Posted by Noor ul-Haq
Her favourite bowler is the Pakistani pacer Mohammad Aamir, but she wants to see herself in the playing XI of the Indian women’s international cricket team. Donning a cricket jersey, Iqra Rasool guides us to her home in a bustling market of Dangiwacha, Rafiabad. It is where she started her career as a fast bowler playing for her school team.
Iqra Rasool, a 10th-grade student, was born on 5th August 2000 in a middle-class family. Her father Ghulam Rasool Lone works at a local bakery. Iqra has big dreams – she wants to lead the Indian National Women’s Team at an international arena. But to achieve this goal, she needs the Jammu & Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) to support the cricketers from Kashmir and hone their talents.
It was never easy for Iqra to play cricket in a conservative society like Kashmir. She faced pressure from family, her friend circle and from society, but she passed all tests with her fierce will and dedication. This year, she hopes to compete in her 5th National Tournament.
Dangiwacha, a far-flung village in Rafiabad of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district bears witness to the hidden talent of this Kashmiri woman. In a two-storey building, Iqra proudly displays a room full of medals and certificates. It is the same room from which she dreams of playing in the international arena.Dangichiwa is an hour’s drive from the district headquarters in Baramulla, past the apple orchards and paddy fields, and it is where Iqra honed her talent. Dusty roads and congested lanes lead to the school playground, where Iqra developed her keen passion for sports. She played volleyball, and earned medals. She played handball, and earned applause. But her first and last love is cricket. A few weeks ago, in the finale of Baramulla Premier League Boy’s Cricket Tournament held at the Showkat Ali Stadium Khojabagh Baramulla, Iqra, an invitee was asked to bowl few deliveries after the match was over. The first ball went for a six. The next ball for a four. On the third ball, she clean bowled the batsman. A happy face and claps round the corner. Yes, she clean bowled a talented cricketer of Baramulla twice of her age.
A few weeks ago, Iqra was invited to the finale of Baramulla Premier League Boy’s Cricket Tournament held at the Showkat Ali Stadium Khojabagh Baramulla. She was asked to bowl few deliveries after the match was over. The first ball went for a six. The next ball for a four. On the third ball, she clean bowled the batsman. There were happy faces and claps all around. Yes, she clean bowled a talented cricketer of Baramulla who was twice her age.
As a young girl, Iqra didn’t wish for bangles or toys – her dream was to attack stumps. She chose a cricket ball instead. Despite facing a lot of problems, both at her home and outside, she never looked back. One can always catch her practicing inside her home or out in a courtyard. With her commitment to her sport, Iqra has become an inspiration to the girls of the area.
“Many of my class mates and neighbouring girls want to play and learn from me but there is no separate ground or facilities for the girls here in my hometown, where we can play and excel in this game,” Iqra says.
A fan of Indian star cricketer Virat Kohli and the Pakistani pacer Mohammad Aamir, she talks about her cricket journey, love for the game, and the problems faced by her.
“Right from my childhood, I played cricket with both boys and girls. But I want to lead my team to a victory. I’ve played volleyball and handball, but my first and last love is cricket and my dream is to lead the Indian National Team in an international arena,” she says.
Iqra has led her school at various tournaments and also her state at national tournaments.
“Sarfaraz Sir (my coach) was an inspiration for me when I was in the school. He fine-tuned my capabilities. Then I met the woman coach Sakeena Ma’am, at Kashmir University. She too guided me well. But what prompted me to go out and fly the skies was the beautiful moment when I met star cricketer of the valley Parvez Rasool at a marathon organised last year in Srinagar. His words to me still echo in my ears.”
Iqra still remembers her best performance against Jharkhand in 2015 at Jammu. “I can’t forget the final match against a very strong Jharkhand team in the under 17, inter-state tournament in which I took three wickets. It was a fabulous and highly appreciated bowling. My performance won us the match but unfortunately, I wasn’t declared as man-of-the-match for reasons unknown to me. But I didn’t take it to heart and kept on performing well.”
Today, Iqra Rasool is proving everybody wrong. Breaking social taboos with her talent, her message is loud and clear: “Hey guys! Sports are no more your property.” Her fast pace has made her the star cricketer of her area.
“At times, elders shooed me away from the playground. People teased me when I was playing with the boys of my age. Even my elder brother stopped me from playing as everybody thinks girls in sports is a bad thing,” she says.
But for Iqra Rasool, people’s dissuasions were not important. It was only cricket that mattered. She holds the sport very close to her heart. She says that the society we are living in needs to change its mindset. Ours is an orthodox mentality that makes us lag behind.
Iqra has represented her state four times at the national level at Amritsar, Goa, Haryana and Jammu. She was first selected to represent the girl’s team in her school. Later, she was selected by the JKCA in 2013 for her outstanding performance in the inter-district tournaments. In 2015, while representing the J&K state team, she took three wickets in a single over and became a reason for her team’s comfortable win against the much more powerful team of Jharkhand.
“Players from other states practice very hard and they are also provided with better coaching and other facilities. We are never provided with facilities for us to practice so that we can win our matches. If you can believe it, I am still without a cricket kit. I was once assured by an official about a cricket kit but that day has not yet come.”
“I am no less than Tajamul Islam – the kickboxing champion. If I am provided with a chance I can prove my mettle. I can make my valley proud by winning a cricket cup for it.”, Iqra Rasool adds.
Despite being a conflict area, cricket in Kashmir has never witnessed a decline in terms of talent. But what has destroyed the cricket scene in Jammu & Kashmir is the involvement of politics and rampant corruption. Moreover, the JKCA’s lackadaisical approach towards the development of women’s cricket results in the poor performance by the team at national tournaments.
Sakina Akhtar, the only qualified female cricket coach in the valley, says that there is no dearth of talent but what is lacking is proper support and an honest effort towards the development of the women’s game. “I have requested JKCA many times to organise a camp at least 15 days before domestic tournaments so that the team can practice and gel together. But it has never happened,” says Akhtar. Lots of funds are being pumped into development of women’s cricket but due to corruption in the department there is no visible development in women’s cricket in Kashmir.
Noor ul-Haq is a Kashmir-based journalist. He is the Associate Editor for the weekly newspaper, The Varmul Post and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @VarmulPost.