Kashmir girl clean bowls hurdles

She hails from the trouble-torn Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, born in a family where a career in sports, that too for a girl, is unimaginable. But Iqra Rasool eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. Her simple but determined mantra: "Cricket ke liye main kuchh bhi kar sakti hun (I can do anything for cricket)".

By Ayan Paul
  • Published 8.08.17
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Aug. 7: She hails from the trouble-torn Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, born in a family where a career in sports, that too for a girl, is unimaginable. But Iqra Rasool eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. Her simple but determined mantra: "Cricket ke liye main kuchh bhi kar sakti hun (I can do anything for cricket)".

The 17-year-old pacer dared to leave her family and home and come to Calcutta in pursuit of her dream of donning Team India colours like her idol Jhulan Goswami. It was Jhulan who spotted Iqra at the trials for Aditya School of Sports.

"Iqra is a great talent. She is tall and strong. She can bowl really fast. More importantly, she is passionate about the game. I have heard from the coaches that she has improved a lot since I saw her. So I'm really hopeful about her," said Jhulan, a mentor at the sports school.

Now a Class XI student at Aditya Academy, Barasat, Iqra has been training at Aditya School of Sports, Nagerbazar, for the past three months. Her hard work bore fruit when she made it to the list of 30-odd kids who will fly to Australia for a training programme at Michael Clarke Academy in Sydney.

The journey so far hasn't exactly been smooth for the die-hard Virat Kohli fan. She had always been fond of the outdoors, dabbling in every game from football to volleyball and cricket to kho-kho at Government Girls High School at Dangiwacha in Baramulla, where she studied till Class X. Her mother was the only one in the family to encourage her.

The sports teacher at the school, Sarfaraz Nabi, realised Iqra's potential and convinced her to start playing cricket seriously. "Sir told me I should be a fast bowler since I'm tall and can throw the ball fast. So I started learning pace bowling under him and soon I fell in love with it. Cricket became my passion," said the girl, whose favourite pacer is Mohammad Amir. "I never miss any match of India and Pakistan since I love watching Kohli and Amir."

Behind the humble and soft-spoken exterior is a gritty girl ready to overcome any obstacle to reach her goal. "When I started playing cricket in 2013, I would only tell my mother when I went for matches. The rest of the family knew I was visiting relatives' homes, otherwise I had to fight for permission. I couldn't practise before the matches. I even had to wear a scarf or a cap to cover my hair," said Iqra, who has since chopped off her long tresses because the hair kept falling on her face when she bowled.

Family opposition notwithstanding, Iqra's talent soon came to the fore as she caught the attention of association coaches and was selected for the under-19 state team in 2014. She played zonal, district, state and national-level tournaments over the next three years. Her best spell was four wickets for seven runs in four overs against Telangana in a national-level tournament. "I played without much practice or professional training. Whatever I learnt, it was from Sarfaraz Sir in school," said the humble girl.

Once Iqra made it to the nationals, she made it clear to her family that she wanted to play cricket seriously and go to some other city where she could grow as a player. Her family initially didn't approve of the idea because of financial and social constraints.

That's when Aditya School of Sports changed Iqra's life. "When we were looking for some good talents for our sports school, we came to know about Iqra. We contacted her family and after a lot of effort managed to convince them to allow her to join our academy. She was brought here as part of the Aditya School of Sports scholarship programme. The way she has been improving as a bowler, I hope she will be on the national side in the near future," said Anirban Aditya, the chairman of Aditya Group.

Abdul Monayem, the bowling coach and head, cricket operations, at Aditya School of Sports, is certain Iqra will go a long way. "She is doing very well. When she first came here, I thought she would be homesick. But she loves the game very much. She is a quick learner. She is now bowling at 105kmph, which is quite good," said Monayem.

Iqra, whose birthday falls on Independence Day, misses her family but doesn't feel like returning home as she wants to concentrate on her game. "I had never thought I would get such facilities and coaches to chase my dream. I don't want to let this opportunity go." Iqra trains for almost eight hours thrice a week.

It's not been all play and no fun for Iqra. She has grown fond of Arsalan's Mutton Biryani though she misses the kebabs back home. Another hot favourite: chillis.

One place in Calcutta she had always wanted to visit is the Eden Gardens. "Since the moment I landed in Calcutta , I was eager to visit the stadium. I finally went there to watch a KKR vs RCB match and it was an awesome experience," she said, thrilled at watching her hero Kohli live in action.

Iqra's ultimate dream is to play for India at the Cape Town stadium in South Africa and bowl at a speed of 160km per hour. "Dreams do come true," she believes.

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