Having grown up playing gully cricket with older boys in the lanes of Dharavi in Mumbai, here’s how Simran Shaikh made it to the inaugural season of the 2023 Women’s Premier League.
Growing up in Mumbai’s Dharavi, considered one of the world’s largest slums, Simran Shaikh spent all her childhood playing cricket in its lanes with boys older than her age.
From breaking window panes and windshields while playing, the 21-year-old went on to qualify for the playoffs of the inaugural season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023 — a women’s franchise cricket tournament in India. For her, years of sweating in gully cricket proved to be beneficial when she was selected to play for UP Warriorz along with 16 Indian and international players.
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In a conversation with The Better India, Simran says, “For many days, I could not believe I was selected for WPL; I was so excited. My family was equally amazed. When my father first saw me on TV, he could not believe his eyes. He kept smiling. Even neighbours whose window panes I would break as a child were so happy to see me play. They felt like their own daughter is playing.”
The WPL gave Simran the exposure to play with international cricketers — including Australia’s Grace Harris, England’s Laurell Bell, and South Africa’s Shabnim Ismail. And she says it also provided her with an ideal platform to showcase her skills and get an opportunity to be selected for the Indian women’s cricket team.
“It was my first experience playing with so many Indian and international cricketers. The experience was very good. WPL is a great opportunity for domestic cricketers like me. It can land us into the Indian women’s cricket team. Today, domestic cricketers aspire not only to get selected in the Indian team but also to get opportunities like WPL,” adds Simran who aspires to bat like her favourite cricketers Harmanpreet Kaur and Virat Kohli.
The journey from earning Rs 1,000 to Rs 10 lakh
Simran was raised in a slum shanty along with seven siblings by her father Jahid Ali, who was an electrician, and her mother Akhtari Bano, a homemaker. Unlike her siblings, she was obsessed with cricket and would step out of the home to play cricket with boys in her salwar kameez (a long tunic worn with baggy trousers). After her Class 10, she even dropped out of school to play street cricket.
“I knew nothing but cricket. Not everyone was supportive of my decision except my family. I have even been hurled verbal abuses for playing cricket. But I focused my energy to improve myself,” she says.
For a long time, she remained unaware of the growth of women’s cricket. “Since everyone would see men’s cricket matches, we did not know if women cricketers existed. I did not even know that I would be able to play with them someday,” she recalls.
On someone’s suggestion, Simran joined a local cricket club called United Cricketers Club and started playing domestic cricket at the age of 17.
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She does not recount the number of matches she has played but remembers financially supporting her family when her father had to quit his job because of health issues related to the heart.
“He and I are the only breadwinners in our family. At that time, we did not have enough money for his treatment. But I was able to save Rs 2 lakh by playing domestic [cricket] matches. I exhausted those savings on his treatment. There was no fixed pay for a match; I would sometimes get Rs 1,000. I knew we did not have enough resources, so I would save all my earnings,” she says.
Meanwhile, the WPL contract has earned her Rs 10 lakh. “It is a big amount but I have no plans on how to exhaust it. I want to focus on improving my skills first,” she adds.
This is just the beginning
Simran says that gully cricket helped her learn mainstream cricket fast.
“I have played several domestic matches for the Mumbai Cricket Association team. This has benefitted me a lot. Only Humaira Kazi (from Mumbai Indians) and I were selected for WPL from our club,” she adds.
In WPL, her team went on to finish third in the cricket tournament that concluded in the last week of March. They lost to Mumbai Indians by 72 runs in the eliminator round.
Simran is a right-hand batswoman, but she has been complimented for her fielding, immensely. She says, “My fielding was the best in my team. But I need to work on my batting and footwork.”
“During the tournament, I would mostly bat while standing upright, but a batter needs to focus on footwork also. Besides, other international players play with a free mind, but I was unable to focus as I felt pressured. I have started preparing myself for the next WPL. I am not a very big cricketer. I still need to learn technical know-how,” she says.
Rooted in her simplicity, the cricketer still plays gully cricket with her childhood friends sometimes while she aspires of joining the Indian women’s team soon.
Edited by Pranita Bhat