Cricket Coach from Valley breaking stereotypes

Jammu and Kashmir News

Srinagar: Her dream of playing Cricket for the Country was suppressed by the conservative society and family pressure. Sakeena Akhtar did not give up her passion for the sport. For the past eight years, she has been coaching and guiding numerous students at Kashmir University.  

A team of young, budding and fearless local cricketers, mostly under the age of 25, are breaking stereotypes in Kashmir. The team under its coach and trainer, Sakeena, is proving that no dream is too big for the valley girls to fulfill. Although most of them are realistic about their prospects and, for now, are just glad to be able to get outdoors and play, they do hope to get into the game professionally.

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She is meticulous and dedicated and is ready to stretch their limits. She makes them practice hard and in turn it has helped to hone her own skills as a player. She dreams about fulfilling the abandoned dreams of young girls in valley.

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Right from when she was a little girl, there was something different about her. Unlike most girls who loved playing inside with their Barbie dolls, Akhtar was always looking for ways to get out of her home and play cricket. She loved running, catching and hitting the ball out of the park. Her journey as a cricketer was a very tough one simply because there was not much social acceptance for girls who wanted to pursue sports. She had to stand up to resistance from within the family as well as the community. Since many girls were not interested in the sport, so she had to play with boys, and that was never okay. But she never regretted her decision to stick to her belief. She believes one just needs strong willpower to overcome the hurdles.

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Her optimism helped her make way from playing gully cricket to establishing her name in the University and inter-zonal competitions. She has also played at the Rani Jhansi Trophy. She could have easily made a bid for playing in the big leagues but it was impossible for her to carry on with all the serious disapproval and everyday reprimands at home. She gave in eventually.

With the headstrong person that she was, Akhtar didn’t stay away from the game for too long. She decided to pursue a coaching diploma after her graduation. This was one of the ways she knew she could be connected to the sport for long. Coaching presented the perfect platform for her to pass on the expertise and her understanding of the game. She is the first ever qualified Woman Cricket Coach of the state.

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Being proud of the task that she has accomplished, Akhtar says that girls from different parts of Kashmir are now showing interest in the sport and are going ahead to represent the state in Zonal events. The winning attitude of the players comes from their teacher and mentor, who has spent years fighting the system and an orthodox society to bring sports to girls.

Although things are changing and people are becoming more accepting of girls taking to sports, Akhtar believes that more efforts need to be made in terms of providing them with better infrastructure, improved coaching and more match practice. More funding for the game at the state level is required.

She has pointed out the cause of their failure, as the girls don’t get much exposure at the local level and then they are directly promoted to the national level. That is the primary reason for their failure there.

Asra Shafi, 23, is a spirited player who hopes to play at the national level. She is ready to do what it takes to achieve her dream. Shafi had started playing when she was in school and her passion has only grown ever since she first picked up the bat. These days, as a mark of the changing times, many private schools have introduced sports as a compulsory activity for girls. In fact, parents like Arif Hussain, a government servant whose both daughters are in the school cricket team, are slowly getting comfortable with the idea of their girls taking to the track and field. And yet, they are not ready to see this as a viable career option.

Speaking for his lot, Hussain says that they don’t see sports as a good career choice for girls. What will it pay them in the future? There is no scope in cricket, especially for the girls in the Valley. At least not at the moment. Hussain may be referring to the reality today, but if Akhtar and her feisty students have their way then the future will definitely be very different. Howzat for hope!

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