Agra: cricket

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Women’s cricket

Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav inspire others

Avijit Ghosh, Agra hotspot for women’s cricket, November 18, 2018: The Times of India

Avijit Ghosh, November 18, 2018: The Times of India

Deepti Sharma (left) and Poonam Yadav are now inspiring others to play cricket in Agra
From: Avijit Ghosh, Agra hotspot for women’s cricket, November 18, 2018: The Times of India

Now, girls line up to play cricket in the Taj town

Agra has turned into a hotspot for women’s cricket. Four cricketers from Agra — Tanu Kala, Kshama Singh, Anjali Singh and Rashi Kanojia — have played recently for the UP seniors T20 team.

Most aspirants come from middle and lower middle-class homes, says Kushwaha. Poonam’s father is a retired armyman who now teaches civics at a school. Deepti’s father is a retired railway employee. Agra now attracts girls from towns like Moradabad and Mainpuri. Nishi Kashyap is a 16-year-old wicket-keeper batsman from Moradabad. Her father is a driver in UP govt’s health department. Her family shells out Rs 8,000 a month for her PG accommodation, food and other expenses. “Agra offers facilities which we don’t have back home. It’s tough for them. But my family supports me. They just want me to succeed,” she says.

An important figure in the rise of women’s cricket in these parts was Mohd Ayub Khan Afghani, a disciplinarian coach who trained dozens of boys and girls at the city’s Eklavya Sports Complex for two decades before passing away some years back. “His contribution is immense. All of us – Preeti, Poonam, Deepti and me – were initially trained by Afghani sir,” Hemlata says.

Hemlata Kala, now the BCCI selection chairperson, remembers being told not to play with boys. Poonam’s mother says she used to stop her daughter from playing cricket. “I wanted her to study, do a job. I knew nothing about the game and would get scared when people said, why does she leave in the dark at 5am for practice? Poonam would reply: Have faith in me,” she says.

Coach Kushwaha says total commitment to the game is Poonam’s forte. “Even after returning from a foreign tour, she calls or texts me to practise the next day,” he says. Poonam now enjoys the BCCI’s Grade B (Rs 30 lakh) annual contract. A silver Baleno is parked outside her railway quarters, where her pet dog, Wi-Fi, scampers around.

Deepti also has a Grade B contract. Brother Sumit recalls how his sister first caught everyone’s eye. “Deepti was nine when I took her to Eklavya ground at her insistence. She was sitting outside the ground, watching us practise when the ball came towards her. She threw the ball back with an accuracy that surprised everyone. Hemlata ji saw the throw and told me, she has talent for cricket, let her play.” Now both Deepti and Poonam have the world to play for. Dozens of young women cricketers from Taj country are waiting their turn too.

Poonam Yadav is the world’s No. 2 T20 bowler. In the ongoing Women’s World T20 in the West Indies, the crafty leg-spinner was the joint highest wicket taker with six scalps after the first three group games.

Deepti Sharma is another India regular from the Taj town. A multi-tasker who can perform any part, Deepti’s two outstanding outfield catches helped snuff out formidable New Zealand in a key group game. The two were India’s highest wicket-takers — Deepti (12) and Poonam (11) — in the ODI World Cup in England last year.

The duo aren’t the pioneers though. This west UP town has produced other women cricketers such as Hemlata Kala and Preeti Dimri who have played for India. But now Agra is witnessing women’s cricket 2.0. At Thrive Cricket Academy, run by Poonam’s coach Manoj Kushwaha, the number of girl students has doubled since last year. Deepti’s brother Sumit Sharma’s Star Next Cricket Academy has seen a 50% growth in numbers. “The World Cup ODI matches were telecast live and widely watched. Deepti and Poonam became role models for many girls,” says Sumit.

The numbers are still rising. “As many as 135 girls turned up for a selection trial for U-19 and U-23 players this year. We were pleasantly surprised,” says Hemlata, now chairperson, BCCI women’s selection committee.

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