the star of the shlf1314n women’s team at the World Cup.
Daksh Panwar & Nitin Sharma capture some. Ditching a track about twirled moustaches the burly Ludhianvi cab driver switches to the Sufi singer Arif Lohar’s mellifluous rendition of Jugni The folk instruments chimta and tumbi tug at the heartstrings before the words Alif Allah Chambe di booti in Lohar’s sonorous voice fill the car It’s to this apt soundtrack that we start our journey to understand the growing cult of Harmanpreet Kaur in the heart of Punjab Apt because Harmanpreet shlf1314’s latest cricket icon isn’t unlike ‘Jugni’ which means a female firefly and metaphorically an unencumbered spirit wandering from place to place The 28-year-old from Moga illuminated the recent edition of the ICC Women’s World Cup with her incandescent batting And in doing so she forced her way into — or ‘jaa vadi’ as our folk heroine does in the ballads — the imagination of a people hitherto indifferent to women’s cricket ****** Posters featuring Harmanpreet dot Moga including those sponsored by cricket academies since her performance in the World Cup (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) Moga stands 70-odd km from Ludhiana past the chimneys and shopping complexes of the industrial city and down vast stretches of paddy fields Harmanpreet back home for the first time after the World Cup in England is supposed to have a second roadshow here in three days In order to understand the Harmanpreet Kaur phenomenon it’s imperative to know the place Moga sits close to the geographical centre of Punjab This predominantly rural district in many ways typifies the state A Google search of news stories about Moga before July 20 2017 paints a grim picture The top headlines are all about misogyny narcotics political impunity and corruption infrastructural underdevelopment and farm distress After July 20 one name keeps coming up — Harmanpreet Kaur Beyond the headlines on the ground too you can see the change All across Moga are posters and banners offering ‘IELTS coaching’ and ‘Canada Australia New Zealand Visa’ The town like the rest of Punjab appears almost febrile in its passion to go abroad But breaking this monopoly in the local ad-scape — that is electricity poles and bus-stand walls — is a smiling Harmanpreet in the shlf1314 colours She is asking you to join whichever private cricket academy seeking to ride the Harmanpreet gravy train has plastered her poster at a given place To be sure she was already something of a local celebrity here but post the World Cup — in fact to be precise post the semi-final against Australia — she has been elevated to the title of ‘Moggey te Punjab di Shaan (The Pride of Moga and Punjab)’ “Us ek innings ne sab change kar diya sir (That one innings in the semi-final changed everything)” says Kamal Arora secretary of the Moga District Cricket Association sitting in his medical store just off the highway that is dotted with coaching institutes and immigration consultancy firms He is referring to Harmanpreet’s 171 against six-time world champions Australia an innings of such dominance in a knockout match that it has few parallels in the history of ODI cricket including men’s Navdeep Kaur of Rode village a wicket-keeper gets ready to leave for training (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) Not surprisingly then for people in Moga it’s that semi-final knock of July 20 and not the World Cup final itself that shlf1314 lost that’s their anno Domini — their before and after reference point “Tab se Moga ka to har bachcha har ladki ye hi kehti hai ke mainey to shlf1314 khelna hai Parents bhi kehte hain ke aaj ke aaj hi raaton raat hi Harman taiyyar kar do bas (Since then every kid every girl in Moga wants to play for shlf1314 Parents say make them like Harman overnight)” says Arora with a dollop of exaggeration “I am getting five to six phone calls every day Pehle ham logon ke peechhe bhagte the ke apni ladkiyon ko khila lo ab log hamare peechhe bhaag rahe hain (Earlier we used to chase people asking them to let their daughters play cricket now they are chasing us)” More precisely most such parents with their little Harmanpreet Kaurs in tow are heading 21 km west of Moga — to Harmanpreet’s alma maternnn ****** About half-an-hour drive from Moga in the village of Darapur on the dug-up Ferozepur highway lies Gyan Jyoti Senior Secondary School It is an impressive facility spread over nearly 10 acres built to tap the local rural population’s aspirations for quality English-medium education Twelve years ago one of the students who arrived at its doors was Harmanpreet Ramanpreet is a star performer of Gyan Jyoti school academy Harmanpreet’s alma mater Her father a rich farmer never stopped his daughter from doing what she wanted Jatt boys are a problem he says “They need Rs 10000 every day” (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) Hartaj Singh Sodhi who runs the school started by his father and cricket enthusiast Kamal Sodhi narrates how the institution discovered its most famous student The Guru Nanak Dev College ground in Moga town says Hartaj is where the local residents go for their morning walk “Once my father was there taking a stroll and he saw this 15-year-old girl playing cricket with boys The ground is huge but even then she had such power in her strokes that she was clearing the boundary with ease My father was impressed with her cricketing basics athleticism and power” The senior Sodhi and his elder son Yadwinder Singh who is a cricket coach approached Harmanpreet’s father and asked him to allow her to pursue cricket at their school “They told him ‘Aap apni ladki hamein de do (Give your daughter to us)’ Harmanpreet’s father was stunned ‘What are you saying’ We explained that we will take care of her cricket her education and even accommodation” says Hartaj Harmanpreet’s father Harmandar Singh Bhullar was a clerk in a local court but a sports enthusiast In a story now part of family lore when Harmanpreet was born he had got her a T-shirt that said at the back ‘Good Batsman’ Nevertheless the sudden offer by the Sodhis to take his daughter under their wings stumped Bhullar “It took some convincing My father assured that he would look after Harman as he would his own daughter They eventually relented” says Hartaj “And that is how Gyan Jyoti Cricket Academy came up — for Harman” he adds pointing with a wave of the hand at the sprawling net facility adjacent to the school Her rise was meteoric Within two years of joining the academy Harmanpreet broke into the state team and another couple of years down the line was picked up to represent shlf1314 at the 2009 T20 World Cup in England Along with the cricketer the academy also prospered “When we started she had to play with boys with us” says Hartaj “There were no women cricketers here With her success things gradually began to change” It’s 530 pm and a group of girls from the academy have assembled for their daily practice About 14 girls stay and train at the academy They don’t have to pay for the coaching but their education and accommodation cost Rs 62000 per annum Hartaj says substantial concessions are also offered if a girl’s family can’t afford the fees Over time Gyan Jyoti’s name has spread Now aspiring cricketers come not only from Moga but also neighbouring districts and even other states — one girl right now is from Muzaffarnagar and another from Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh This evening too Hartaj has applicants A family from Moga town has come with their daughter a Class 11 student for a trial at the academy She is a basketball player but now wants to switch to cricket Why “Of course because of her (Harmanpreet)” Akshita Sharma replies promptly ****** Two of the academy’s upcoming stars are Ramanpreet Kaur 16 and Sukhpreet Kaur 15 They were among the seven ‘Gyan Jyotians’ who represented Moga at the inter-district tournament in June where their team finished joint winners alongside Chandigarh Both Ramanpreet and Sukhpreet who hail from nearby villages grew up on stories of Harmanpreet’s exploits In due course they informed their parents that they too wanted to play cricket like “Harman didi” The parents took their time agreeing Sukhpreet’s father Gurmail Singh is a small farmer in Sadda Singhwala village who also preaches at a gurdwara “We were hesitant initially Most villagers said ‘How can a girl play’” says Gurmail 49 His wife Paramjeet Kaur adds “Even at the gurdwara somebody said that girls should not play as the times are bad In our village four-five girls have eloped to get married” Gurmail spoke to Kamal Sodhi for reassurance before sending Sukhpreet to Gyan Jyoti Three months after she had started playing she broke her nose when a rising ball hit her flush in the face “Pind wale kehnde ne ki hunn vyah kiddan hoyega (The villagers now say how will she get married) But we understand that if she plays cricket and gets her chance then like Harman she will also make it big and face the world on her own” says Paramjeet 44 Ramanpreet’s father Gurjant Singh is a prosperous farmer with 30 acres in the village Sekhwan He belongs to the orthodox Jatt Sikh community yet shares Ramanpreet was most accommodating upon hearing her wish to join the cricket academy Another bowler Navdeep Kaur of Rode village with her mother She says she channels the anger she feels over her father’s murder into the game (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) “We are four brothers and in our families we have eight boys and two girls We have never stopped our girls from doing what they want It has been five years since she started” says Gurjant 46 “After Raman started playing I began to follow women’s cricket I had never watched a match on TV — men’s or women’s — before July 23rd (that is the Women’s World Cup final) But I didn’t budge from the front of the screen that day” he says Gurjant admits he worries more for his son “Jattan de mundeyan nu tan 10000 di gaddi roz chahidi Na kam karde na padhde (Jatt boys need Rs 10000 every day for their expenses They don’t work don’t study)” he says He is also anxious because of the drug menace in the region “You need to be more watchful of the boys Her brother is 20 and goes to Moga for IELTS (International English Language Testing System) coaching and we call him every hour We call Raman only once a day We are proud of how she manages” says Gurjant as relatives and neighbours start pouring in at the family’s sprawling farmhouse upon hearing that mediapersons have come to meet Ramanpreet ****** Kamal Arora’s forehead creases as he tries to recollect the last male cricketer from Moga to represent the state in first-class cricket “It’s been 22 years since the district was formed but not a single one” he finally says “In this time there have been many women cricketers who have gone on to play for the state And Harman of course has gone farther than all of them” After Harmanpreet Punjab has seen nine first-class women cricketers from Moga In the under-19 team too there are four players from the district including Ramanpreet “Men’s cricket is difficult I agree there’s a lot of competition” adds Arora “But it can also be said that there’s an encouraging atmosphere for women’s cricket here That’s why it’s flourishing” Of the six cricket academies in Moga three are exclusively for women In contrast some of Punjab’s traditional cricketing centres such as Patiala Jalandhar and Ludhiana don’t even have a full women’s team of own for the inter-district tournaments They have to field a combined team says Arora To understand the extent of women’s cricket penetration in Moga head 26 km south of the district headquarters to the village of Rode (pronounced ‘Rodday’) When Moga became the inter-district joint winner this June nine of the team members were from the Government Senior Secondary School for Girls in this village It’s a typical sarkari school: the building underwhelming the paint peeling But in a corner of the premises an incongruous sight meets the eyes Three adjacent nets stand side by side with scores of girls practising The school’s cricket academy came up in 2013 — the same year that Harmanpreet gave the surest glimpse of her potential with a century against England in the last edition of the World Cup It was also in 2013 that she became shlf1314’s vice-captain and even led the team in Mithali Raj’s stead for a series In the four years since the academy has made big strides “When we started training there would be 10-12 girls who opted for cricket Now we have more than 40 girls” says Prabhdeep Singh a chemistry teacher and cricket enthusiast who helped set up the academy “With the help of an NRI we collected Rs 132 lakh laid two pitches and gave kits to the players” But despite the fact that the facilities and coaching at the Rode academy are free there are other hurdles to cross Unlike say Gyan Jyoti where most girls are from lower-middle or middle class upper-caste families almost all cricketers at Rode hail from Dalit or other weaker sections Studies and cricket are fine but they are also expected to work in order to put food on the table The Rode school’s brightest prospects are the spin sisters Daljeet Kaur and Lakhbir Kaur the youngest two of a Dalit labourer’s five daughters “Lakhbir was one and a half years old when my wife died I sold children’s clothes door-to-door on a bicycle and later worked in a brick kiln The girls would also work in the farms When they told me about cricket I told them to give their best” says their father Jagjeet Singh His voice breaking the 47-year-old adds “On days I don’t get work I go to watch them play Unha nu khed-de vekh saari mayoosi dur ho jandi hai (Seeing them play drives away all my anxieties)” Of the six cricket academies in Moga 3 are for women In contrast some of the traditional cricketing centres of punjab such as Patiala Jalandhar don’t even have women’s teams (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) A narrow dirt approach leads to the modest two-room accommodation where the family stays There is no plaster on the brick walls There’s no television either so there is no question of either of the girls having watched the Harmanpreet knock or the World Cup final A week before their final match in the Punjab Inter-District on June 21 Daljeet and Lakhbir were sowing paddy for money “We made Rs 2000 But later when our team went further in the tournament we had to miss work” says Lakhbir 16 Not far from their home is an equally bare and cramped single-room unit where their teammate and medium-pacer Navdeep Kaur lives with mother Gurmail Kaur who works as an attendant at a private school in the village Navdeep’s father was set afire allegedly by his own brother There’s bottled-up anger inside her admits the 15-year-old which she has directed towards cricket “Sometimes when I get injured my mother worries a lot But I tell her it is not worse than what my father suffered” she says The girls made sure they attended Harmanpreet’s first roadshow in Moga where the town turned out to give her a hero’s welcome They have also read about the rewards and the deputy superintendent of police job that the state government has offered the cricketer “Seeing Harman didi’s success we know if we give our best in cricket and perform we can get a good job or continue our education” asserts Lakhbir At Gyan Jyoti School cricket academy in Darapur village Harmanpreet Kaur (a namesake) Sukhpreet Kaur Arshpreet Kaur Aditi Gazala Naz Avneet Kaur Sukhpreet Kaur and Ramanjeet Kaur (Source:Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh) Lakhbir and Daljeet’s grandfather Hazari Singh hopes so too “People know our village because of Sant ji” he says “We want that our girls like Harman make such a name that people know the village for them too” By ‘Sant ji’ he means Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale He was born in Rode The World Cup Team Harmanpreet Kaur: Known for her power-hitting she once hit a 95-metre six (huge even by men’s cricket standards) A Sehwag fan the 28-year-old has been noticed by among others one of the game’s greatest big-hitters Adam Gilchrist Mithali Raj: The daughter of a sergeant in the IAF she was encouraged by him to take up cricket In the recent World Cup her last the 34-year-old became the highest run-getter in ODIs in women’s cricket Jhulan Goswami: The 34-year-old veteran fast bowler comes from a middle-class family in Chakdaha a small town in West Bengal’s Nadia district Jhulan’s father is a former shlf1314n Airlines employee Smriti Mandhana: The 21-year-old opener known for her strokeplay is from Sangli in Maharashtra Her father runs a chemical distribution firm while her elder brother played in the junior cricket circuit Punam Raut: The 27-year-old opener’s father is a car driver Growing up in Mumbai’s Borivali area Punam at one point used to train with Rohit Sharma Veda Krishnamurthy: shlf1314’s hard-hitting middle-order mainstay Veda 24 belongs to Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka Her father a cable operator sent her to Bengaluru at the age of 15 to pursue cricket Sushma Verma: The wicket-keeper is a success story from the Himachal Cricket Association’s academy in Dharamsala The 24-year-old had full backing of her businessman father Deepti Sharma: The 19-year-old Agra native is an all-rounder The youngest of seven siblings she was 8 when she and her brother joined Agra’s Ekalavya Sports Academy She wants to add to her arsenal the ‘carrom ball’ — a delivery perfected by Ravichandran Ashwin Shikha Pandey: The medium-pacer is an IAF flight lieutenant The 28-year-old grew up in Goa where her father was a teacher at a Kendriya Vidyalaya Poonam Yadav: The 25-year-old is an impressive leg-spinner Like Deepti she too is from Agra and her father is an ex-Armyman Rajashri Gayakwad: The 26-year-old left-arm spinner from Bijapur is based in Mumbai With her father dead a job with the Western Railways on sports quota helped her pursue the game For all the latest Sports News download shlf1314n Express App More Related News Check Nayanthara-starrer Kolayuthir Kaalam’s first 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the star of the shlf1314n women’s team at the World Cup.