It is a dream for any bowler to get a wicket on the very first delivery in an international debut. Najila CMC aka Najila Noushad, a 19-year-old girl from Kerala’s Malappuram district, lived that dream on January 2 this year.
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It was the fourth T20 match between India Women Under-19 and South Africa Women Under-19 at the LC DE Villiers Oval, Pretoria. The South African girls were batting well against the Indian medium pacers, with Elandri Rensburg and Simone Lourens giving them a decent start before Elandri was dismissed.
Indian captain Shafali Varma handed the ball to her debutant off-spinner Najila after the seventh over. She was spot on from the word go.
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First deadly delivery
The first ball pitched outside the off stump, deceived batter Lourens by its flight and wicketkeeper Richa Ghosh did the rest. This was wicket number one for Najila. She followed it up with two more wickets, and ended up with a match figure of 3-0-4-3.
Najila, youngest of the three children of Noushad CMC, who runs a small-scale business of interlocking tiles, and Mumtaz KV, a homemaker of Tirur, was first into taekwondo in her primary school classes.
“She used to engage in mock combat with us at home after taekwondo training. For a 10-year-old, her punches and kicks felt extremely powerful to me,” her father Naushad told The Federal. This was how he realised his daughter’s sporting potential.
Despite being an athlete who participated in throw events during his school years, Naushad could not pursue his dreams. “Now I am helping my daughter accomplish what I was unable to do in my youth.”
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Najila started playing cricket after her brother, who was an athlete like his father. She used to follow him to the fields where he played cricket for neighbourhood clubs. “When a girl was playing with a group of boys, people at first looked at her strangely, but eventually they had to accept it as normal,” recounts Naushad. He is a father who believes that girls should not be caged in homes but left free to achieve their dreams.
“We have given her proper guidance on how to behave, and we have that trust in her, so I do not have any fear about her going all over the places,” says the proud father.
It was under-15 trials conducted by the Kerala Cricket Association that changed her life. She shifted her schooling to Wayanad in 2016 where she was enrolled in the Kerala Cricket Association’s Krishnagiri Girls Cricket Academy under the guidance of Justin Fernandez and Deepti T. She is now pursuing her bachelors in economics at St Mary’s College, Sulthan Bathery.
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Playing for the India U-19 team was truly a dream come true, according to Najila. “The only people in my neighbourhood who had any idea I would pursue my passion for this long were my parents. Everyone assumed that I would eventually give up the game, including some relatives. My parents have come under fire from many people for letting me play as a girl. Since I wasn’t present, they had to respond to all of the inquiries,” says Najila.
“Numerous people teased us as well; some even advised my Uppa (dad) to get me a blue shirt from a nearby store when he expressed his desire for me to wear the blue Indian jersey. That I could wear it without purchasing it from a local store makes me happy,” she says.
When the pandemic struck and the training facility was forced to close, it was the Marakkara Cricket Club of Kadampuzha that took her under its wing and offered support.
Says club president Raju Unni: “She was like a daughter for me. She played more than 35 practice matches with our men’s team during 2021-22 before she got the call from the India U19 team. She was competent enough to play with the older boys. Najila’s passion for cricket had not gone very well with the community initially. The family had to go through some hardships.”
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Her outstanding performance in the India Women U-19s tour of South Africa prior to the World Cup propelled her journey to the squad as a stand-by player. Najila played in two of the six games in the South Africa series, taking three wickets in her debut match and sending down a wicket-less but economic spell in the other.
“I tried to make use of the crease and change the angle and trajectory of the delivery according to the batter, and it worked. I bowled six overs with a lot of dot balls, and got three wickets which is great at any standards,” says Najila.
“South Africa tour was really fun. The interactions with the senior team members Shefali Varma and Richa Ghosh, along with others, helped me a lot. I have learned a thing or two in batting and bowling from them,” says Najila.
“At first, I was a little nervous, but in a day or two we all gelled well. Players like Shafali and Richa were very friendly and the mood was fantastic. During the practice session, we had the opportunity to meet Neeraj Chopra. ‘Chettan’ (Brother in Malayalam) was practicing near our ground and he came to meet us,” recounts Najila.
Even though she did not get a chance to play in the World Cup, the call up to the squad itself has been a confidence booster for her.
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Harmanpreet Kaur and Virat Kohli are Najila’s favourite Indian players.
“After the World Cup, we were invited to Ahmedabad for the India-New Zealand T20I match where we met Shubhman Gill and Hardik Pandya but could not meet Virat Kohli,” said Najila.
After a brief break, she will return to the Wayanad training facility with the Women’s Premier League (WPL) as her next goal. She is certain she will receive a call from a franchise because she has been shortlisted for the upcoming auction, among 246 Indians and 163 foreign players.
The WPL will be the right launching pad for a rural girl like her to make it big, with a senior national call.