This 20-year-old left arm, leg spinner from Lahore has been on the squad for the past 16 months or so and has swiftly become one of the most reliable, consistent and economical bowlers on the team.
Sandhu’s 4 for 26 in the Women’s World Cup 2017 match against India reduced India to their lowest total in the tournament — a match we lost due to our batting.
Sandhu then had a consistently tight and economical showing in the ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017 and Sri Lanka in March 2018 — keeping run rates down, striking at critical moments, and taking key wickets.
This quiet, unassuming and calm bowler is certainly one of the emerging stars to watch out for in the future.
I spoke to Nashra about her childhood, how she made it to the national squad, and how she keeps her cool and bowls those consistent lines and lengths against the best batters in the world.
The interview below is translated from Urdu and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
This is the third of a four-part series of interviews with two seniors and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which is currently playing the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
How old were you when you realised you like playing cricket?
As a child, I used to play in our house with my father, sister and twin brother. Even my mother used to play with us. On Sundays and whenever we were off from school, we’d all play together.
Many children in Pakistan play cricket at home but not everyone makes it to the national team. Tell me about your journey.
There wasn't much support in my school for cricket. Other games like volleyball were played more.
When I finished my matriculation, I spoke to Madam Ayesha Ashhar (formerly manager, now general manager of the Pakistan Cricket Board’s women’s wing), and she recommended I consider Kinnaird College or Lahore College for Women, which provide support for women’s cricket.
At the time I used to be a fast bowler. But my brother was a spinner, so when I played at home I also learnt how to spin. I would try and spin the last ball of my over.
When I went to college, my coach Sir Shahid said, “You are short for a fast bowler, so try to spin instead.”
My heart was set on fast bowling but Sir Shahid said I’d be more effective as a spin bowler because I was already good at it and if I practised more I’ll improve. That's how I became a spinner.
I started off playing for Lahore College for Women at the board level. Then Alhamdolillah I was selected to play for Lahore in the under-19 tournament in my first attempt. Afterwards, I also played under-21 for Lahore in a tournament in Karachi.
Then there was a regional tournament. There was not enough space for me on the Lahore team, so I played from Abbottabad under Qanita Jalil, who was the regional captain.
I thought it was a very high-level tournament as all the seniors were playing in it, and so I didn't sit for many of my first-year board exams.
When I got my date sheet, I noticed that most of my exams were on the same days as the matches, except for English.
I hadn’t really studied much and I had not prepared for it, but I still asked Madam Ayesha for permission to go to Lahore to take my exam.
She said okay. So I went to Lahore to take my first-year English exam and then returned the same day to Islamabad to play the tournament.
After that there were smaller local tournaments. Then there was the SAGA Premier League T20 tournament, which the selectors came to watch and where I bowled very well.
After that, I was included in the Pakistan fitness camp in Abbottabad and eventually played for Pakistan A.
Then the Pakistan team had a tour of the West Indies in 2015 and Sir Basit [Ali, head of junior selection committee and head coach of women’s cricket team] called me to the women's cricket ground.
He said, "I want to see you bowl," so I did and he appreciated it. He said, "We will see next time."
The next time there was a selection in January 2017 for the World Cup Qualifiers in Sri Lanka. I was included in the camp for the qualifiers in Karachi, where I bowled really well and got selected for the team.
You mentioned there was no support for cricket in your school, so where did you practise and with whom?
When I was in matric, there was a teacher who encouraged me to take up cricket seriously. Both my baba (father) and I were very interested that I play, and on the teacher’s recommendation, I joined a cricket academy for boys that was relatively close by.
I was a fast bowler then. Spinners would get to bowl first and then the fast bowlers got a chance, so I had to wait a long time.
I used to bat a lot more at the time. But it would take a long time to get my turn at batting too.
I couldn't pay attention to my studies, but then I wasn't really getting a chance to practise at the academy either.
So I left the boys’ cricket academy and we decided to construct a cement pitch in our home.
Later, we put up proper practice nets around the pitch and I practised target bowling at home. Eventually, I joined the college as Madam Ayesha Ashhar had suggested.
It sounds like your father supported you a lot?
Everyone in the family supported me. My mother also used to play on Sundays. She and I would be on one team and my brother and father would be on the other team. My brother liked cricket, but he didn’t pursue it like I did.
Tell me something memorable or something that you learnt since you have been on the national team.
In the beginning I knew Qanita aapi and Sana aapi. Sana aapi has supported me a lot right from the beginning. I would talk to her and she would explain things very clearly and nicely to me.
The environment at the qualifiers was really good; I never felt like I was a new person on the team.
It never felt as if there were seniors and juniors, and there was no difference in the way we were treated.
It was a wonderful environment and therefore I performed so well — I was the highest wicket-taker in the World Cup Qualifiers, my first international tournament.
Tell me how you work on yourself to be so consistent and disciplined even in high-pressure games like against India in the World Cup, where you took 4 for 26.
There was a summer camp in college after my matriculation examinations. It was very hot and it would be just me and a few other people. I was trying to practise left-arm spin.
Sir Shahid would give me a target; he would place a cone or a glove, and tell me to bowl at that point. So whether he was there or not, I used to practise the same way.
Often there was no one to keep while I bowled. For about three hours every day, I would set a target, bowl my over and then pick the balls up to start again.
I think that practice formed a foundation and made me consistent in my bowling. Even though I was alone, I kept practising and I think that has made me really consistent and it helps me to focus and bowl on target.
Do you ever get stressed out?
Mostly, thank God, I have a lot of confidence in my bowling. I think when I'm in form then no one can play a big shot on my bowling.
Sometimes when I'm not in form, the other team members support and encourage me and give me confidence.
How many times did you bowl out Chamari Atapattu, the Sri Lanka team’s captain and best batter, in the recent series?
How did that feel?
It felt awesome. I kept bowling a good line and length and she kept losing her wicket. She should have played according to my bowling, but she tried to play big shots.
Do you have a message for young people who are aspiring to excel in sports or any other field of their choice?
You should practise a lot and then assess how far you can go. If you have a coach, ask how far they think you can go so you don’t waste your time.
Anything you want to tell your fans or the public about how to support the team better? Often, there are expectations and, I think, unfair criticism.
People who don’t have knowledge can criticise or comment unfairly. First, they should follow the game more closely and watch the live matches or follow the live scorecards.
They should get to know the history of the game and the team so they understand us better. Then they can comment better on our performance.
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