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Cameroon’s teenage cricket star Maeva Douma takes women’s sport to greater heights

Maeva Douma, Cameroon’s teenage cricket champion. Image gotten from the Cameroon Cricket Federation, used with their permission.

Cameroon’s Maeva Douma, 16, made history in international cricket on Sept. 12, 2021 in Gaborone, Botswana, during the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s Twenty-20 (T-20) World Cup Africa qualifiers between her country and Uganda.

Douma brilliantly dismissed four Ugandan batters, setting a new cricket record during her first appearance on the world stage. This was the first time that Douma picked a ball in an international game and it is fair to say she made her mark taking five wickets against Uganda.

She employed a controversial but legal form of dismissal called Mankading, which has often divided the cricket world over the years. Named after legendary Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad, Mankading is a mode of dismissal, which comes into play when a batsman at the non-striker end leaves the crease before the ball leaves the bowler's hand. Though unpopular and controversial, Mankading is considered legal by international cricket standards. 

Douma is not only regarded as a huge part of her country's national team, but has become an inspiration for many youngsters back home. Her win has already brought the fledgling women's cricket sports in that country lying between West and Central Africa, to the global limelight.

“Captivated” by cricket

Douma’s national cricket team jersey is conspicuously placed at the centre of her room. It is fenced by those of her club with her preferred number 9 decorated on them. The presence of other sports equipment like a ball, bat, and helmet gives the picture of someone’s life that was born to play cricket. But that is not exactly the case.

When Douma was very young, it never occurred to her she was destined to play cricket and would go on to hold an international record at just 16. Born into a family of seven, her parents had enjoyed a memorable path in sport at her age. Douma's mother played handball and basketball, while her father practiced mixed martial arts. Seeing her parents practicing sports motivated her to accomplish what her parents could not achieve because of the lack of opportunities. After the death of her father in 2005, she seems to have inherited her parent’s gift and has begun to live up to the billing.

Douma, who made her first step in cricket just nine months ago when she was 15-year-old, lives in a neighbourhood of cricket enthusiasts. It is in this sort of environment that the rising star learned the trade from her elder brother who often sought her as a backup for his amateur team.

“I was captivated by the way people played cricket in the quarter [her neighbourhood] and I decided to play as well,” Douma told Global Voices in an interview. 

The cricket history-making moment

Even Douma was surprised by her accomplishment at the September game.

“At first I was really surprised but later became very proud of myself because I now hold an international record in cricket,” she said. “I owe this success to my coach and all those who inspired me to play cricket.”

Douma further stated: “I noticed that it was difficult to beat the striker. So, I decided to look for an alternative. I realised that at every moment I ran to throw the ball, the non-striker came out of her crease. And that's where I decided to dismiss them.”

Four Mankading in one innings does not come so easy. Once may have been a mistake. Twice could be sheer carelessness from the opposing team. But four Mankads require pace, precision, and energy. 

A brilliant combination of skills and audacity has earned Douma international attention, which she hopes will catapult her to a promising career. “I never believed I was able to run out batters like my role model [Chris Benjamin, a South African cricketer]. I think I can greatly excel in the sport and perhaps shine someday,” she said. 

But the cricket star still has eyes on her education. “I usually train after school and pick up my books. We usually train on weekends and occasionally during the week,” Douma told Global Voices.

Douma’s exploits made her the star of the team, her family, and neighbourhood. “It is my hope that Maeva benefits from appropriate mentorship that will help in practicing the sport more by the federation and other competent bodies. I hope her talent doesn’t die. At 16-year-old, she is just a kid and can go very far,” Djoh Christine Limoungue, Douma's mother told Global Voices. 

COVID-19 threatens Cameroon’s international debut

After several months of intense preparation, the women’s national cricket team of Cameroon set out for Botswana to take part in their maiden 2021 ICC Women’s T-20 World Cup Africa qualifiers.

It was the first international competition for the Cameroonian cricket team. However, their excitement heading for the 11-nation qualification tournament was crushed when one of their players  — the best of the selection — tested positive to COVID-19 upon arrival in Gaborone.

The entire team was placed in quarantine for five days. The scenario took a toll on their preparation, both physically and psychologically. Many of the players were very young and had traveled for the first time. 

Victor Agbor Nso, President of the Cameroon Cricket Federation, told Global Voices that “we didn’t have the normal training sessions that we had to. We had to leave isolation and quarantine to play without training, being stigmatized and traumatized. Despite the odds, we came into the tournament with our legendary fighting spirit and gave our best.”

It was not the kind of debut Cameroon had imagined from the outset. The team finished bottom of Group B where they had to face heavyweight nations like Namibia, Uganda and Nigeria. They lost all four games, but have focused on the positives of their participation. 

“It was a great experience full of ups and downs,” Nso said. “The preparation was done without government support. Our participation was not an easy one. We left Cameroon to Gaborone and luck did not shine on our side.” 

Despite the result, Cameroon was in the spotlight. The team realised the training they had received back home was one of the best despite the limited chances and resources they had available.

James Solefack, development officer and head coach of the men’s team, also emphasised in a chat with Global Voices that, “it was not easy for us to prepare the girls for that competition. At our small level, we teach the girls the rules. We don’t take things lightly around here. Our training is gradual. We teach them cricket from the base.”

He sees the chance for women's cricket to grow in Cameroon. “If chances are given to Cameroon to take time and prepare very well in the years to come we shall have a crop of well-trained and talented players for the country,” he said. 

How cricket is faring in Cameroon

Cameroon's female cricket team. Image gotten from the Cameroon Cricket Federation, used with their permission.

Cricket is regarded as a novel discipline to many in Cameroon but has greatly developed since it was introduced in the country more than a decade ago. Its popularity is growing, with more than 7,000 children drawn from the various ten regions now fervent practitioners of the discipline, according to Nso, the cricket federation president.

However, clubs from regions affected by the Anglophone crisis are unable to participate in competitions organized by the cricket federation due to the conflict.

“We have schools in Douala, Yaounde, the North West, and South West although the socio-political crisis has slowed work. These are the strongholds of cricket. We have athletes who can potentially match up with Maeva’s talent in the future,” Nso said. 

“We have gone through a lot of strides. When we started, people did not have confidence in us. We received criticisms. They said cricket can’t thrive in Cameroon,” he said. “And I told them, I’ve gone around the world, I’ve seen what other countries are doing. Today we are the new admiration of the world.” 

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