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Women's Cricket

Team of domestic helpers challenges social order - their employers willing

A club of migrant Filipino live-in maids are blazing a record-breaking run in Hong Kong's cricket circuit, but they have much to deal with - last-minute ICC cancellations, faulty record-keeping and their employers.

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The SCC Divas team's exploits have won them a unique fan following in the last few years - a banner in their support seen at the 2019 Men's ODI World Cup in England

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 2022-01-09T15:23:50+05:30

"I need to end the interview now, my master is very strict," Josie Arimas says with a laugh as she prepares to return to work. Arimas is a former captain of the Philippines cricket team.

She is also one of 3 lakh permanent migrants who work as live-in maids in Hong Kong, sending money back home after working as all-in-one housekeepers, nannies, chefs and caretakers 12 hours a day, six days a week.

But Arimas has another role which is much closer to her heart.

She is the founder of SCC Divas, a cricket team of Filipino domestic helpers who have not only taken Hong Kong by storm but have also formed the backbone of the fledgling Philippines women's cricket team.

For two hours every Sunday, she is an ace sportsperson.

"When I play cricket, I can be more of my real self. I am more myself when playing or cheering for my teammates than I can be on all other six days of the week," Josie tells The Bridge over a telephone conversation.

SCC Divas have a big fan base among all of Hong Kong's domestic workers. Some 'fans' bring lunch for the players during their matches on Sunday.

Currently playing in the top division of Hong Kong women's cricket for the first time, SCC Divas won three consecutive developmental league (second-division) titles since their formation in 2017, an unprecedented feat which led to a sudden craze for cricket among women in the Philippines and subsequent ICC accreditation in 2019.

And yet, glory on the field has not translated into distinct fame.

Josie is now 53 years old but ESPNCricinfo – considered the one-stop reliable site for information on cricketers – records her age as 26. "It's actually double of that. I must be the oldest cricketer in the world," she tells The Bridge.

Josie's battles are not just limited to global record keepers, but she is keen to get the most out of the game.

"Being part of this club has done my own confidence and self-image a lot of good. If you have an employer who is interested, that helps in terms of time off to practise and watch cricket, so there is respect in that sense, but I have to say none of my employers ever came to the ground to actually watch me play," she said.

'More domestic helpers than cricketers'

Jennifer Alumbro is a breakthrough player in the team who tells The Bridge that she religiously watches videos of Smriti Mandhana and MS Dhoni to motivate herself whenever the children under her care fall asleep. Alumbro is the current captain of the SCC Divas team and the Philippines women's team.

A banner in support of SCC Divas at the 2019 Men's ODI World Cup

"Life has not changed for us because we are still domestic helpers more than we are cricketers. My employer is happy that I play cricket because he knows I am using my off day productively and not doing anything illegal," she adds.

This paves the way for the obvious disadvantage of the SSC Divas' 'official policy' of taking only domestic helpers as players. None of the players can manage any time off work during the regular week and only meet for training for two hours every Sunday - when Filipino workers from all over Hong Kong travel by trains to the 'India Club' cricket ground in Kowloon.

'Lifting the image of the domestic helper through cricket'

But training hassles aside, skipper Jennifer Alumbro feels that the social identity of the team is its backbone.

"When we enter the cricket field, the differences between us and them disappear. This is their country and we are just foreign helpers, but that is forgotten when we are on the field. We are lifting the image of the domestic helper," Alumbro says.

Alumbro was one of 30 players who Josie gathered for the SCC Divas team when it was formed in 2017. Marked as Josie's successor, she has led the Philippines' team when they made their WT20I debut against Indonesia in 2019.

The Filipino divas' dream run towards World Cup qualification was cut short last year when ICC decided to cancel the qualifiers due to the pandemic, but Alumbro is confident the day of reckoning is not far.

"Maybe it's not yet time for us. In another five years, we will be ready for the World Cup," she says.

"This was a big setback for Philippines women's cricket and I think it will be a few years before we can get back to competing at the international level," said Josie, who is now the mentor of the team, having captained the SCC Divas team for four years.

Josie still hopes the next two years offer her a chance to be on the opposite side of a toss to a Mithali Raj or a Meg Lanning - cricketers who for now she gets to watch on TV when her employers allow her.

"India is a cricket-mad country with a huge talent pool. I wish we had half of the talent that is in their World Cup team," she said.

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