MURIDKE: The streets of Karachi’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal were where Muneeba Ali used to play cricket with her cousins and friends. One morning back in 2011, she heard that the city cricket authorities were hunting for talent to build the city’s Under19 women’s team.
She decided to try her luck.
“I went to the camp at the National Stadium and after the selectors saw me batting, I was easily selected for one of the four U-19 Karachi district teams,” Muneeba recalls during a conversation with this reporter at the ongoing, month-long national women’s cricket camp at a private country club in Muridke.
Her performance in the Karachi inter-district matches made it even easier for the selectors to pick the quiet young woman to represent the city in the regional competitions and later for the Pakistan A team that toured Sri Lanka to play three ODIs and T20s in October as a left-arm middle-order batswoman.
Her skills with the bat and her consistent performance have twice won her a place in the 25-player national camp, but she has yet to reach the national team. “I don’t know if I will be selected for the upcoming [ICC Women’s] World Cup [being organised in India in March next year],” says the cricketer. “But I’m confident that our team is going to do pretty well.”
Like Muneeba, Pakistan’s women cricket has come a long way in the last 10 years after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) embraced the game in 2005.
“Women’s cricket is new to Pakistan compared with New Zealand, Australia and England,” says Ayesha Jalil, the national camp commandant. “Yet we have done well on the international circuit, twice winning the Asian Games since 2010 and also ODI and T20 matches against top teams.”
The ICC ranks Pakistan’s women cricket team at seventh position among the 10 teams. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Ireland are placed below Pakistan.
Mohtasham Rashid, the team’s coach for the past four years, agrees that Pakistan’s women’s cricket is not very competitive. “It is because the game was not organised until a few years ago,” he points out. “Girls don’t have access to dedicated cricket grounds; we don’t have facilities at schools; nor do we have women’s cricket clubs to nurture talent. On top of that, cultural issues and social values keep girls from playing games like cricket.”
He praises the PCB for taking several initiatives to organise domestic women’s cricket. “This camp, of such a long duration, is one of those initiatives,” he says. “Before we started this camp, I used to coach the girls alone. Now I have a specialist batting and a bowling coach to help me.”
Manzoor Elahi, who has recently been hired by the PCB to work as a batting consultant at the national camp, shares similar views. “Pakistan’s women’s cricket was in disarray until the PCB started investing in it.”
Recently, the PCB launched aggressive initiatives to organise women’s cricket at the grass-roots level, focusing on expanding the talent pool through development of regional and national U-17 and U-19 teams to feed the Pakistan A and national teams, as well as to bridge the skill gap by exposing them to international cricket. Four out of 25 young women at the Muridke camp have been selected on the basis of their performance during the last Sri Lankan tour of the Pakistan A team.
The PCB website says the board annually spends approximately Rs110 million for the promotion and development of the game (at both the domestic and international levels) and has developed three exclusive practice facilities, which are in accordance with international standards, in Multan, Peshawar and Quetta.
Although the board currently has 22 girls on its central contract list and players are entitled to match fees as well for both ODI and T20 games, the amount of money women cricketers get is said to be meagre. A PCB official privately told Dawn that women’s cricket is generally considered by the board as a burden on its resources because it is not generating income.
“Financial security is important for female players; it gives them confidence,” says Sana Mir, the national team captain who is the only girl on it from the 2005 squad. “However, things will improve with time. We were offered our first contracts by the PCB after we brought in the gold medal in the 2010 Asian Games, and got a big raise last year.”
Sana believes that public and official attitude towards women’s cricket has already changed over the past 10 years because of generous support of both the PCB and the media. “We have better facilities and more girls are playing cricket these days, especially in cities like Lahore and Karachi, than when I started playing the sport,” she says. “Now we not only need to create cricket infrastructure for girls, but also new heroes. Does anyone know that eight of our players were among top ICC rankings in Dec 2014?”
The future of Muneeba and the team she aspires to play for appears quite promising. But both still have a long distance to cover before they can leave a mark on international women’s cricket.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2015