BARRING the occasional headline, not much has been written on women’s cricket in Pakistan. Men’s cricket, like every other men’s sport, has long monopolised the mainstream sports landscape. Whether in terms of television coverage, monetary backing or public interest, women’s cricket is consistently eyed with lethargy and treated in an offhand manner. Call it tardiness or our classic conservative mindset, but our team has yet to make a prominent mark overseas, and much progress remains.
Our present predicament is this: since the women’s cricket team started out in 1997, we have not won a single ODI against the current top four teams. Currently, no Pakistani player is in the top 10 all-rounders rankings for ODIs or for T20s, or in the top 10 ODI batswomen rankings.
Sustaining any domestic sporting circuit requires uncovering new potential. For this, we need a set-up that ensures an abundant annual influx of young talent, allows players of all levels to sharpen their skill-set and earn a decent living. On paper, such a structure exists — but how deeply it incorporates these requisites is less clear.
The existing domestic structure is such that today’s aspiring woman cricketer has a long course to travel before appearing on the international stage. The inter-district championship, taking place annually among district/zonal teams, acts as the first stage of professional exposure wherein girls can vie for the Inter-regionals/departmentals. Deserving players may then get selected for the Pakistan academies (Pakistan A and Pakistan Under-19 teams), and may make it to the national camp. So, if the structure is straightforward and inclusive, why does women’s cricket lag behind? What are the loopholes?
Efforts are required to promote the game.
A weak foundational level is one. Men have a wide domestic circuit, whereas women have a relatively linear path. What differentiates the men’s layout from the women’s is the realm of opportunities at the pre-district level. Boys have incredibly competitive school- and college-level circuits to strengthen their foundations early. Moreover, men’s club cricket sharpens game development and aptitude — something women could also draw on.
Secondly, the need for adequate financial security is under-stressed. Many women are reluctant to pursue cricket professionally due to the likelihood of low incomes. Some take it up as a hobby and later withdraw, foreseeing no guaranteed career. Why would a girl, who could easily make more at a bank, compromise on this prospect to play cricket? Playing professionally is a career choice. It demands unrelenting physical effort, mental toughness and year-long devotion. Like other professionals, women cricketers are also entitled to fair earnings.
And while these red areas are corrigible, there is one inarguable crimp in the ladder troubling our women — the ‘social barriers’.
The concept of girls in sports is still alien to Pakistani society. Some families prefer their daughters engage in activities more likely to lead to better marriage prospects. Others consider playing sports a waste of time, curbing any ambitions their daughters, sisters or wives might have mistakenly evoked. Sportswomen are still widely deemed disgraceful and ‘unladylike’. These barriers must be challenged and corrected through initiatives that promote a creditable picture of women’s cricket, one that flies beyond the negative mindset. Enter broadcast media.
Since public opinion is defined everyday through media consumption, it is vital that more women’s matches are televised to ensure maximum outreach and promotion. This cannot be achieved without generating advertising revenues, which posits a challenge for broadcast firms. A great approach to this could be ad campaigns that are targeted at and/or feature sportswomen. Women empowerment is a popular theme; a few meaningful ads could prove catalytic.
Lastly, the existing structure needs revision. Grounds need to be built across underdeveloped areas with facilities at par with those of men, and educational institutions across Pakistan must emphasise developing girls’ school- and college-level cricket. Although the PCB follows an annual domestic calendar for women, the aforementioned factors play a part in determining this structure’s effectiveness. Moreover, the PCB must take steps to augment financial incentives at the departmental level. Girls need to have faith in a future in professional cricket, a future with broad avenues, potential and financial security. Unless these hurdles are addressed, women’s cricket will continue to lag behind.
A prerequisite to achieving anything paramount is to begin development within. Given that Pakistani women still lack access to various professional avenues, serious efforts must be made for women’s cricket. With cricket being our most followed sport, support for women’s cricket can set the ball rolling for other women-inclusive sports to progress.
Even though we have mountains to climb, women’s cricket is more tenacious now than 10 years ago. Girls aspire to lead like Sana Mir, bat like Bismah Maroof and bowl like Aman Amin which in itself signifies notable promise.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2017