She is one of the rare success stories in the woman cricket of the valley. She has defeated all the existing barriers-societal taboos and religious bindings- for a woman to fashion a career in sports in the valley, creating a niche for herself in cricket, otherwise considered to be men oriented game in this part of the world.
After having a decent track record as a player at the time when playing any sport for a women folk wasn’t an ideal scenario, Sakina Akhter went a notch up to become the first qualified coach in the valley. She has been imparting nuances of the game to her wards quite effectively to emerge as the face of women cricket in the valley.
In a candid conversation with Kashmir Reader Correspondent Khurram Rasool, Sakina shares her stairway to success and mantra to be a successful coach.
KR: You are a face of women cricket in the valley? How did you get into the sport?
Sakina Akhter: I started playing with the boy’s cricket team in my locality first up. I used to play cricket with boys when I was a student. It was there that I learned the nuances of the game.
There came a time when I had to stop playing cricket with boys. So, I joined my school cricket team and started participating in inter-school, district and state-level matches. In 1998, I played my first under-19 cricket match at Delhi where I was declared ‘Woman of the Series’ for my performance as the best bowler and the highest runner scorer.
Then, I joined Women’s College where I perfected my skills. After completing college, I went to Kashmir University for the higher studies. However, I quit University midway after completing first semester and went to Delhi to do a diploma in sports. I did Level ‘A’ coaching course from the BCCI in 2009. I was the only girl from Kashmir at the academy. The rest of them were all Ranji players (males).
KR: Life after completing prized Level ‘A’ coaching course?
Sakina Akhter: After completing the one year course, I came back to Kashmir where I started working with Sports Council Kashmir (SCK). During that period, I arranged many camps for youngsters. My first camp was at Polo Ground where around 250 boys from different schools of Kashmir valley participated.
Then in 2007, I got a contractual position at Kashmir University after which my appointment was confirmed. In addition, I have also acted as a cricket selector in Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association for 4 years.
KR: What prompted you to choose cricket as career option?
Sakina Akhter: The society that we live in has set very few selected chores meant for women. There is this notion in our society that women are not meant for specific things and therefore they must not even think to tread on such paths. I took this perception as a challenge and that is what inspired me the most. The fire that I had to prove people wrong that cricket is not women’s cup of tea played as the biggest impetus in my struggle.
KR: Presently you are a coach to both Men’s and Women’s cricket team at Kashmir University. How easy or difficult is it for you to train both the genders?
Sakina Akhter: Oh, it’s fun. I really enjoy it. There is absolutely nothing that makes me uncomfortable training boys. In fact, it’s all the more dynamic with boys because boys have more awareness about cricket. They are more informed and with them I also get to learn more. On the contrary, girls lack exposure due to which it is more of a one sided session. Nevertheless, I enjoy my work to the fullest with both boys and girls.
KR: You don’t come from the cricketing family. How difficult was it to convince parents in a bid to realise your cricketing dream?
Sakina Akhter: I live in downtown’s Munawarabad with my parents and five siblings. My father was a Government employee at Telecommunication department. I am the only one till now who has gone out of the conventional way. My brother used to play cricket but it was a mere hobby for him, nothing serious.
My uncles and aunties were always fuming around about my decision to choose cricket as career option. They reacted over the top which is very expected given the society that we live in. During the initial stages, when I was young my father would encourage me to play but he never wanted me to make it my profession. It took me five long years to convince him with Allah knows how many explanations. But today, my parents are the happiest. They are proud of me.
KR: Your first brush with success?
Sakina Akhter: The day I got my degree in major games from India’s renowned National Institute of Sports (NIS).
KR: Role-model, if any?
Sakina Akhter: No one. If you work hard, you don’t need role models. You become one for yourself.
KR: You must be a strong character to defy the existing barriers to create a niche in cricket for yourselves?
Myself. I have really worked hard to reach where I am today. It was a difficult task not that I did not have that in me. But to convince the people around of my capabilities was the difficult exercise. Had there been some other simple girl in my place, she would have quit to the compulsions. But I stood by my dreams. So would attribute whatever little success I have attained to my own self.
KR: How is Sakina Akter, the coach different from Sakina Akhter in person?
Sakina Akhter: No big difference as such. When it is practice time, I am strict. But otherwise, I like to remain myself. I enjoy socializing with my colleagues, boys and girls that I train.
KR: Your mantra to be good coach?
Sakina Akhter: A coach should be such that the team that he/she trains would look forward for another training session. I practice it personally. During the warm up and cooling down session, we crack jokes and all that stuff. But the two hours of practice, I make sure there is no indiscipline and everyone concentrates on the game.
Professionally it’s been easy. I know my work properly so why would I face any interruption. I believe if a person is technically sound, is master of his trade, he would not face any problems as such.
KR: Future plans?
Sakina Akhter: I completed my level ‘A’ coaching course from BCCI in 2009. Now I am looking forward to level ‘B’ of coaching that would enable me of becoming a ‘National’ coach.
KR: Gen-next girls are eager to make their mark in the sport. What would be your advice to them and their parents?
Sakina Akhter: To all the girls who wish to make their career in sports, my word would be ‘don’t let it go’. If it’s your dream, make sure you turn it into reality. I would like to request their parents not to judge their future on the basis of gender but on the basis on their passion. Kashmiri girls are extremely talented. They just need a bit of polishing and lot of family support and they are out there.