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The One Who Got Away – Dharavi Slum's Simran Shaikh is Slaying in WPL 2023

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

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Carrying an assemblage of ecstatic cricketers, all of whom had the UP Warriorz logo embossed on their shirts, the bus embarked on a southwards trip from Brabourne Stadium, on 20 March. There, the Warriorz had just edged past Gujarat Giants.

Not more than a few minutes later, the cavalcade stopped in front of a visibly opulent establishment – one of the numerous five-star hotels in the city of dreams. Here, Simran Shaikh will be staying till at least 24 March, as her team has qualified for the playoffs of the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) season.

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Albeit it has been her residence since the commencement of March, Simran might still, at times, feel the need to pinch herself, as a reminder that is not caught in a Nolan-esque dream-within-a-dream sequence. The reasons are perfectly justifiable.

Had the bus taken a detour and gone north from the Brabourne Stadium instead, it would have taken approximately 45 minutes to arrive at one of Asia’s largest slums – the melancholic enigma, that Dharavi is. Here, Simran, the 21-year-old cricketer who now is regarded as a promising talent, has spent all of her childhood and adolescence. 

Dharavi ke galiyon se shuruwaat kiya maine,” she informs The Quint during an exclusive chat, whilst being asked to share her journey. 

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

WPL 2023: Simran Shaikh grew up in the Dharavi slums.

(Photo: BCCI/Altered by The Quint)

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Growing Up as a Child of the Dharavi Slums

Embellished walls and embroidered curtains, ones which elicit a sense of privacy here at the hotel, were not the norm in Dharavi. Growing up alongside the numerous to-be John Does in the suburb that housed over a million inhabitants, she amalgamated in the group by doing what other kids of her age did – playing cricket.

“I loved cricket dearly since childhood and always wanted to play for India, but playing with only the boys of my locality, I had no clue about the existence of women’s cricket,” she tells us. The indelible bond was hence formed, and as it turned out, it was these kids who gave her the push to make it big.

Those kids made me aware of female cricket and encouraged me to pursue it. I used to play for hours at a stretch on roads, so my skills were already at a decent level, just that I lacked technical know-how. I joined this academy called the United Cricketers Club in Cross Maidan, where I learned every technical aspect of the game.
Simran Shaikh, UP Warriorz cricketer
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Further elaborating how gully cricket helped her become the player she is, Simran added “All those years of sweating in gully cricket proved to be really beneficial. When I joined the academy, the coaches came up to me and explained that I possessed the necessary talent, and just need to work on a few technical areas to be fully prepared for the big stages.”

Following months of rigorous training at Cross Maidan, she arrived in Shivaji Park for the trails of the Mumbai team. It did not take her long to impress the selectors, and since then, it has been pretty smooth sailing.

Or, has it?

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Eliminating Reluctancy by Convincing Parents

Though the desire of becoming a professional cricketer was implanted at a young age, Simran’s parents were not among the early crusaders in her endeavour.

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

WPL 2023: Simran's father works as a wireman.

(Photo: BCCI/Altered by The Quint)

Jahid Ali, earning a very modest income as a wireman, and Akhtari Bano, a housewife, were not particularly confident of Simran, one of their seven children, breaking the shackles of her neighbourhood to enter the top rungs of cricket.

“I had a very humble childhood in Dharavi, with my six siblings. My father works as a wireman – he is the only bread earner of the family beside me. They were not really convinced when I started playing, to be very honest. But as I started rising through the ranks, they eventually supported me in pursuing my dream,” honest and unfiltered, the batter informs us.

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The Auction Experience

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

WPL 2023: Simran recollects the anxious experience of watching the WPL auctions.

(Photo: BCCI/Altered by The Quint)

Decent returns for Mumbai made Simran confident of finding a team in the WPL auction, but yet again, Jahid Ali was not one to turn into a staunch optimist at the drop of a hat. Seeing renowned foreigners going unsold made him more apprehensive than ever before.

"We had our eyes fixed on the screen throughout the day, no one moved. I was quite confident about getting picked, but not everyone in my family was. Papa kaafi tension me they, he asked ‘itne bade bade players unsold ja rahe hain, tera kya hoga?’ I replied ‘Allah ne chaha to zaroor hoga," she said.

She further adds “Even today, I get goosebumps while reminiscing the auction day. It will always be one of the best days of my life.”

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Here in the UP Warriorz set-up, she is surrounded by stalwarts of women's cricket. It will be far from surprising for a 21-year-old to be fazed by all of this, but Simran explained why she isn’t.

"What is truly incredible is that they are such big names in international cricket and have achieved so much in their careers, yet, they are still so humble and grounded. You don’t get the feeling that you are playing with overseas stars," she says.

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

WPL 2023: Simran, in action alongside Australia's Tahlia McGrath.

(Photo: BCCI)

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Big Aims, Bigger House Picture

The WPL contract, which will earn her Rs 10 lakh, is a ticket more than anything else – an arrival ticket to the top echelons, and a departure ticket from the clutches of poverty.

WPL 2023: Hailing from the slums of Dharavi, Simran Shaikh now finds herself as a vital cog in the UP Warriorz team.

WPL 2023: Simran Shaikh has her sight set on the bigger picture.

(Photo: BCCI/Altered by The Quint)

‘Are you aiming to use the contract amount to purchase a new house and move out of Dharavi?’ we asked. Her aim, however, is very different.

Ghar khareedne ka nahin hain, plan to bas ek hi hain, ki India ke liye khelun. The WPL is a short tournament, but it is also a big platform, because performances in this tournament will get noticed. I want to use this to make it big. Baad me jab India ke liye khelenge, tab ghar lene ka sochenge,” she says.

The streets of Dharavi know her name. It is time for stadiums across the globe to do so.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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