Kiran Navgire: From parched hinterland to a potential watershed moment
Malshiras is a taluka in Solapur district of Maharashtra. Geographically, it’s a part of India’s rain-shadow area. Rain-shadow areas typically receive a minimal amount of rainfall in the monsoon season. Because the rain-carrying clouds have lost much of their moisture by the time the winds make it across the Western Ghats and very little of it falls on the Deccan Plateau. These areas do not receive a lot of rain during the retreating monsoon as well. The southeastern coast receives a lot of rainfall during the months of October and November, benefitting from the retreating monsoon, but the hinterlands remain dry.
Kiran Prabhu Navgire hails from this rain-shadow area of Maharashtra.
By now even casual fans of cricket are aware of her name. Her record-breaking run in the Women’s Senior T20 Trophy, where she scored 525 runs, made her the talk of the town and she found herself representing Team Velocity in the Women’s T20 Challenge. But, her journey from the rain-shadow areas of Maharashtra towards potentially one of the biggest stages in the world of cricket was not that easy.
Speaking to Women’s CricZone, the 27-year-old talked about how her father and coaches pushed her towards sports. “My father wanted someone from our family to join sports,” the Nagaland all-rounder said. “My brother tried his hand at football, but he couldn’t continue because of injury. Then my father said, ‘why don’t you try Kiran?’ And I gave it a shot. My father has taught me that even if I lose, I have to pick myself up.”
One of her life-changing moments came when she was representing her college in the local tournaments. “Once I was done with my graduation, it was difficult for my family to support me financially. So I applied for a BPEd course (Bachelor of Physical Education) in Ahmednagar. My life changed from that moment,” she said.
“Gulzar Shaikh from Azam Campus called me in his office and said you can continue with your education, but stay in Pune for cricket practice. I will help you with the hostel and campus. You are a good player. I said, ‘Sir, I am a girl from Solapur. I have taken admission there to study. What will I do with cricket? There is no future here. There is no career. How can I play’?” Back in 2017, all her questions were valid, but coach Shaikh had a plan.
“He (Shaikh) explained to me how women’s cricket works and then said, ‘I will give you 500 rupees for each match. What else do you want?’ I was delighted. I was getting free food, a hostel, whites, plus 500 bucks for every match. He also gave me a bat and I was extremely happy. So that’s how my cricket journey started in 2017.”
After a year, she made her List-A debut for Maharashtra against the mighty Indian Railways side. It was a baptism of fire as she was facing the likes of Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Ekta Bisht, and Poonam Yadav, the giants of Indian cricket in her first match for the state. But what followed was a glimpse of her talent.
“When I made my List A debut for Maharashtra against Railways, I was really nervous. But, it all went away once I went out to bat at six. Rajeshwari (Gayakwad) di was bowling and I hit her for a six which landed on the house outside the stadium. That was one amazing moment for me. Mithali (Raj) di and Smriti (Mandhana) di encouraged me after that match and I still remember their generosity even today.”
India needs more of Kiran Navgire.
Just like her hometown, Indian cricket is stuck in the rain-shadow area. There are limited opportunities for talented players in the domestic set up and once they miss out on those opportunities there are hardly any ways to get back in the game. India needs a Women’s IPL for those exact reasons. To keep players like Navgire in the system. To have a system ready that can then go and create a pool of players for generations to come.
“She is fantastic. I have been watching her play in the nets for the last couple of days,” South Africa’s Laura Wolvaardt said after top-scoring for Team Velocity in their victory in the second match of the Women’s T20 Challenge. “We did a power-hitting drill and she was hitting the biggest sixes I have ever seen. I was really looking forward to seeing what she was going to do in the game. She is really powerful and it’s exciting. But not so exciting for me as a South African if I have to play against her one day when she is playing for India.”
It is heartbreaking that a South African international has seen Navgire hit sixes in practice sessions before most Indians got the opportunity to witness Navgire in full flight.
Women’s T20 Challenge has to be a stepping stone for bigger and better opportunities for these players in India. Team Velocity’s coach Devieka Palshikaar has seen Navgire grow from strength to strength over the years and she was chuffed to see the girl from Solapur share the dressing room with international players from South Africa, Thailand, and England.
“It is good to see a girl from Solapur sharing a dressing room with girls from South Africa,” the proud coach said, interacting with the media after the match. “I have Kiran, Maya Sonawane is from Sinnar, and Aarti Kedar is from Ahmednagar, they have come from villages in Maharashtra and now they are with international players. The bonding they are having is amazing. I didn’t expect that. Despite the communication barrier, they are gelling well. I am happy for these players.”
“There is no future here. There is no career. How can I play this game?,” Navgire asked her coach in 2017. Five years later, that question is still there for many players and this is the golden opportunity to invest in the women’s game.
It is a known fact that Navgire is a massive fan of former Indian men’s captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He led the young Indian team to a victory in the T20 World Cup in 2007 and it became a watershed moment for world cricket. The Indian Premier League followed and 15 seasons later, its success is unparalleled.
The Women’s IPL will undoubtedly become the watershed moment for women’s cricket in India. And for what it’s worth, a player from the rainshadow areas of Maharashtra deserves to be a part of that watershed moment as early as possible.
With inputs from Ashwini Patil