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Girls got game in cricket-crazy Bangladesh

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Girls got game in Bangladesh
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Girls are breaking down social barriers by starting to play cricket in Bangladesh
  • The sport has long been dominated by males in the cricket-crazy nation
  • Bangladesh's religious code has made it difficult for females to play the game
  • But despite a lack of coaching resources, girls' teams are starting to flourish

Chittagong, Bangladesh (CNN) -- In a dusty, unkempt field in the middle of Bangladesh's second-largest city, crowds of men and boys gather to watch their favorite sport.

But there is something most unusual about this sight, even in such a cricket-crazy nation.

On this particular field, the men and boys are the spectators and the girls are the ones wielding bats and bowling balls.

"I have never seen girls playing cricket anywhere in Bangladesh before," remarks a male watching on the sidelines.

That is because girls aren't normally given the chance to play. They are generally given less value in society than boys.

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"At first people asked: 'Why are girls playing cricket. It's a boys' game, this is a bad thing,' " 15-year-old Rohima Bibi Moni said.

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In the slum where she lives, the neighbors taunted her father, saying he was ruining their religiously-conservative society by allowing his girl to play. He almost gave in to their demands.

"Then I thought that I could not do anything in my life, so let my daughter do something," Moni's father Muhammad Sayed said.

Sayed is illiterate. He was never given the chance to go to school.

But instead of marrying his daughter off at the age of 14 -- the age his wife married him -- he allowed Moni to take classes in a school run by BRAC, Bangladesh's largest non-governmental organization.

He was impressed with his daughter's work and even learned a few things from her.

"I could not sign my name before, but I started learning from my daughter and now I can write my name and some others' names," Sayed said.

God willing someday I will be able to play on the national team. I will feel good when we see girls like us playing in the World Cup
--Rohima Bibi Moni
RELATED TOPICS
  • Cricket
  • Bangladesh
  • Asia

So a year and a half ago, when BRAC decided to start a girls' cricket team with funding from UNICEF, Moni convinced her parents and went from a shy teenager to the captain of her team.

"God willing someday I will be able to play on the national team," she said.

There are dozens of girls like her, and now there are enough teams in Bangladesh to have a national tournament. There is only enough money to hold a handful of formal training sessions from volunteer coaches, but the girls take what they can and work with it.

Coach Nurul Huda Khan beams when he remembers the hardships the girls have overcome.

"I am very proud! My team is not playing very well but we have been able to bring the team from so far with the help of BRAC. It's a miracle!"

But the proudest of all is Moni's father: "I am now happy she is learning and she is playing. I am delighted with this thing. People from all across Bangladesh watch her play -- she's our pride."

No matter if the girls' teams win or lose a match. Their supporters say they have already aced some life's biggest tests. With the 2011 Cricket World Cup being kicked off in Bangladesh, Moni has gained enough confidence and support to dream even bigger now.

"I will definitely feel good when we see girls like us playing in the World Cup."