A Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
The modest journey began in 1982, with women cricketers undergoing rigorous training at Dhanmondi women’s sports complex in Dhaka. In the following year, the nondescript women cricketers from Bangladesh walked into the historic cricket ground at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
The Indian cricket enthusiasts, as well the local media, could not believe that women from Bangladesh would play cricket wearing protective gear in white trousers and shirts. The friendly match with the local all-women Indian cricket team was a soft launch. The crowd cheered in excitement as Bangladeshi women played at the 1864 cricket ground. While the tense organizers and team manager clenched their teeth, the players were active in the field.
Earning accolades, appreciation, and wide media attention, the team returned home accruing high buoyancy. They continued to practice at what is now known as the Sultana Kamal Sports Complex.
The debut of women’s cricket indeed made a small leap in Kolkata and Dhaka. Gradually, the women's cricket team began travelling from one cricket stadium to another. Despite the women’s efforts, it seems the appreciation and prestige earned for the country have not softened the minds of male-dominated cricket organizers and policymakers.
At the recent “Meyera O Pare” book launch event, cricket veterans of the 1970s and 80s spoke very highly of women cricketers, but also lamented that the government budget was meagre and insufficient for the development of the cricket team, or even to encourage other young talents to join the sport.
Author Monowar Anis Khan Minu, the opening batswoman of Eden Gardens, meticulously penned the history of the women cricket team in her book, written in Bangla. The book is adorned with rare pictures in both black and white and colour photos, giving due credit to all who contributed to the development of the cricket team, training and negotiating international matches. The book brings to life the struggle of women in cricket, the selection of cricketers, and the training and the formation of a national team.
Cricket has drawn a large number of young women, mostly from remote villages and the hills of Bangladesh. When the women’s squad smashed their Thai rivals and seized the championship in the Asian Games (2007), the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) began paying serious attention to the women’s cricket team in Bangladesh.
The emerging Women’s National Cricket Team has been the only team (besides India) to have won an Asia Cup Title. In 2019, they won gold in the South Asian Games. The Tigresses’ participation in one-day international (ODI) and twenty-20 cricket matches made Bangladesh’s footprint visible on the international cricket map.
On the sidelines of the event at Dhaka Club, the former women cricketers lamented the dark future of the Afghanistan women’s cricket team due to the misogynist Taliban’s invasion of the country in mid-August.
The team was first formed in 2010 but disbanded in 2014. Days before preparing to take part in the first 2011 ACC Women’s Twenty20 in Kuwait, the team was forced to pull out. Women’s participation in cricket faced bitter opposition from male chauvinist Afghans.
Nevertheless, at the end of 2020, the Afghanistan Cricket Board showed courage by taking steps to offer contracts to 25 women players to be in the national women’s cricket team of Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Cricket Board is now pessimistic, since the advance of Taliban authorities would block plans to keep a national women’s team.
Fortunately, the women’s national football team was safely rescued and flown to Australia. The women cricket players were grounded in Kabul. After the Taliban takeover, the militants said that they did not have a problem with the men’s cricket team. Obviously, women’s cricket in Afghanistan will be buried and forgotten.
First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 31 August 2021
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Twitter @saleemsamad