Saskatchewan

For the first time in Sask., women have a cricket team

More than 20 women are regularly coming out to learn and practise cricket with the Titans Divas, a new cricket team for women in Saskatchewan.

The Titans Divas are ready to play

Khansa Irfan, 21, played for Kuwait's national women's cricket team from 2008 to 2013. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

A large group of women sporting matching, white Titans Divas shirts formed a circle near the green cricket pitch of Grassick Park in Regina.

They're talking, laughing, strapping on knee pads, putting on gloves and playing catch.

There's a nervous, excited energy reverberating from the ring — for the first time in Saskatchewan, women have the makings of their own cricket team.

Amily Aziz, Khansa Irfan and Hannah Kolodniski are all practising cricket with the Titans Divas. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

The meet-up earlier this week marks the fourth women's cricket session held this summer for the new faction of Titans Sports and Social Club.

The Titans Divas' slogan is "one team, one dream," and it fits. It's exactly what many of the more than 20 women from all over the world (there are members from Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere) have been waiting for.

Many of the women say they've been fans and spectators of the male-dominated sport since childhood, but haven't tried playing until now.

A 'gentleman's game'

There are more than 50 men's cricket teams in Saskatchewan, and the lack of access for women is not a localized issue. Across the globe, the game is fondly referred to as a "gentleman's game."

Amily Aziz, 17, loves cricket. She said growing up in Bangladesh she always wanted to play, but didn't get the chance until now. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Amily Aziz grew up in Bangladesh and remembers struggling to convince her female, childhood friends to play cricket with her on the streets.

"I just love it. It's one my favourite games," the 17-year-old said. "Especially in southeast Asia, everyone loves cricket."

Despite Aziz's passion for the pastime, she was never given the opportunity to play until recently.

Salman Kahn founded the Titans Sports & Social club in 2016. He said he is committed to helping build a women's cricket team in Regina. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Aziz recalled receiving a call from Salman Khan, founder of the Titans Sports and Social Club, and feeling a mixture of joy and hesitation when he mentioned getting women to play. At first, she said "no."

"I don't want to be alone," she recalled telling him. "He said, 'Don't worry: once you show up, then other girls will follow you.'"

Khan was right.

Women want to play

Aziz said at the first Titans Divas session a handful of her friends came to watch.

Now, there are more than 20 women on the pitch — so many that they have to take turns playing. Many more women are watching intently from the sidelines.

Many of the women have watched cricket for years but have not tried to play until now. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Khan started the Titans cricket group about a year ago. The group runs several community programs in Regina, including cricket practices for kids and teens, an Autism fundraising group, and social events. The women's team is the newest addition.

"The inequality that exists in the Saskatchewan system, cricket-wise ... we wanted to break that barrier."

Khan said he initially approached an established cricket group in Regina with the idea of a women's team and was "laughed at" because members were doubtful there'd be enough interest to fill a women's roster.

Arshi Shaikh is the president of the Titans Divas. At this point her role is mostly symbolic. However, she believes in the idea. 'This game is not just for boys; it's for girls, too,' she said. Here, Shaikh is pictured with her husband, Adeel, and children Alizah, 7 (far left), Arham, 5 (middle), and Altumash, 11. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

The fundraising alone can be challenging, but Khan, who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan nearly two decades ago, believed in the idea.

"I think the idea comes from being part of this wonderful country, or Saskatchewan, in general," he said. "I strongly believe that a mother is a child's first school. A mother, more than the father, has an active impact on how their kids lead their lives. Empowering them through sports today will lead to building better future generations."

Kuwait International Women's player back in action

Khansa Irfan was 12 when she got her first chance to play cricket. She remembers the day well: she was sitting in class at her school in Kuwait when the principal announced girls would be able to play cricket.

Irfan jumped at the opportunity.

"I am basically a Pakistani, so back home, everybody is crazy about cricket. My cousins, my brothers — everybody."

Irfan batting during a cricket match she played for Kuwait. (Khansa Irfan/Submitted to CBC)

Irfan said she'd grown up watching "gully" cricket matches (a street version of the game), so it was an easy sell for her. However, it was a different story when it came to her father.

"I clearly remember that when I told my parents about everything, my mother was very supportive of the idea but my father was very skeptical," she said.

After attending a formal meeting about cricket at Irfan's school, and with some persuasion from her mother, her father eventually came around.

Irfan is an all rounder, meaning she can bat and bowl. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Hard work and dedication at the cricket pitch paid off for Irfan and not long after that fateful day in class, she was selected to represent Kuwait in both the under-19 division and on the National Kuwait Women's Cricket team.

She played for the country from 2008 to 2013 as an opening batswoman and all rounder.

In the end, Irfan said her father became her biggest supporter.

"I think I was very fortunate to represent Kuwait in that time," she said. "It's something I remember and it set up the legacy for everyone there."

Titans Divas looking for players, support

Khan said he is committed to building a competitive female team through the club and the long-term goal is to eventually take the Titans Divas to inter-provincial cricket matches. Irfan and Aziz are on board, too.

A woman readies to bat. Anyone interested in learning more about the Titans Divas women's cricket sessions is asked to visit Reginatitans.com. (Madeline Kotzer, CBC News)

Aziz said she understands that women may want to join, but may also face obstacles.

"They're shameful. They don't want to play with the guys. The background, the culture, the religion is another huge thing," she said.

"So, I would say right now we're getting opportunity … You can join! I hope lots of girls will be interested."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madeline Kotzer

@MadelineKotzer

Madeline Kotzer is an award-winning Saskatchewan journalist and social media news editor/presenter for CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon.

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