Jintimani Kalita: Girl who refused to dress up makes Assam proud in WPL
Jintimani Kalita, the Mumbai Indians all-rounder, never wanted any jewellery or clothes in her childhood. All she wanted were plastic bats and balls.
As the Women’s Premier League (WPL) witnesses a top-of-the-table clash between Mumbai Indians (MI) and Delhi Capitals (DC) on Thursday, one family from a corner of the country not very closely associated with cricket will be settling down around their television in front of the giant Pokemon cutout and the jaapi (Assamese hat) that hangs on the wall.
Jintimani Kalita, 19, the only player from northeast India in the 2023 WPL, was not expected to be part of the action as women’s cricket in India got its day of reckoning. She was not even the keenest follower of the sport in her family - that was her brother, Prabal Kalita.
But it was always obvious Jintimani was a little different from other girls her age.
“When she was a child, I took her to markets, fairs; I wanted to dress her up, buy jewellery, dolls for her. But she never needed such things, she didn’t even have one percent interest in them. Her only interest was in plastic bats and balls in the shop - that is all my daughter has ever needed,” Jintimani’s mother Sewali Kalita told The Bridge.
The fast bowling all-rounder who missed out on a berth in the U19 World Cup was picked up by Mumbai Indians for Rs 10 Lakh, her base price at the auction. According to her family, the salary amount was never important. “She would be happy even if she was picked for Re 1,” they said.
But there was ample drama on the day of the auction on February 13. The Kalitas had given up all hope just before Jintimani’s name was called out as one of the three last names on the day. Even then, the TV screen flashed the photograph of another cricketer. The calls and messages soon started inundating the family, therefore removing all doubts and starting a new chapter when the girl of the house would become a high-earning member.
“Our financial condition is not very good. My husband is a fourth-grade employee in the Assam government. We have quite a few loans to repay, and hopefully we can get rid of some of the financial burden now,” Jintimani’s mother said about her daughter’s WPL pay cheque.
A rare cricketing spark from Assam
Jintimani has already made an impact in her first two matches in the WPL, throwing herself around in the outfield, living up to the all-rounder tag for Harmanpreet Kaur’s side.
What makes her exploits more special is that very few cricketers from Assam have made the big leagues.
Abu Nechim, the first male cricketer from Assam to play in the IPL, told The Bridge: “I am very happy with Jintimani’s success and also that she has gone to MI, which was also my first team. She will find many good coaches and facilities to help move forward.”
On what this means for Assam cricket, he said, “The cricket infrastructure here has improved a lot in recent years. Riyan Parag has performed well in recent years and there are many who are likely to break through into the IPL soon. I hope our wait to see an Assamese playing for the national team will also end soon.”
Jintimani’s rise is also symptomatic of the rise of Mangaldai, her home district. Former Assam women’s team captain Nirupama Boro was the only player from this district till a few years ago, but now five of the eleven players in Assam’s first team are from Mangaldai.
Mangaldai Sports Association treasurer Shambhu Nath Dev said the best part about Jintimani is her warrior’s mentality.
“Initially, when Jintimoni came to play we had no female players. Coach Dhruvajyoti trained her with the boys, letting her bat and bowl against them. She was never afraid, never hesitated,” he said.
Fighting for her cricketing dream
The whole of Assam is celebrating the 19-year-old Jintimani now, but not very long ago, there was nobody who believed in her. Not even her own family members.
“You know cricket kits are very expensive. Often, when Jintimani asked us for something, we couldn’t give it to her. I am sad that we could not support her in the way we should have,” said her mother.
One day, angry at Jintimani returning late from practice, her parents threw her bat away.
“In frustration, we told Jinti to choose some less expensive sport. But she was determined. She never asked us for anything other than cricket stuff. Her first bat was a gift from her bordeuta (father’s elder brother),” she said.
Jintimani’s mother said the only reason why she had not asked for cricket training was that she had no idea girls could also play cricket. She always dreamed of making her brother a cricketer and insisted that he be admitted to a coaching centre.
One day, she returned home from her brother’s coaching sessions to tell her parents that the coach had asked her if she wanted to play and to call her parents for a conversation.
Her parents were taken aback at the suggestion of Jintimani herself playing cricket, but at the insistence of her grandmother, she entered the field in flannels.
Soon after that, she turned out for the Assam senior women’s team, represented India B in the Under-19 Women’s One Day Challenger Trophy in 2021 and last year was among the top 25 players from the country invited to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru for a high-performance camp.
Under the watchful eyes of captain Harmanpreet and team mentor Jhulan Goswami, the 19-year-old has been an unlikely - yet integral - part of MI’s winning run in the WPL so far.