When Nooshin Al Khadeer, head coach of the victorious India U19 women's team, will return to her Karnataka home from South Africa, she will not find a child scraping off any defamatory graffiti. Neither will singers Krishna Beuraa and Salim Merchant hum ‘Maula mere le le meri jaan’ in her ears. Director Shimit Amin will definitely not be present in situ to shout ‘lights, camera, action!’
Certitude could be a luxury in India’s two biggest non-religious religions, that is, sports and movies, but chances are slim that the 41-year-old will star in a sequel of the popular Bollywood blockbuster which brought about the perfect amalgamation of these two realms – 'Chak De! India'.
Yet, perhaps it is only right that she does, for her story fits the bill perfectly. The norm is for art to imitate life, but in the unique case of Al Khadeer, life has imitated art. In the film, Shah Rukh Khan portrays Kabir Khan, a retired hockey player who once played a part in his team’s failure at a World Cup, only to redeem himself as a coach.
This, however, is not an IMDb synopsis masquerading as a story about a cricketer-turned-coach, so wherein lies the connection? Exactly in the plotline, for on 29 January in Potchefstroom, Al Khadeer emulated Kabir Khan with impeccable precision.
Act 1 – Unfulfilled Dreams
Back in 2005, two years before Khan’s film sparked a surge of female sporting development across the nation, the Indian women’s cricket team stood on the verge of history, inspiring millions in the process. Just one last step to make, one last hurdle to climb, one last problem to solve, and their names will be etched in books of history.
India were to play in the ICC Women’s World Cup final, for the first instance since the inception of the female team. Among many others, the nation relied heavily on its in-form off-spinner, Nooshin Al Khadeer.
Just in the last match – the semi-final against New Zealand – she played a crucial role in her team’s win by picking up three wickets, including that of the opposition’s skipper. The venue, as history and coincidence would have it, was Potchefstroom.
Congratulatory texts were prepared, celebrations were planned and the garlands were ready, except that none of those was ever required. In the final, India suffered a comprehensive 98-run defeat.
Their ace with the ball, Al Khadeer was the only Indian bowler to not pick up any wicket, despite having bowled over five overs.
Act 2 – To Dream Is To Live
Al Khadeer hung her boots up in 2012 – a year after the men’s team had just won their second World Cup title, whilst for the women’s team, it still remained an elusive dream. A dream, which for her, was too lucrative not to continue pursuing.
While curtains were called to her chapter as a coach, she began scripting a new chapter – this time as a coach. Noosh, as she was affectionately called by her teammates, embarked on her new inning with a five-year stint with the Hyderabad women’s team, before moving to Chhattisgarh, and then Indian railways – with whom she won a couple of titles.
The accolades made her enter the radar of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), but helping Supernovas to a Women’s T20 Challenge last year proved as the final corroboration that the board needed about her ability to steward a team at the big stage.
Right on cue, came the assignment of coaching the U-19 kids, who prepared for the then seemingly improbable mission of becoming world champions.
Act 3 – Living the Dream
Nearly two decades are her dreams of becoming a world champion were mercilessly quashed, Noosh redeemed herself. The role she played was different, and so was the competition. The tears of unadulterated agony from yesteryears were replaced with that of unbridled ecstasy.
What did not change over the course of 18 years, was her indomitable ambition of conquering the world.
Here she stood, with her vivacious bunch of students, as the champions of the ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup 2023. Here she stood, with the coruscating trophy in her hand, as the first Indian coach to lead a women’s team to an ICC trophy.
Reminiscing her journey whilst subsequently basking in the glory of the youngsters, she informed the broadcasters after the match “This is the feeling we have been waiting for, since very long. This is the first time we won the cup and it has come with the U19 kids. From the national anthem till the time we won, we had goosebumps.”
Titas Sadhu, the player of match, dedicated the win to her coach, saying “The first time BCCI took us under, it was in 2005 when Nooshin ma’am played in that World Cup, and we lost the finals. For us to win it and for her being our coach, it's really very special.”
Special, indeed, and perhaps, with a tinge of cinematic grandiose. For after what she achieved, and for her 18-year-long journey from heartbreak to hysteria at the rainbow nation, one should not be disparaged for shouting ‘Chak De! Nooshin’