The inaugural ACC U-19 Women’s Championship in Chiang Mai, Thailand marks a significant step in the development of women’s cricket. “Having girls start playing cricket while they’re still at school really sets them up for the senior level and at senior level all the countries taking part are focussed on the 2010 Asian Games. Any one of these girls could play in that event,” says Shubhangi Kulkarni, Chairperson of the ACC Women’s Committee.

“What this tournament does is give us a chance to assess these countries in preparation not just for the Asian Games but for their long-term development. They have all shown tremendous enthusiasm in getting to this stage, they themselves feel that starting with these girls now gives them the best chance to create quality cricketers at senior level,” says Ms. Kulkarni who played 19 Tests and 27 ODIs for India (including two World Cups) between 1976 and 1991, captaining them in three Tests.

Since the inaugural ACC Women’s Tournament last year, the non-Test playing nations have been devoting significant resources to women’s cricket. Particularly the Gulf nations. “Our daughters and nieces basically just got fed up of watching the men and boys play, “ says Murali Kotticode, father of Kuwait’s captain Priyada Murali; “now that Kuwait Cricket is making special facilities available, they have all jumped at the chance to show their ability.”

Iqbal Sikander helping things along in Kuwait

Teams have been in training for the past six months, some even for the whole year. “It started in January with the first training camp for all those who wanted to play,” says ACC Development Officer Iqbal Sikander, “others have followed and it is remarkable to see girls in these countries play cricket where before they did not.” Significantly, and in line with an increasing emphasis on development through indigenous participation, cricket at girls’ youth level has a much higher proportion of local players than at senior level. Thailand’s senior and U-19 team is 100% Thai, in contrast to the men’s (25%-33%).

Qatar’s coach Aruna de Silva drills his team


Iran – who’d have thought it possible?

Iran were in line to be the twelfth participating nation, but a ministry fiat on travel to Thailand following the unrest in Bangkok at the start of December scotched their presence in Chiang Mai at the last minute. “It is very disappointing because the girls in Iran had been working so hard for so long to play in the U-19 tournament.  That a country like Iran even allows women’s cricket is tremendously empowering to the women’s cause in general. Their women’s football team beat India recently so there was every chance they would have also shown some ability in cricket. In fact, all the reports I’ve received say that the girls had really worked hard. It’s one thing to practise, it’s another thing to play competitively and this tournament would have given the girls a chance to find out how good they are,” says Ms. Kulkarni.

Every coach spoken to has faith in their team, particularly their bowlers. What seems to please the coaches most is the attitude shown by their young lady charges. Thiti ‘Shan’ Kader, Thailand’s coach has been working with his players in a camp for the past six weeks: “They just get it. They want to do well, they want to have fun, they’re keen to impress in international competition.”  It’s the same for all the teams. The senior ACC Women’s tournament attracted considerable attention, these U-19s will undoubtedly receive more. For the ones who make it to the Asian Games, it all starts here.

Related: ACC U-19 Women’s Championship
Asian Games

Filed December 11, 2008