Nilma Dole reflects on a lifetime of positive cricketing experiences in the most challenging of circumstances - from Sri Lanka to Peru and Cambodia - and how coaching in Sussex has helped the next step in her journey.
For a fleeting moment, when Sri Lanka won the ICC World Cup in 1996, the weapons of war were put down and everyone came together to play cricket.
At security checkpoints, military camps, and even on the streets of Colombo, Sri Lankans united through a sport that helped build bridges, join communities, and inspire the younger generation to make peace.
Since then, life has taken me on many adventures. But those images of cricket’s immense power in my country of birth have never left me. Today, my husband is the British ambassador to Cambodia. And, alongside him, I carry on my own mission: helping to build on the ICC’s gift of Associate membership to Cambodia by supporting schools to set up, coach, and train potential female cricketers who will ultimately make up the Cambodia Women’s national cricket team.
Cambodia suffered immensely under the dictatorship of Pol Pot, when the Khmer Rouge took away the lives of more than two million people. Cricket comes at a time when Cambodians need to heal the generational trauma that’s been prevalent in their community for years. If we succeed, it will uplift and empower the lives of Cambodian women as they grow, thrive, and shine on the international cricket stage.
My earliest involvement with cricket came after our family had escaped the Sri Lankan conflict by moving to the UAE. Watching a match at Sharjah International Cricket Stadium inspired me and I learned all the rules of the game, but I was never encouraged to play because I was told that ‘cricket is not a sport for a young lady’.
I returned to Sri Lanka as a teenager, working as a journalist despite government propaganda and freedom of speech restrictions preventing me from doing my job with integrity and safety.
But amid all the civil conflict and turmoil, cricket was always played and loved as a sport of peace. It always acted as a uniting force. In 2009, when peace came to Sri Lanka, cricket blossomed and Sri Lankan female cricketers also got the chance to make their mark.
In 2012, I married my husband. Two years later, we moved to Peru for our first diplomatic posting. I was homesick, I’d just given birth, and I was trying to fit into a country very different to my own. But once again, cricket came to my rescue – and I graduated from a fan to a professional player.
In 2015, I was honoured to get the opportunity to play for the Peru Women’s cricket team at the Women’s South American Cricket Championships (WSACs) in Chile. The following year, we won the bronze medal at the WSACs in Brazil.
Playing for Peru gave me the chance to learn Spanish, experience Latin American culture, and volunteer for charitable causes. Cricket opened doors for me. It was a guiding light during a difficult time, and it helped me connect with inspirational Peruvian women and girls who believed not only in me, but also themselves.
Today, I’m grateful to Sussex Cricket Club for giving me a bursary to qualify with my Level 1 cricket coaching qualification and thankful to the DSFA (Diplomatic Service Families Association) for supporting me financially through my Level 2 qualification.
I’ve had the opportunity to play for Brighton and Hove Cricket Club’s women’s teams, and coach there as well. I support and volunteer whenever I can, because it’s important to be a good role model for women and girls of colour. Promoting body positivity, self-esteem and confidence is important, especially with the mass influence of social media nowadays.
I like the fact you don’t need to be the most physically active player to play cricket. And, like me, I encourage more mothers to join too, because it helps them feel good about themselves through exercise and keeping fit.
I’m also happy to see long-lasting friendships thrive in cricket clubs when more diverse and disabled players join the team, making it an inclusive and supportive community.
I hope to see more female cricket players and coaches of colour, because they would bring in new skills, varied experience, and support to any club. Girls and women of colour need to see leaders like them to show they also can achieve their cricket dreams and represent their country.
Being one of the only British Ambassadors’ spouses of colour, my dream is to also see more diversity and inclusion of female cricket players of colour in the England Women’s team. And, who knows, we could even win the next cricket World Cup!
If you are interested in coaching then anyone can apply for a bursary. To get started check the details for a Coaching Bursary on your local County Cricket Board's website, or simply type 'County Cricket Coaching Bursary' plus the name of your local county into your web browser search.