Roopali Slathia, a physical education director and Level-2 (BCCI) cricket coach, is a well-known face in the cricketing circles of Jammu & Kashmir. A doctorate in philosophy, Slathia (34) recently co-authored a book on women’s cricket, titled Rising spell in Women’s Cricket. This Sachin Tendulkar fan has been playing cricket for more than a decade and now is guiding and inspiring budding cricketers as a coach. SheThePeople.TV spoke with Roopali. Some edited snippets from the interview.
What inspired you to take up cricket?
My father is a cricket lover and my sister a cricketer and sometimes I accompanied her to the ground. So, you can figure out the source of my passion, but it was the World Cup of 1996 that made me go for cricket.
You are a BCCI-certified woman cricket coach and a lecturer. How did these two worlds unite?
During the World Cup, 1996, especially the India vs Pakistan game, I realised my passion for the sport. At home, my brother and other boys from the locality would play with me. My family inspired me to take up cricket since my sister was already playing and like a fan, I’d watch her playing and enjoying on the field. I was good at batting.
After joining the stadium in Jammu, I got selected for the sub-junior national game. One year later, I played in all the formats (sub-junior, junior and senior). In my 15-year-long career, I got selected twice for the India camp, played a number of zonal matches both junior and senior group, captained the J&K team for almost for 10 years, played inter-college, inter-universities number of times. As my coach suggested me to do NIS in cricket, in 2006 I completed the course. In 2008, I completed level-A and in 2011 level-B at NCA Bangalore.
Roopali is the first woman cricket coach in J&K who has successfully completed the level-B course organised by BCCI in collaboration with Cricket Australia (CA).
When did you decide to become a coach?
After NIS, I started coaching, but played for my state till 2010. I stepped into professional coaching in 2011 and started working with Jammu & Kashmir cricket association. I got the assignment for zonal camps by the BCCI in the same year.
J&K is still adapting to the idea of women playing sports. And, your career started long before this revolution. How did you overcome the challenging times to choose and shine despite the societal constraints?
Yes, Jammu & Kashmir is known for its traditional values, it was never easy for a girl to move out alone with a cricket bat, but my father was always supporting and he allowed us to choose our own careers. So, I choose cricket.
Playing days were full of challenges. Our sports infrastructure was not that good and back then it was very difficult to make it to the zone team. If you managed that, then the next challenge was to be the part of playing 11. But passion for the sport and hard work helped me overcome all challenges and I have played for the north zone team many times.
When I started playing people didn’t know much about women’s cricket. It was difficult to get sponsors and it’s not easy even today.
Does the state have any academy where kids get training? How many girls are there?
Now we have a lot of academies, but when I started playing there were hardly two centres. Today, more than 100 girls are playing cricket, but that is only in Jammu and Srinagar districts. Other districts are still untouched.
What drives you towards the sport?
Cricket, for me, is oxygen. When I enter the cricket field my energy doubles. I am a hard-working person and with hard work and love for the sports, sooner or later you will get the result.
Cricket, for me, is oxygen. When I enter the cricket field my energy doubles.
How do you balance life? Work, family and profession?
To balance your family and profession you need the support of your family and I am blessed with a supporting mother-in-law. She motivates me a lot.
What has been your most touching moment?
When I was playing against the Indian Railways team in the inter-zonal tournament. On the first ball, I hit a boundary to current Indian team off-spinner of that time. That moment made me more confident and I improved my game a lot since then.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating all kind of sports?
As we all know India lacks in sports infrastructure. Actually, there is no uniformity among the states in sports infrastructure. Some states are having top-class facilities and states like Kashmir don’t even have a proper ground.
There is no uniformity among the states in sports infrastructure.
What is your core passion and long-term vision?
Well, my long-term vision is to be the part of our national team. But currently, I am concentrating on my state team as I want to help my girls with the knowledge and experience I have of cricket. I want my state team to play in the elite group, in BCCI tournaments.
What are the chances for girls from the state to take up cricket? Do they get as much exposure as they deserve?
In Kashmir, there is a lot of scope for girls. If authorities pay the required attention to women’s cricket, some of these girls can be a part of the national team. A proper programme needs to be framed for them.
How sports, in general, has liberated women in the area? Do women now seek to take up this professionally?
Today, women are choosing sports as a profession because it’s offering a safe future. They get fame and earn money and get respect. Sports promotes enjoyment, freedom of expression, interpersonal networks, new opportunities and an increase in self-esteem. It offers a wide range of opportunities for education and for the development of various essential life skills, such as communication, teamwork, leadership and negotiation.
Things have certainly improved for women but for women in sports, it’s far from equal.
Also there’s the issue of gender discrimination and male dominance which we women have to fight. Women’s sports don’t get media coverage and are generally ignored or given very less importance. Things have certainly improved for women but for women in sports, it’s far from equal.
Today opportunities are offered to female cricketers in the country. What does the future looks like for aspiring female cricketers in your state?
The future looks bright. With more and more girls taking up their passion our state’s future will definitely be bright. It’s inspiring to see young girls progressing with such confidence and rigour.
Before everything else, one should know their worth as an individual and as a professional.
What would be your advice to the aspiring girls?
Before everything else, one should know their worth as an individual and as a professional. Keep your head high and your standards higher. One of the most powerful tools for a woman’s career is confidence. Have passion and compassion. Trust your instincts. Embrace challenges and changes.