Srinagar: Keen to leave behind memories of a childhood, ridden with violence and uncertainty, Rubiya Sayeed dreams of becoming a successful international cricketer, who could bring glory to the nation.
Hailing from South Kashmir Anantnag district, Rubiya idolises Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. She led her side to victory in the under-19 women tournament, organised by Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA). She scored 48 runs and took six wickets in the final against neighbouring district of Pulwama to bag the Woman of the match award.
Although Kashmir's first all-girl rock-band was recently forced to call it quits by a religious decree issued by the Grand Mufti (chief priest), Rubiya is unfazed. She is aware of the criticism women face here, especially when they enter into a domain traditionally held by men but Rubiya says he prefers to ignore that.
"I do not pay attention to what anyone says. I just have to be focused and play my game," she said.
Asked about her dreams and she instantly said, "I want to become an international cricketer. M S Dhoni is my favourite player. His success story is great and he leads from the front. Someday, I want to become like him and achieve what he has."
"Playing in such a tournament is a great experience. The competition brings out the best in you and I think I played to the best of my capabilities," she said.
Rubiya, who single-handedly took her team to the finals by scoring an ubeaten 153 against Ganderbal team in the semi-finals, says she enjoys a "great support" at home and among friends.
"I have been supported always at home, by my friends and my coach," she said.
Rubiya may have enjoyed support at home and elsewhere, but not everyone is as lucky. Her opponent and team Pulwama captain, Bilkees Hassan, said her family feels "hesitant" in allowing her to play.
"There is not much support at home, though my friends have always supported me," she said.
Bilkees, whose team lost the final match, feels there is still "a long way to go" when it comes to having the women cricket come of age in the valley.
"I feel there is a long way to go. We have to come out of this mentality that it is the boys' sport. And then, we have to have such facilities which help us in honing our skills," she said.
Another exciting cricketer Fancy Jan, says parents need to encourage their daughters to take up the sport and support them right-through.
"There is talent, but there is fear as well. Families should support the girls and parents should encourage them," Fancy, who is a Yuvraj Singh fan, said, adding girls should also be allowed to follow their passion.
There was healthy support to the women's game as the girls battled out in the middle and the crowd swelled as the game went on. The skills on display might not be in the same league as the leading players of the country but the girls showed they were second to none in determination to prove their detractors wrong. They displayed the passion, the agility and were ready to jump, dive and hit, showing that along with their studies, they can take part in extra-curricular activities and prove their mettle.
The match was not just a game, it symbolised the aspirations, dreams and hopes of a generation that has been caged by unfavourable conditions.