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From streets, aiming for Lord’s- Before their big brothers, 16 children travel to London to savour Street Child Cricket World Cup

The four-year-long wait is almost over, as we look forward to the Cricket World Cup, to be held at the end of May 2019 in England and Wales. This year, however, the World Cup will be a bit more special, because, this time there will be not just one, but two World Cups…….

…….with inputs from Debopam Dutta

A mere one month and England will be set to host the 12th edition of the Cricket World Cup. The majestic Lord’s will be home for the Final, the fifth time in its 232 years of cricketing history. But before the deciding 14th of July, there will be 7th of May- a date for ‘another Final’ and that too of a Cricket World Cup.

Soni Khatoon
Photograph by Debopam Dutta

16-year old Soni Khatoon, a school dropout living in the EJC Durgapur Dock Junction of Kolkata, may play in that ‘another Final’ if things go down well with the India North team- one of the two Indian teams participating in the Street Child Cricket World Cup 2019. Taking place ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup, this initiative of Street Child United will bring together street-connected children from across the globe and give them the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with the incredible chance to play in a World Cup, the event will also provide the children with undivided global media attention, which may help in raising awareness of the stigma and hardships faced by these young souls. 

Ten gender-equal national teams, comprising street children, will represent their countries. Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Mauritius, Nepal, Tanzania will join India North and India South teams. On the pitch the teams will be competing against each other but off the pitch these young people will make their voices heard and make recommendations to help in improving the lives of street children worldwide. 

Each team consists of four boys and four girls in the age group of 14 to 17 years for six-a-side, 20-ball match. They will be given a hard tennis ball to play that is generally used by street children in their ‘Gully’ Cricket. Four organizations from India, working with street children, were chosen by the UK-based organization to act as initiators here. “They called for application from organizations working with street children for a certain period and also should be connected to a cause, like gender equality or equality of opportunities etc. From India, four organizations were chosen- Save The Children, Hope Foundation, Karunalaya and Magic Bus. Based on proximity and logistics, Save The Children from Delhi along with Hope Foundation from Kolkata made India North and Karunalaya from Chennai teamed up with Magic Bus from Mumbai to form India South,” informed Geeta Lama- Media Coordinator of Save The Children.

India North Team (From Left to Right)
Ayushman Choudhary, Jabir Ali, Md. Waris, Tarak Sardar, Anjali Paswan, Millie Singh, Soni Khatoon, Lucy Kumari
Photograph by Debopam Dutta

Ayushman Choudhary, Jabir Ali, Tarak Sardar, Anjali Paswan, Millie Singh, Md. Waris and Lucy Kumari along with Soni Khatoon have been chosen as players for India North. The young kids, all hailing from different slum areas in and around Kolkata, knew about Cricket but were completely unaware about the amazing opportunities that this game can provide. For All-Rounder Ayushman Choudhary, a school drop out at the age of seven, “With no school to go to, a big chunk of the day would basically be sitting around or playing in the streets. But now we are basically living and breathing Cricket all day.”

Photograph by Debopam Dutta

For some of the kids of India North, their ongoing training at the Aditya Barun Barman Academy (ABBA) is the first time they have even held a bat or a ball. But Cricket has changed many things for these children. All-Rounder Tarak Sardar maturely revealed, “Even if you know something, proper hard training will always change your outlook on the matter. Having been going through the rigorous training we are realizing that we are really getting better at the game. We all are now enjoying the exhausting everyday training and want it to continue for as long as possible.”   

With the news of the event spreading, these kids have turned into local superheroes, with all the other street kids looking up to them and wanting to be like them. People in their localities have also started valuing their skill and hardwork. One major change that has happened is in the families of the girls in the programme. The sarcastic comments with frowns all over were enough to demoralise the girls. But their determination and performance coupled with the fact that they will be playing in a World Cup have pushed back all reluctance. 15-year old Shama and Bhavani, who are a part of the contingent representing India South, have really come to the fore to encourage a lot of other girls to take up sports. 

Irfan, Mani, Shama and Bhavani

Both Shama and Bhavani live in Mankhurd, a large slum at the outskirts of Mumbai. Living under illegal temporary constructions, these two girls are proud not only to represent India, but also to become trendsetters among the girls in their community. They aim to change the concept that ‘girls cannot play’ by bringing in more female players once they come back from their programme.

Nagalakshmi, Monisha, Paulraj and Suryaprakash

Shama and Bhavani are joined by Irfan and Mani for India South team. It also comprises Paulraj, Nagalakshmi , Monisha and Suryaprakash from Chennai. Suryaprakash is a sixth-standard dropout who had been working as a child labourer for many years till he was rescued by Karunalaya. Similarly Nagalakshmi , an abandoned kid, also came under Karunalaya when she was referred to the organization by a government home. Each of these children, who has struggled enough for existence, is now determined to rudder their own ship to be in the mainstream with dignity and pride.

Jaydev Unadkat with some members of India North team

As the teams leave for Cambridge and London, the players remember the interactions with legendary players that acted as moral boosters for them. IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals invited Team India North players to Jaipur to visit one of their practice sessions. A session with Royal coaches was conducted for them, giving them valuable tips for the game as well as important life lessons. “Their spirit, drive and confidence is taking them to the hallowed turf of Lord’s and we are sure it is going to be an incredible experience for them. We, the Rajasthan Royals wish Team India North all the best,” said Ranjit Barthakur, Executive Chairman of Rajasthan Royals.

Sourav Ganguly interacting with the team

The young kids were further motivated when Sourav Ganguly and Mithali Raj were chosen as Goodwill Ambassadors for India team. Their support has added significant momentum to the cause and has strengthened the team’s spirit, focus, passion and commitment.  In a brief conversation with Rajesh Dani, one of the coaches of India North team, it was revealed that he was amazed by the young children. “The amount of improvement that he has seen from the kids is astounding. From having literally no knowledge of the game, to being ready to play in a World Cup, that too in a matter of a few months, is no mean feat,” added Dani.

The Lord’s

The initial matches will be played at Parker’s Piece, a municipal park in Cambridge, before the Final which will be held at Lord’s. Sir John Major, Street Child Cricket World Cup Patron said, “What better place to demonstrate our commitment to improving the circumstances of these young people than the world-famous cathedral of cricket, Lord’s.” Alongside the cricketing action, the young people will participate in a unique Model UN Congress for street children’s rights. It will be a real example of how the power of sport can contribute towards changing people’s lives  and help to inspire many others. So, legendary cricketer, Kumar Sangakara who is the Ambassador of Street Child United, happily pronounces, “That is why I’m supporting the Street Child Cricket World Cup in London 2019, using our shared passion for cricket to enable some of the world’s most disadvantaged and marginalised children to show their talents, make their voices heard and celebrate the potential of every child, no matter their background.”

 

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