From lifting iron ore to practising on the field: Odisha tribal woman chases her cricket dreams

More than a thousand kilometres away in Odisha’s backward Keonjhar district, a 20-year-old tribal woman has been similarly chasing her cricket dream.

Early this week, 17-year-old Yashasvi Jaiswal from Mumbai hit the headlines after he scored a double century against Jharkhand in a Vijay Hazare Trophy match.

While working towards his cricketing goals, Jaiswal sold paani puri and fruits and slept on an empty stomach most of the times.

More than a thousand kilometres away in Odisha’s backward Keonjhar district, a 20-year-old tribal woman has been similarly chasing her cricket dream.

She does that as and when she gets time off from work.

Pinky Tirkey works at a railway siding in Bolani area of the mineral-rich Keonjhar district and also doubles up as a wicketkeeper and batswoman for Jharkhand’s Under-23 cricket team.

After her father Dhuchu Tirkey died two years ago, she has been working at the railway siding lifting iron ores and loading them onto railway carriages. As the only earning member of her family of seven siblings and mother, Tirkey says her struggle to keep playing and earning a living has been very tough.

She has to put at least eight to nine hours at work and then go to the field to practice for another three hours before going home to cook for her family.

“Every morning I have to work on railway sidings to support the family. Though I would love to in the morning and the evening, I can only practice in the evening,” Tirkey, who is the eldest sibling,” said.

“After working in the railway siding, I get tired quickly and it becomes difficult for me to keep playing for long hours,” she said.

Tirkey started playing cricket in 2012 when the state-run Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) started its Ladies Cricket Coaching Centre at its Bolani mines to encourage tribal girls to take part in sports.

Soon, she caught the attention of cricket coach Amarendra Mohanty and within the next two years, she was a part of the Jharkhand Under-19 team.

“She was among the seven to eight talented women sportspersons that we spotted. She was very good behind the stumps and an alert eye. Besides, she was a good batswoman too with expertise in square cuts and leg glances,” said Mohanty.

Tirkey tried for the Odisha team but was not selected in the trials after which Mohanty advised her to try her luck in Jharkhand, her ancestral place.

She was first selected for U-19 women’s cricket team of Jharkhand in 2014 and has been playing for the state team since then. So far, she has played 25 matches including inter-district and state-level tournaments.

She could practice a little longer when her father was alive, Tirkey said finds it difficult to devote more time to cricket after his demise.

“If I don’t work, my family will starve. As it is I don’t get work in the railway siding every day. I hardly earn Rs 2000-2500 a month which is barely enough to sustain my seven siblings and mother,” she said.

Tirkey’s coach Mohanty said her cricketing gears are provided by the ladies cricket club, but what she needs is a lot of nutritious food and long practice.

“Most of the days she would come straight away from the railway siding wearing grimy clothes and then start practice. She needs to focus on the game more and not lifting iron ore,” said Mohanty.

“She can easily make it to the Indian women’s cricket team if the government or some private company supports her. Despite her poverty, her desire to play cricket is very strong,” he added.

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