The popular name is ‘Virat Kohli’. India’s cricketing icon has many fans here in Dungra Chhota.

It’s after 10 on a winter morning and the dozen or so young residents are engrossed in a game. The square patch of open land flanked by bright green corn fields will not strike you as a cricket field, but the cricket enthusiasts of this village in Banswara district know each and every yard of it, from the popping crease to the boundary line.

Everyone knows the most effective way of striking up a conversation with cricket fans is to ask about their favourite players. Here, it may be Virat Kohli to start with, but other names also get thrown up soon enough – Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Suryakumar Yadav, Mohammed Siraj…

Finally, 18-year-old Shivam Labana adds, “I like Smriti Mandhana.” The left-handed opening batter and ex-captain of the India Women T20 squad is one of the most popular cricketers in the country.

But she is not the only left-handed batter being discussed on this field, as we soon find out.

Among the gaggle of aspiring bowlers and batters – all boys – the single girl stands out. Just nine years old, Hitakshi Rahul Harkishi is fully kitted in white shoes and batting pads with thigh and elbow guards securely strapped onto her slight frame.

PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma
PHOTO • Priti David

Hitakshi Harkishi is a nine-year-old cricketer. She practices with other enthusiastic cricketers in this patch of open land flanked by bright green corn fields of Kushalgarh tehsil in Banswara district of Rajasthan

PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma

Not so keen on talking, Hitakshi is however more than willing to stand at the crease and demonstrate her game!

“I want to be a batsman. Mereko sabse acchi lagti hai batting [I love batting the most],” she tells PARI.  “ Main India ke liye khelna chahungi [I want to play for India],” she declares. Not so keen on talking, Hitakshi is however more than willing to stand at the crease and demonstrate her game. Walking up the hard pitch she hits a few season ball deliveries into the chain-link fencing that works as the net.

Hitakshi’s desire to play for India is supported by her father who is also her coach. She reels off her schedule: “After school I come home and sleep for an hour. Then I train from four to eight [in the evening].” On weekends and holidays like today, she also trains in the morning from around 7:30 a.m. to noon.

“We have been training continuously for around 14 months now. I also need to train along with her,” says her father, Rahul Harkishi speaking to PARI in January 2024. He is the owner of a vehicle garage in Dungra Bada, Banswara district of Rajasthan. Proud and confident of his daughter’s abilities he says, “ Shaandaar playing hai [She plays really well]. As a father I shouldn’t be strict with her but I have to be.”

Watch Hitakshi in action

' Shaandaar playing hai [She plays really well]' says her father, Rahul Harkishi once a cricketer himself and now Hitakshi's coach

Her parents also ensure a healthy diet for her. “We have eggs four times a week, and some meat too,” Rahul informs. “She also drinks two glasses of milk everyday as well as cucumber and carrots in salad.”

The effort shines through in Hitakshi’s play. She is used to practising with older players like Shivam Labana, 18, and Ashish Labana, 15, two boys from Dungra Chhota who have played at the district level. Both are bowlers and have been participating in tournaments for 4-5 years now including the Labana Premier League (LPL), where more than 60 teams from the Labana community compete against each other.

“Back when we first participated in the LPL, it was just us boys. We didn’t have Rahul bhaiyya [Hitakshi’s father] as coach then,” says Shivam. “I took five wickets in one of the matches.”

These days they also play for the Hitakshi Club set up by Rahul. “We are training her [Hitakshi],” Shivam adds. “We want her to debut in our team. Girls in our community don’t play [cricket] so we think it’s good that she is.”

PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma
PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma

Hitakshi also plays with 18-year-old bowler Shivam Labana (left). Ashish Labana (right) has played at the district level and trains with Rahul and Hitakshi

PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma

Hitakshi trains everyday after school, and on weekend mornings

Luckily for Hitakshi, her parents are dreaming differently as one of her young team mates says, “ Unka dream hai usko aage bhejenge [They have a dream of sending her ahead].”

Despite the popularity of the sport, families hesitate to let their children pursue cricket. Shivam mentions a 15-year-old teammate’s similar situation, “He’s played at the state level multiple times and wants to continue but is thinking of leaving. His family will probably send him to Kota.” Synonymous with coaching classes and higher education, Kota seems as divorced from cricket as anything can be.

Sheela Harkishi, Hitakshi’s mother, is a Hindi teacher to primary and secondary school students. She too is a big cricket fan, as everyone else in their family. “I know the name of every player in the Indian team and I recognise them all. Although I like Rohit Sharma the most,” she adds with a smile.

PHOTO • Swadesha Sharma
PHOTO • Priti David

Hitakshi's parents are very supportive. Rahul Harkishi (left) recalls his days as an amateur cricket player. When she’s not teaching primary and secondary school students, Sheela Harkishi (right) looks after the family’s vehicle garage

Other than her work as a teacher, she also manages the garage where we meet her. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of girls and boys from Rajasthan playing cricket. We have tried a little for our daughter and we will keep trying.”

For nine-year-year old Hitakshi there is still a long way to go but her parents are determined to “do everything necessary to make her a skilled cricketer.”

“I don’t know what the future holds,” says Rahul. “But as a father and as a good sportsman, I can say for sure that we will have her play for India.”
Swadesha Sharma

Swadesha Sharma is a researcher and Content Editor at the People's Archive of Rural India. She also works with volunteers to curate resources for the PARI Library.

Other stories by Swadesha Sharma
Editor : Priti David

Priti David is the Executive Editor of PARI. She writes on forests, Adivasis and livelihoods. Priti also leads the Education section of PARI and works with schools and colleges to bring rural issues into the classroom and curriculum.

Other stories by Priti David