By: Pramod Thomas
CRICKETER Sonam Yadav could not afford sports shoes when she was younger but now the 15-year-old is set to play in India’s Women’s Premier League and says the money will transform life for her family.
Sonam was the youngest player drafted for the inaugural edition of the Twenty20 tournament when she joined Mumbai Indians at auction and took home a cheque for $12,000 (£9,920).
News of her signing sparked celebrations in her village, where blackouts are a daily occurrence and piped water only a recent arrival.
Her contract is dwarfed by the standards of the men’s Indian Premier League, but it is 100 times her father’s monthly wage from shift work at a glass factory.
“It’s very difficult to make ends meet with my father’s salary. We have to face a lot of money problems,” said Sonam, the youngest of six siblings.
“I have many dreams, I want to take my family out for dinner and give a big car to my father,” the left-arm spinner said.
Her family home on the outskirts of Firozabad, an hour’s drive from the Taj Mahal, sits next to a fetid open sewage drain and battles occasional intrusions from rodents and stray dogs.
The ramshackle home has peeling plaster and constant power cuts, but it is lit up by a row of glittering gold trophies and mementoes won by the household’s star bowler, who started playing cricket aged 10.
“We could not afford expensive cricket gear. She did not even have proper shoes and had to borrow a pair before going to trials for a tournament,” said father Mukesh Kumar, 53.
“I started working double shifts and my son dropped out of school and took up a private job to support her dreams.”
The WPL begins on Saturday and could transform women’s cricket globally in the same way that the lucrative IPL did the men’s game.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) auctioned off franchise rights for five inaugural teams in January for $572.5 million (£473m), while media rights for the first five seasons were sold for $116.7m (£96.5m).
The two deals made it the second most valuable women’s sporting league after the WNBA basketball in the US, according to media reports.
“The WPL will change the face of women’s cricket drastically,” said Sonam’s local coach Ravi Yadav, no relation to the young athlete.
“The BCCI has also introduced equal pay for men and women so it will also have a huge impact.”
‘She has a bright future ahead’
Ravi recalled the dedication that Sonam showed to her craft since the time she started playing cricket.
“Be it a Sunday or any other day, be it rain or shine, she never missed a practice session.
“She is very hard-working and disciplined. She has a bright future ahead.”
Sonam’s first brush with fame came when she travelled to South Africa in January to play in India’s Under-19 World Cup-winning side. Her family rented a television to watch her in action.
She was given a hero’s welcome on her return, with district officials lining up to congratulate her and fans waving Indian flags and setting off firecrackers.
“We felt very proud of her that day. Villagers used to look down upon us, but now they also take pride in her achievements,” said her father.
Sonam, a big fan of the Indian men’s team’s left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, hopes the WPL will be her stepping stone towards playing for India’s senior women’s side.
“I will get to learn a lot from playing alongside the seniors,” said Sonam, who counts chocolate and ice cream among her other interests.
“All I want is to play for the India seniors team one day and give a good life to my family.”