Eighteen-year-old twin sisters take on the cricket fieldSwastika Bajgai is a province-level player and Sushmita is a district-level player. The twins are passionate, humble, and aspirational about their cricket journey.
As one enters the door of Bajgai home, an extensive wooden wall decor captivates the eyes of the beholder. But it isn’t the flat TV screen or the local architectural design of the wall decor that grabs the attention.
It is the golden hue of the wall that weaves a story through the certificates and medals that captivate.
Cricket. Champions. Tournaments. Best. Batswoman. Bowler.
A quick skim through the awards and one can see these words come to life as the award recipients – Swastika Bajgai and Sushmita Bajgai – share their cricket journey.
Born eighty-five minutes apart in Bheri Hospital, the twin sisters are cricket players.
Their cricket journey began in a 7-foot alley right beside their house.
In the sweltering heat of the Tarai, they began playing cricket as seven-year-olds with their elder cousins every evening.
Recalling the days when they first befriended the cricket ball, Sushmita says that they were always the fielders since no one wanted to run around catching the ball.
“They would only allow us to field. If we ever got to hold the bat – wooooaahhh – that would be such a huge thing for us!” says Sushmita, the elder twin.
Gradually as they made their way to the bat and ball, echoes of their skills made rounds among their friends and school administrators.
Within the culture of prioritising sports as an integral part of education in Nepalgunj, the entire system – including their parents, neighbours, friends and school administrations – collectively supported and encouraged the Bajgai sisters.
“Schools in Nepalgunj prioritise cricket. We don’t just focus on bookish education here, and that creates an environment where we can pursue our interests and get the mentorship we need,” shares Swastika, the younger twin.
Their official cricket journey began in grade nine, when they were recruited to represent Nepalgunj Model Academy, a secondary school where they appeared for their SEE examinations, in a local-level tournament.
The tournament they debuted for was the Deputy Mayor Cup Inter-School Girls Cricket Tournament 2018/19, where they played against other schools and colleges and led their team to victory.
“We became the first champions of our school! It was our first match and we won; that was so exciting,” excitedly the sisters share in unison.
Sushmita was awarded the ‘Best Batswoman’ award in the Deputy Mayor Cup.
Pointing towards a laminated rectangular frame that reads ‘Best Batswoman’ in bold letters on a golden background, Sushmita says, “I think out of all the awards that I have received thus far, I am very happy about that award. I would call it my biggest achievement.”
Their first victory became a tale of other victories to follow.
A year later, in grade ten, they led their school to another win in the Hissan Cup in 2019/20.
Post their SEE examinations, their remarkable sportsmanship was acknowledged and further encouraged by various colleges in Nepalgunj. The sisters were offered sports scholarships, promising them further athletic training and opportunities to participate in tournaments.
A year on, the Bajgai sisters took part in the Deputy Mayor Cup Inter-School Girls Cricket Tournament 2020/21 representing Holyland College and claimed the title of the champions, again.
Until then, the eighteen-year-old duo had always claimed their victories together – at both school and district level matches – ever since they began playing.
However, an accident on the field caused their paths to be separated and pushed them to take on their journeys individually.
A year ago, during practice sessions, as Sushmita leapt forward to catch the ball during fielding, she fractured her little finger. This accident took place right before the selection matches for the Prime Minister Cup 2020/21, because of which she had to forgo the opportunity.
From then on, Sushmita and Swastika had to take on their individual cricket journeys.
Swastika gave her best performance in the selection process in the PM Cup, paving her path as a province-level cricket player at the age of seventeen.
“The performance I gave in the PM Cup selection is perhaps my best one. I took five wickets from Dang, the opponent team, and that five-wicket haul is what I think made the selectors pick me for the tournament,” says Swastika.
Sushmita cheered on for her twin sister who represented Lumbini Province and made it to Kathmandu to compete in the PM Cup.
The twins are each others’ pillars, supporting one another through thick and thin. In the absence of the other, they didn’t enjoy their matches as much but ensured that they motivated one another, though virtually.
“We would always be on call and share what happened the entire day during our training if we were apart. We always talk about our gaming strategies and how we can perform better,” says Sushmita. “And that’s such a relief because we can rely on one another completely.”
The Bajgai twins, who are one another’s biggest confidantes, however, aren’t always the most compatible sisters. They laugh and share an instance when Sushmita had to consult a doctor after Swastika hit her.
“We were a little young back then. We were just sitting on the sofa and our younger brother asked me to get something, and I asked Sushmita to get it instead. We had a little argument back and forth, and suddenly hands were involved,” shares Swastika as she peeks at Sushmita and gives a sly smile.
A playful banter among the sisters became serious when Sushmita fell sick with fever after the incident and had a bruise on the bone of her neck.
Despite such occasional quarrels – some verbal, some physical – the twin sisters come together in their aspirations with cricket.
While age restrictions kept them from taking part in the Under-19 National Cricket Tournament, they aren’t deterred from pursuing further opportunities in the future.
Regardless, the humility and enthusiasm of the Bajgai sisters are an inspiration as they now actively share their skills with girls younger than them who are currently undergoing training for the U-19 cricket team.
Sushmita and Swastika carried the winning streak with them, but their victories aren’t solely theirs. Their victory belongs to their family, friends, coaches, school and college administrations and the Banke Cricket Association.
The support and encouragement they received from their school administration were crucial to their journey in cricket. Swastika says, “Our principal Bigyan Shah at Nepalgunj Model Academy wouldn’t care as much if it was boys’ matches, but he always made sure that he was present in the girls’ matches.”
To encourage young girls’ involvement in cricket, Shah also recruited a cricket coach for the school. The Bajgai sisters speak very highly of their coach Irfan Hussein who contributed significantly to their cricket journey.
Additionally, they also acknowledge the role that Banke Cricket Association has played in their exposure and access to opportunities in cricket.
“If the Banke Cricket Association doesn’t create tournaments, we won’t have places to demonstrate and sharpen our skills. If there were no opportunities for us to compete, we wouldn’t have been encouraged to play,” says Sushmita who is a district-level cricket player representing Banke district.
They also share that the association has been crucial for aspiring female players with financial difficulties as they are provided with material support – kits – to play.
“They support girls, and they understand our hardships. Many girls can’t afford to buy kits – such as helmets, batting gloves, batting leg pads – and the association allows them to borrow kits,” elaborates Swastika. “They uplift girls who can’t take part in games due to financial limitations.”
Amidst all the substructures provided by their society, the Bajgai sisters are extremely grateful to their parents for the foundation they have built for the girls.
“Daddy supports us a lot. As a sports enthusiast himself, he tries his best to reach every single location of our tournament – be it in Nepalgunj, Dhangadhi or Dang,” says Swastika, a province-level cricket player representing Lumbini Province. “During the lockdown, Daddy trained us in the empty plot behind us and Mummy would look at us from the terrace and cheer us on.”
“Daddy supports us physically and Mummy supports us emotionally,” added Sushmita.
However, they also share their mother’s worry for a future they seek in cricket. There are times when their mother gets frustrated with them and says, “yo dallo falera k huncha” (what’s going to happen if you throw this spherical mass), implying that there’s no future in the game.
Given the low pay and wanting opportunities, their mother sometimes wishes they didn’t seek a journey that doesn’t guarantee a stable and secure lifestyle.
Regardless, the Bajgai sisters humbly acknowledge that they have been privileged to have such understanding parents who support their dreams.
“We have seen our friends’ parents who are so hesitant to let their children go anywhere outside Nepalgunj and play. When we see the restrictions they face, we realise how fortunate we are,” says Sushmita.
The sisters hold ambitions as high as to enrol in Nepal Army as a second lieutenant after their grade twelve examinations. They aspire to be on the national team and represent Nepal internationally.
In this adrenaline-filled journey of theirs, they wish their friends could join them. They wish other young girls received the supportive environment they received in pursuing their aspirations.
“We wish all parents actually tried to understand their children’s desires,” says Sushmita. “Maybe then we would have many young girls as cricket players.”