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Behind the Scenes at Cadbury Scholarship Trials: A Day with Pakistan’s Future Women Cricketers

On a bright, sunny morning last Sunday, the Phase-2 trials for the Cadbury Scholarship Program for women took place at the PCSIR cricket ground, right next to Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. When I arrived about 30 minutes before the official start time, the players were already warming up. Despite the scorching sun, my motivation remained high, as this day was dedicated to the future stars of Pakistan cricket.

Taking the weather into account, the Khelocricket team, the official organizers of the Cadbury Scholarship trials, had arranged a comfortable setup for families and fans to watch the trials. Numerous pedestal fans were installed around the seating area to keep the temperature pleasant. For the players, a variety of refreshments and a well-organized lunch were also provided.

Players from various parts of Lahore, as well as some from outside the city, arrived with their families, academy coaches, or cricket colleagues to participate in the trials. Even before the official activities began, the field was bustling with cricket-related activities. A father was giving throw-downs to his daughter, a few mothers were helping their kids with padding, and some coaches were offering last-minute advice to their bowlers.

Around 9 AM, with the arrival of the selectors—Mr. Faheem (a PCB Level 3 coach) and Sukhan Faiz (a former gold medalist and head coach of Multan)—the trials officially commenced.

The trials began with Anam Javed, a promising tall fast bowler, who delivered a series of speedy balls that left most batters struggling. With an energetic run-up and a passionate follow-through, she had the traits that excite any Pakistani cricket fan. For many, including myself, it was the first time witnessing her talent, prompting us to stand up and capture her clean bowling technique on our mobiles. Her high-arm action and consistent line and length caught everyone’s eye. Anam bowled her heart out throughout the day, continuously requesting the ball even when resting due to the heat.

As the day progressed, another aspiring cricketer, Areesha, caught everyone’s attention with her unique slingy action. Because of her short height and round-arm action, she consistently aimed for the batters’ toes, making it difficult for them to play. Among the fast bowlers, Amna, a young off-spinner, also stood out. She mesmerized the spectators and selectors alike with her sharp turn and clever variations, earning appreciative nods from the coaches.

Just at the stroke of lunch, a 10-year-old left-handed batter, Rabail Kanz, stepped up to bat. After observing her for a few deliveries, the selectors immediately advanced her to the next round. In a short period, Rabail displayed remarkable technique, playing close to her body and defending the balls with confidence. She remained steadfast in her approach, despite the selectors encouraging her to go for glory shots, preferring to play in her comfort zone where she felt most assured.

During the break, I had the chance to chat with Rabail. Despite her young age, Rabail has been playing cricket for the last five years and has already met many Pakistani international stars. The 10-year-old looks up to Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, and Bismah Maroof as her idols. She has been selected for the Pakistan U19 team twice but was removed from the squad due to her young age. Interestingly, she played the role of Bismah Maroof in one of Bismah’s documentaries.

While speaking with Rabail’s father, Rehman Chaudhary, a high court advocate and sports anchor at the Pakistan Sports Board, he revealed that both his daughters, Rabail and her younger sister, are playing cricket at the club level. He mentioned that, like Rabail, his younger daughter, who is 8 years old, has also been playing cricket for 2-3 years. He praised the management of Kinnaird College, Hina Azam (sports officer at Kinnaird College), and Mr. Nadeem (cricket coach at Kinnaird Cricket Club) for providing an excellent and safe environment for girls to play cricket.

“My aim is not only to become the number one international player for Pakistan but also to teach new generations how to play cricket,” says 10-year-old Rabail Kanz from Kinnaird Cricket Club.

Just before play resumed after lunch, I had the opportunity to speak with Mohammad Farooq, a member of Khelocricket, about the Cadbury and Khelocricket initiative for women’s cricket in Pakistan.

Mr. Farooq explained that the Phase-1 scholarship program included providing training kits, admission to various academies, and a six-month camp for the girls to hone their skills.

“Following the success of Phase-1, we have now initiated Phase-2. The response from the crowd was superb in all three cities—Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. This time, we have decided to expand the program to include trials in Faisalabad and Multan, in addition to the original three cities.”

Khelocricket is a digital cricket platform that organizes various cricket events and initiatives. For many years, they have been hosting a Ramadan night tape-ball tournament for girls in Karachi, with numerous Pakistan national players such as Muneeba Ali, Aroob Shah, Hafsa Khalid, and Fatima Sana participating in previous years. When asked about their plans to extend this initiative to other cities like Lahore, Mr. Farooq explained.

“Throughout the month of Ramadan, cricket activities are restricted, especially during fasting hours. Hence, it was Hadeel Obaid’s initiative, the creator of Khelocricket, to organize a safe and friendly environment night for girls to continue playing cricket during the month of Ramadan. We have been conducting this event in Karachi for many years, and our plan is to expand it to Lahore in the years to come”.

After moving to the other side of the nets, I met a father whose 14-year-old daughter had come from Okara for the trials. With educational documents in hand, he sat anxiously on the edge of his seat as his daughter padded up to bat. When I asked why he had brought the documents, he explained,

“My daughter plays with boys back in our hometown, and one of her cricketing colleagues shared the details about these trials. I had no idea what kind of trials these were or what the outcome would be. I just brought everything so my daughter wouldn’t miss out because we didn’t have a birth certificate or other necessary documents.”

As his daughter approached the batting crease, he started a video call and asked me to secure his mobile on my phone holder so her mother could watch her bat. The girl batted for 5-7 minutes, and although I tried to focus on her batting, I was more captivated by her father’s reactions and commentary on every shot she played. Her mother, watching the livestream, kept saying,

Look how well she plays. Stay in Lahore for 2-3 days and find a cricket academy to get her admitted

As the sun began to set, the selectors were nearing the final stages of completing the trials. The day had seen a diverse range of participants, from promising raw talents to seasoned club cricketers. Each individual showcased their skills and passion, collectively highlighting the depth of talent and the boundless potential within the cricketing community.

For every participant, the day marked a significant milestone. Regardless of whether they made the team, each player walked away with invaluable experience, lessons learned, and a deeper love for the game.

As the field gradually emptied and the day’s excitement gave way to quiet reflection, one thing was clear: cricket, with its blend of tradition, passion, and relentless pursuit of excellence, continued to inspire and unite individuals from all walks of life. As the last few players packed their gear and headed home, the echoes of the day’s events lingered in the air, a testament to the enduring spirit of cricket. For the selectors, the challenge of choosing from such a talented pool served as a reminder of the sport’s bright future.

About the Author: Bilal Saleem. An Engineer by profession and a cricket lover by passion.

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