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In One Image Big-League Dreams By Atul Loke and Mujib Mashal

Maybe, just maybe, that was their future on the screen.

After a long day of school and cricket practice, two sisters in a Punjab village had their eyes glued on the pros.

India’s new Women’s Premier League was on, and Naina jotted down the highlights.

But nothing mattered more than one player, Harmanpreet Kaur. A village girl like them who had made it big.

The family trophy cabinet bore witness to the early triumphs of Naina and her sister, Sunaina, and hinted at possibility.

Their parents’ work clothes, worn down and fatigued like the wearers, spoke to the present. And to the long odds ahead.

Big-League Dreams

Atul Loke and

March 4, 2024

We met the two sisters in a small village a thousand miles away from where the main event was taking place.

India had just launched a new cricket league for women, drawing a whopping $500 million in private investments, and it felt like a big moment. A career in sports for young women was no longer just a pipe dream. Now there could be economic opportunity — even stardom.

Most of the players on the glamorous new stage came from modest, small-town backgrounds, like Harmanpreet Kaur, who had risen from a village in Punjab to the top of the game, persevering despite all the obstacles.

We wanted to know how it all looked to other young Indian girls with dreams.

So we traveled to the village of Dharoki, in Ms. Kaur’s home province, where we met a joyous bunch of young girls training under the mentorship of a police officer who had carved a corner of his family land into practice fields. Among them were Naina, 13, and her elder sister Sunaina, 14.

The Women’s Premier League has just begun its second season to much fanfare, but back then, in the spring, it was still new as we watched the girls run their two-mile warm-up loop around the village, go through their drills with plenty of giggles and then disappear on their bicycles into the dusk.

Only when we climbed rickety stairs one evening to the single-room home where this photograph was taken — the girls’ parents both work as sweepers — did we fully grasp just how much the new cricket league might mean.

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