Southern Kashmir's Shopian district usually dominates the front pages of newspapers for reports about blasts, fire-fights and killings but this time around a good news is pouring in from the troubled place that has cheered up the residents of the entire region.
Jasia Akhtar (25), a resident of Braripora village, some 63 kms south of Srinagar, has made her foray into Women's T20 cricket.
On April 25, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) announced Women's T20 Challenge Squads for an upcoming tournament, seen as pre-cursor to women’s Indian Premier League (IPL), and Akhtar found her place in Trailblazer's team. The four match tri-series will be played between May 6 and 11 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.
"I am very happy. Getting selected here is no mean feat," says an exuberant Akhtar.
Akhtar says that she used to be an athlete and it happened during a school match at higher secondary level when she was introduced to cricket by an athletic coach. Ever since, it was no looking back for Jasia and she went on notching up one after another milestone in the sport.
After receiving coaching in Punjab, Akhtar was selected for North Zone in 2013, representing Punjab. In December 2018, Akhtar's cricketing career got elevated to next level after she was picked up for the senior women's challenge trophy.
For Akhtar, it was a shot in the arm. She said that the selection infused a new confidence in her.
Akhtar comes from a very humble background. Eldest of the five siblings, her family lives off the small farming land. Akhtar's father Ghulam Mohammad Wani says that despite grappling with financial troubles, he provided every possible help to her daughter to follow her cricketing passion.
"She also faced every difficult situation out on her own as there was all but no help from the government," Wani said.
Despite being born in a Kashmiri conservative society, where sports are largely considered as male domain, Akhtar's family never ever came in between her career.
"Her career was never stymied by our traditional societal beliefs. She also respects them in a reasonable way," says Suhail Ahmad, the brother of Akhtar.
A jubilant Touseef Ahmad, who resides only a few houses down Jasia's single-storied dwelling, said that the whole village was on cloud nine as soon as the word about Akhtar's selection spread.
"We are waiting eagerly for the moment when Jasia will hit the cricket pitch in Jaipur," Taouseef tells excitedly.