Since making her national team debut in 2014, Kajal Shrestha has not looked back. As a young cricketer, she was belittled, discouraged and told to stay at home and help in house chores. But Shrestha, not listening to the naysayers, has established herself as an important member of the national women’s cricket team. She was declared the best batswoman in the recently concluded Women’s Champions League.
“For us girls, it’s not easy to get into cricket because it’s still considered the ‘men’s’ game. Especially here in Nepal, where everyone has an opinion of what you’re doing. But looking back, it’s safe to say that my journey which has been full of ups and downs has been absolutely worth it,” she says.
Shrestha grew up in Kakarbhitta, Jhapa. She never really thought of becoming a cricketer. As a child she played whatever sport there was with her friends. Sometimes it was football; she says she tried playing basketball and volleyball but when she started playing cricket at the age of 14, she found her true love.
“It just felt right. Talking part in inter-school tournaments, then representing Purbanchal (the eastern games) in the national games. The more I played, the more fun I had and the more love and respect I started having for the game.”
Shrestha played a lot of age-level cricket. She played in domestic U-15 and U-17 tournaments, but her first break came during a U-19 tournament in Kakarbhitta.
At the tournaments were national selectors looking for the next batch of female cricketers. Shrestha along with other cricketers had no idea that they were there and when she won the best batswoman’s time during the tournament, she was selected to join the camp from ACC Premier League in Thailand.
“It was surreal. No one knew that it was a selection tournament. I had played a lot of cricket but was never selected, but that tournament put me on the map. My hard work paid off but I knew that I had a lot to do to stamp my authority in the national team.”
Defying patriarchal odds
Up until then, no one had given her a chance. She says her grandparents were against her as were a lot of other members in her family. However, she says she did have support from her mother who urged her to play.
“My parents were pretty okay with me playing cricket. But it was others who had a problem. Relatives and others in the neighbourhood used to tell my parents that they should not let me play cricket. Some came up to me and told me I should stay at home and wash dishes and clothes. There was a lot of negativity around. But when I won the title during the U-19 tournament and got selected for the national team, people’s doubt started to disappear. That is when people started appreciating me.”
Shrestha’s first tournament for Nepal didn’t go as planned. Opening the innings against Thailand, she quickly knew that at that level there was no margin for error. Playing a rash shot, she got out quickly and Nepal lost to the hosts. But since then, she says she has learnt a lot and tried to make sure she doesn’t lose her head when batting.
Since her debut, Shrestha has been a regular in the team. She says that she idolises Sarah Taylor, who also plays as an opening batter and a wicketkeeper for England. However, Shrestha still yearns for a big score.
“I know that: to keep myself in the team, I have to score runs. I’ve been playing some rash shots and getting out but I’m slowly finding my form.”
Preparing for SAG
In front of her now is the South Asian Games taking place in Nepal in December. She says the entire team are upbeat for the tournament where their aim is to win a medal. Shrestha adds that the WCL has boosted the confidence of a lot of her teammates, all of whom want to do well.
“We want to do something this year in the SAG. I know it’s going to be tough as we’ll be taking on better teams, but I think if we carry on at the way we are, there is a chance we can do well in the tournament.”
For that, Shrestha says the team have been working hard in training from mid-September. She also says that the training camp helped her during the WCL. She says that the number of practise matches that she’s played has helped her a lot and says that there should be more camps and tournaments for women’s cricket to evolve.
“The number of balls I faced during the camp has helped me a lot. We need more camps and more tournaments. This year, the WCL was great. We need to have these tournaments for us to feel good and also play well in future.
When asked if she’s satisfied with her career so far, she says she is.
“I don’t see myself doing anything apart from cricket. I like what I do but there are times you do question yourself if this was all worth it,” she says.
“There is no fame. There’s hardly any money. Whenever I want something I have to ask parents which does not feel right. So there are times I wish I was doing something else but I have enjoyed my career so far. Sometimes I also regret not going to college, but I’ve given a lot to cricket, which is why I hope one day it’ll all pay off.”