Some people create history, some make good stories and some become the story that inspires millions! As a child, Tamanna Nigam, the all-rounder from Bhopal, dressed as a boy to play cricket! This self-made and extremely focused 23-year-old lets her bat do all the talking, writes Anvesha Shah. Excerpts from the interview

Take us through your story, your childhood, your family and how cricket finally happened?

I am the single girl child in my family, but my father has never differentiated between a girl and a boy. He has always pampered me with everything that I have ever wanted, has always treated me like his son. So, I started playing with the boys in my society but they never really asked me to bat. They always asked me to field at the most because they thought; because I am a girl I may not be capable enough of playing with them. But I always made sure I give my best as a fielder because then they had to let me play because I fielded so well for them, they had no choice!

I do not even remember how much I have lied to play at numerous places! Today, when I recall those moments, it all makes me laugh. Every time I walk out with my mom, I literally show her the places and say ‘look, this is where I used to come and play when I lied’. My mom scolds me so much! I used to leave my home at 7 in the morning and return at 7 in the evening that is how much I used to play. I have never played with dolls! I always used to break them and throw them away when I used to get them. It was the bat and the ball I always craved for! I wanted better of it all and more of it always! There was no getting tired of them, they fascinate me since forever.

Was it always cricket, or did other sports fascinate you too?

I have always adopted cricket only but there was no cricket in my school for girls, I am from KV central school. I was really desperate to play cricket anyhow so I used to play with the boys in my school. I have also represented my school in nationals in Hand Ball and Volley Ball.

Tell us about how your professional journey began and from where?

I was 8 when I thought of playing cricket professionally. Actually, there was a guy named Harsh in my society so he always used to tease me that how can you even play and what you even know about cricket, you are a girl you cannot play. So he used to go to a cricket academy, so even I forced my dad to enroll me there anyhow because I wanted to play.

In that academy, no one knew that I was a girl. Everyone thought I was a boy because I had kept my hair short and even used to behave that way. Only my coach knew I was a girl and no one else. Even I never told anyone because then the same would happen, no one would have let me bat or bowl, they would have always asked me to field. I kept my name Rohit. The name is inspired by the movie “Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai”, it was Hrithik Roshan’s first movie in which his name was Rohit and that movie had released at that time and I loved it so the name came that way. I used to play in the team as a boy, I used to bat well so they took me in the team but none of them knew that I was a girl. So I can say that I began my professional career as a boy!

Eight years is a young age to decide a career for oneself. What was your family’s reaction towards that decision of yours?

My dad has always loved cricket. Even he did not really get a chance to play; in the society where they lived there was a group who never really included him in the team and I have a similar experience. He has always been a cricket fanatic. Our economic condition was not really good; we did not have enough money to purchase nets so my dad used to construct the net through mosquito nets and made me practise there. He used to bowl to me there, so that when I hit he does not have to run much to collect the ball.

He had to run and collect the ball himself but he still asked me to hit even harder, play more shots and keep hitting! It was my dad who instilled the love and obsession for cricket within me, so full credits to him!

Did your fellow teammates ever get to know about you being a girl? How did you deal with it then?

Yes! I think one year after I had joined the academy, there was this talent search program in Madhya Pradesh. So at that time I went and joined the girl’s line so all my friends started screaming from the other side “Idhar Aa, Woh ladkiyon ki line hai” (Come here, that line is for the girls). So I told them “Mera mann hai khade hone ka” (I want to stand there, I wish to be there). That time passed somehow because we were all kids so no one really paid much attention. Even the parents of other kids did not know that I was a girl!

When the list came out after the trials, everyone was saying that no one got selected and there is some girl from Bhopal named Tamanna who has got selected! And no one knew who that was! So then they realized that the boy they had been playing with was actually a girl!

They stared at me very badly with the emotion that “God! She was a girl and she was playing like this!” When you are small, you are always so excited about things, like when we used to play any match the feeling was like an ultimate World Cup! So their reaction was like “Damn! She was a girl and we had mistaken her for a boy all this while!” But then even they felt that she has really got something because she is making us win, playing well so she is capable!

What is the most noticeable difference that you have seen from the time you started playing to this very day in present?

When I started playing, the society could not accept a girl playing! Many people used to come to my dad and tell him why was he letting me play cricket, she is just wasting her time and even I was good at studies so my dad used to get calls from my school telling what is the most noticeable difference that you have seen from the time you started playing to this very day? She is good at her studies so why are you letting her play, it may shift her focus! That time people could not accept a girl playing, but today when I am playing at the professional level and playing well and even getting some recognition in Bhopal, people now think that this girl is doing what she has always wanted to do, she is living her dream! This social acceptance of people towards girls playing is the biggest difference that I have seen.

Women’s IPL must happen because it will simply take women’s cricket to a whole new level and the exposure it provides is brilliant!

Captaincy is a very crucial role in cricket. But off the field, how does it impact a player at their personal level?

Possessing the leadership qualities is very important. Let me put it this way, when you are not the captain and are just a player then you only think about your own game and how you would contribute for the team. But when you are the captain, you keep others before you; you keep your team and the other players before you and your own game. You want to bring out the best from each player and want to utilize your resources optimally!

Nutrition and fitness are very crucial aspects in the life of a sportsperson, what is your diet and workout routine?

The academy where I practise, my coach is extremely strict about fitness. Every single day we have our fitness sessions, and how important fitness really is, is truly reflected by Virat Kohli, it has taken his game to an altogether new level! Whatever my coach says has to be followed strictly, No sweets and no outside food at all and that has to be strictly followed. I do have cravings at times but otherwise, the diet has to be followed really strictly! Moreover, my coach is not someone who will ask you to run and would stand on the side himself. Even he runs with us, follows the diet and works out with us!

What is still missing in women’s cricket after all the changes be it good or bad since the time you started?

The ICC Women’s world cup came as a drastic change for women’s cricket and having played the finals, had we won the finals it would have been even a bigger change. Reaching there in itself is a great thing but we also must talk about the lack of appreciation for women’s cricket compared to the men’s cricket. Movies must be made on women’s cricket and I believe the cricketers should only play their role in these movies! Movies on legends like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami should be made. Today also, there are boys who know about women’s cricket but many girls who do not know that women also play cricket due to their lack of interest in the game and especially women’s cricket.

Also, coverage of women’s cricket must be increased. Women’s IPL must happen because it will simply take women’s cricket to a whole new level and the exposure it provides is brilliant!

What do you think will be your reaction when you get the feel of the Indian jersey?

I will ask my dad to wear it! And also one for my coach and only after that I will wear it. And honestly, I do not know what will happen when this will happen! All I know is the dream that kept me awake, I will be living it and that my hard work will pay off.

Picture Credit: Lakecity Brew

This Article Was First Published In Female Cricket

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