How has cricket fared after the coronavirus outbreak? Ask any Indian fan and they will tell you about the exciting IPL in 2020, the iconic Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and the ongoing home series against England.
But what about women's cricket?
A four-match 'tournament', which the BCCI President Sourav Ganguly calls the 'Women's IPL', and that is all. The Indian Women’s Cricket Team has not played a single match in the last 12 months, since reaching the final of the T20 World Cup in Australia last March.
However, the scenes are different in Jammu and Kashmir, where women cricketers have already played a couple of tournaments.
No, but don't mistake this initiative to be from the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) or other government-led sports bodies. It is instead Dr Roopali Slathia, a BCCI certified coach, and her club in Jammu, that have taken it upon themselves to not let young cricketers’ dreams die.
"As the re-opening process started after the long COVID-19 lockdown, all the grounds were packed with boys; everyone was very excited to get back on the field. So, it was really tough to find a place for women cricketers," she explained, when asked about the complications she faced in organising these tournaments.
After arranging the first event in a college playfield, Roopali was able to convince JKCA and J&K Sports Council to allow her to organise the second tournament in a standard ground at the newly-built MA Cricket Stadium.
“When you have only a few grounds, getting one for a women’s tournament is even harder. Thankfully, after some efforts, we were given this stadium,” she said.
However, it is not just the ground, organising a tournament for women is a complicated process with the complete lack of sponsors.
"To organise an event for girls is a challenge in itself like you don't get support from any sponsors or anything. But we have Royal Women’s Cricket Club, led by five to seven ex female cricketers, through which we arrange these tournaments on our own. This we do just to give players a platform to prepare for the higher level," Slathia, who captained J&K senior women's team for almost a decade, said.
At a time when even the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) hasn't been able to pull off many events for women cricketers due to COVID-19, how does Roopali and Co do it?
"After COVID, every person is afraid of going out and sitting in groups. Maintaining social distancing and all the other SOPs is tough, but we made sure to follow all the instructions strictly. During the first tournament, we asked each player to wear a mask and carry a sanitizer so that we don't catch up to any trouble. Similarly, in the second one as well, we are following the SOPs," Roopali answered.
The trouble was not just limited to getting the event on floors, it was equally challenging to convince players and their families due to the COVID-scare.
"When we decided to organise these events, many parents raised concerns. They were worried and asked how we would keep their children safe during these times. It became a huge problem as parents were hesitant to send their wards to the ground. But we assured them of taking every necessary step for the safety of players," the 37-year-old remarked.
So, how much have these tournaments benefitted the women cricketers of J&K?
While Roopali says, 'the players are really, really happy' to take part in these events, they say it will also help them do well in the national-level events, whenever they are organised.
"These tournaments by Roopali didi will help us a lot in the upcoming national events. Thanks to her, we are able to get some match practice," Nadia Choudhary, a senior J&K cricketer, said.
"We were stuck at home for almost a year, which impacted our technique. So, getting to play here really feels great," she added.
With JKCA and other sports bodies not doing much for women players, these tournaments are proving to be a blessing for them.
"It is a great initiative. Earlier, we were not getting these types of events to play, which troubled us during national events. So, these tournaments are very helpful to us. It also lets local players gain experience," said Tanisha Sharma, J&K U-23 team captain.
Not just experienced players, the young cricketers are also making most of these events.
"These initiatives are helping us gain the much-needed experience. By playing here, we can overcome the fear, which ultimately will make it easier in the national events," Ananya Sharma, an U-19 cricketer, said.
"Match practice is really important. It helps us identify the mistakes and correct them. Like if I get out, I look back and see what went wrong before going to play in any major event," she added.