Seventeen overs, nine ducks, and a team total of 2 – Nagaland’s innings in the ongoing BCCI Women’s Under-19 One-Day League and Knockout Tournament makes for one of the more incredible scorecards in cricket. Their opponents, Kerala Under-19s, needed only one legal delivery to win the game.
Even more remarkable was the manner of Nagaland’s collapse. The two runs they scored – one off the bat of opening batsman Menka and another in the form of a wide – came before the start of the sixth over, as they effectively went from 2 for 0 to 2 all out in 11.4 overs. Four of the five Kerala U-19 bowlers did not concede a run in the match, with Aleena Surendran being the only one to break that pattern. Minnu Mani picked up four wickets, including three in the 11th over for returns of 4-4-0-4. Some measure of this performance, however, can be attributed to lack of preparations, hampered by weather and the absence of facilities.
Nagaland coach Hokaito Zhimomi, who has played in the Ranji Trophy for Assam, told ESPNcricinfo that the team began training only in September but protracted rainfall in the state and the absence of any indoor facility limited their pre-tournament preparations to “only four-five sessions”, before the North-Eastern Championship began on November 1. Zhimomi himself took up the coaching job in September at the behest of the Nagaland Cricket Association.
This was the first time that Nagaland and five other north-eastern states of India – Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Sikkim – were cleared to participate in the BCCI’s Under-19 women’s tournament along with Bihar, through the addition of Under-19 North-East Championship, specifically for these states. Nagaland made it to the Super League stage after finishing second in the North-East Championship, behind Bihar.
Zhimomi also runs the only coaching academy for girls in the state, which was opened in July this year in Dimapur, and all nine students of the academy were included in the squad. Most players in the Nagaland team are 15- and 16-year-olds.
“The Nagaland Cricket Association was struggling to put a team together because we didn’t have any academy for girls,” he said. “We had to put out advertisements in the local newspapers, which is when the girls started coming to the academy. All of the nine students enrolled in the academy are part of this squad.”
“We had to start from scratch because all the girls are completely raw. In their first training session none of the girls knew what skills they specialize in. Yes, there have are a lot of loopholes to plug, but one needs to understand these girls have only started playing cricket.”
“Most of these girls will be taking part in the Under-16 tournament [that begins in December] and also the Under-23 competition as well.
Low scores and odd bowling stats have been a frequent occurrence in the tournament, including during the regional qualifying stages. In the North-Eastern Championship, a match Nagaland featured in, against Manipur, had 136 wides. Bihar, the other side to qualify for the Super League, were skittled for 21 runs by Bengal in a match in Jamshedpur on Friday. Before Friday, the lowest total in the tournament was 17 by Meghalaya, incidentally, against Nagaland.
Despite the big margins in their defeats, exposure to high-level cricket would only help the team improve, Zhimomi stated.
“Now the girls have got a sense of where they stand and where they need to improve. The mindset is bound to change. With limited resources and time, what this novice team has achieved is something all stakeholders in cricket – and not just women’s cricket – in the country need to appreciate. Having made the Super League, and facing teams like Mumbai and Kerala the team will aspire to think beyond Nagaland and the north-east. And, this is the biggest takeaway from our losses.”