Raj, Suzie Bates and Stafanie Taylor. Because of me, my village is hooked on to Women’s T20 Challenge,” said Akhtar, who is fasting for Ramzan.

Her father Gul Mohammed Wani, a small-time farmer who grows apples and walnuts for a living, is over the moon. “She has made us proud. She is helping me build a new house with five rooms. Our house was reduced to rubble in the 2014 floods. We now live in a two-room house. Inshallah we will have our new house made by July,” said Wani.

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With the BCCI offering $2,500 per match (approximately ~1,75,000) during the Women’s T20 Challenge to the players, Akhtar is more than happy. “The sport has given me everything. Seeing my parents at my new house would be a dream coming true. Hopefully, I will play for India soon and make Kashmir proud. Sitting in the dressing room and observing established cricketers is in itself an enriching experience,” she said.

Another Trailblazers cricketer Harleen Deol is making the right noises in the tournament. With knocks of 36 and 43, Deol, who made her ODI and T20 debut against England in March, has been impressive. She has had to skip her BA third year exams due to the Women’s T20 Challenge, hoping this gives way to something bigger.

“Women’s Big Bash League and Kia League have made a mark in women’s cricket. Then why not Indian league for women?” said Deol, who has been teaching England left-arm spinner Sophie Ecclestone a few bhangra steps and helping Suzie Bates shop Rajasthani stuff in Jaipur. Fondly called ‘Sunny Paaji’ by her teammates (she shares her surname with Bollywood actor Sunny Deol), Deol showed her mettle when she cleared the fence on a few occasions off leg-spinner Amelia Kerr’s bowling in the match against Velocity. “It was an enjoyable knock against Mithali didi’s team. I did not have good outings against England in March. These knocks in Women’s T20 Challenge have raised my confidence,” felt Deol.

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Another Indian domestic cricketer who is slowly making a name or herself is the 15-year-old Shafali Varma. Shefali is one of only four uncapped players in the three T20 Challenge women’s squads.

She has been a prolific batter for Haryana in the U-19s and U-23s and looks up to Virender Sehwag. Her brisk 34 for Velocity against Trailblazers eventually set up their win.

When Mithali sent her to open the innings, not many would have thought a pint-sized, short-haired girl would become such a game changer.

She was even praised by England’s Danielle Wyatt, who said, “Shafali is going to be a superstar for India probably in a year or so. I think she’ll break into the India team. She stood out for me in the nets from day one as soon as we got into nets. I saw this girl batting and didn’t know she was so young. But then the coach said she is only 15.”

First Published: May 10, 2019 11:12 IST