In 2012, a 16-year-old R Kalpana, a prolific batter in age-group cricket for Andhra, considered quitting the game. Her father, an autorickshaw driver, wanted his daughter to “settle down” and made preparations for her wedding. For him, marriage was one way for Kalpana to avoid economic hardship.
When MSK Prasad, the former India wicketkeeper and Andhra’s then director of cricket, found out, he spent months convincing Kalpana’s parents that she could have a successful cricket career. In 2015, he proudly watched Kalpana receive her India cap from Mithali Raj.
But when Prasad moved on to become national selector, Kalpana lost her way. After seven ODIs and a handful of tour games, she was back to the domestic grind. With fewer opportunities to improve her game, she retired last year at the age of 25.
Today, Kalpana is determined to ensure that young girls coming through the ranks don’t suffer the same fate she did. She mentors young girls in Andhra, like Prasad did all those years ago. Among them is Shabnam Shakil, who at 15 will be one of the youngest players in the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) starting March 4.
Unlike Kalpana, Shabnam has a different story. Her ambition has been fuelled by hope of a brighter future for women’s cricket in India. Encouraging results on the international stage, increased exposure, and improved age-group structures has her excited. Her parents now want her to play and train more.
“My mother initially thought of putting me into dance, but it didn’t work out,” Shabnam says. “That is when my dad suggested I could try playing cricket, just like he did.”
In her first two days with her new franchise, Gujarat Giants, Shabnam has already learned different methods to cope with pressure, different batting techniques for turning surfaces, core exercises to improve pace, and the importance of biomechanics. She’s also been part of workshops about financial management designed to help young players manage money, and most importantly, she’s had access to top international talent in Rachael Haynes and Raj.”
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