Urooj Mumtaz Khan may have left the Pakistan women’s cricket team long ago. But there have been things about her that have not let people forget this former national captain who, as an all-rounder, always led her team from the front. She is intelligent, well-educated (she’s a dental surgeon by profession), energetic, dependable, trustworthy, respectful, graceful and poised, though never proud and a good sport on top of that from the very start. A dynamic trailblazer throughout her playing days, she still remains one as she steps into her new role as the first woman chief selector of the new three-person selection committee announced by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on March 20.
As part of its strategy to further strengthen the women’s game, PCB named a new three-person selection committee to be chaired by the former captain with former players Asmavia Iqbal and Marina Iqbal as the other two members.
About the new selection committee, the board’s managing director Wasim Khan said earlier that they have specially brought in players for it who, until very recently, have been involved in white ball cricket. “This syncs very nicely with the PCB’s vision of providing an environment where women’s cricket not only thrives but where we are able to increase our pool of players so that it can sustainably grow and flourish.”
From representing the national women’s team with a great deal of success to becoming the Pakistan Cricket Board’s first woman chief selector, Urooj Mumtaz Khan’s sports trajectory is one that budding cricketers can look up to
The new selection committee has been installed after the panel headed by former men’s Test player Jalaluddin and former international Akhtar Sarfraz, completed their respective terms last month.
“Attracting women with the relevant skill sets and a passion for the game was critical when forming this new committee. Offering merit-based opportunities to exceptionally talented women who can help drive and influence the game spells a new and exciting era at the PCB,” says Khan.
Talking about her role as chief selector, Urooj says that, unlike men’s cricket where the selection committee comprises five members, for women’s cricket a three-member committee should suffice. “There is still not as much cricket activity happening for women here at the moment as there is for men,” she points out.
“As chief selector I will be going wherever they hold camp because just looking at score sheets doesn’t help. Someone’s 20 runs may be better than someone’s 50 as that girl may have scored those precious runs in the most difficult of situations. So score sheets don’t tell you about player temperaments,” she adds.
Besides heading the new women’s selection committee she is also part of the PCB Cricket Committee headed by Mohsin Hasan Khan with Wasim Akram and Misbah-ul-Haq as the other members. She is the only woman there but the most relevant person for carrying forward PCB’s vision for women’s cricket.
About the committee she says it is an advisory committee which was formed in November last year. “Based on our observations we make suggestions about the overall cricket structure in the country. Of course I have been brought in specifically to look into women’s cricket issues,” she says.
After leaving the team, Urooj focused on her career as a full-time dentist as well as on her home. She also hosts a sports show on TV and is married with a young daughter. Three-year-old Haya is as energetic as her young mother but, unlike her, she is more into football and cycling.
Urooj is quite confident about fulfilling all her responsibilities. “I know I am juggling a lot but I have always been doing 10 different things together all my life. Here I must thank the PCB chairman Ehsan Mani sahib and managing director Wasim Khan for showing confidence in my abilities. It is their belief in me that has helped a multi-tasker like myself come forward,” she says.
Urooj, who is still young (she’s 33), says that she is happy to have left cricket when she did. “I was very young when I joined the national team in 2004 and I know I still had a few good playing years ahead of me when I left in 2010. But I never intended playing for 10 or 15 years as I believed in stepping aside and giving new players a chance,” she says.
And what kind of talent are they getting nowadays? “Girls who have passion for the sport should come up despite the lack of parents’ support or money,” she says. “I have seen girls reach the domestic level but, since there is no money there, they often leave, which is sad.
“That’s why I want to make domestic cricket professional for girls, where they are paid for their performances. There is a need to bridge the gap between professional and domestic cricket. We are a cricket crazy country, so why not? We need to make pathways through a good five to 10 years’ plan to bring more girls to cricket,” she says.
Having always been interested in sports, Urooj also has a black belt in Taekwondo. In addition, she is Karachi Gymkhana’s table tennis champion and loves to play golf as well. Cricket happened to her after watching her father and maternal uncle play the game at Gymkhana. “My father, who is also a dental surgeon, used to play veteran’s cricket at the club. I was six or seven years old when I joined the boys’ under-7 cricket team there, which my teammates didn’t like very much at first,” she laughs at the memory. “But I was a good player so they retained me,” she says.
From the U-7 team, Urooj proceeded to move to the U-9 boys’ team and then to the U-15 boys’ team, followed by becoming captain of the U-17 boys’ team. “As captain I wouldn’t compromise on discipline and fitness and due to this I made many of my team members sit out on several occasions. Though they must have cursed me back then, they are my biggest fans now,” she smiles.
Having played with boys made it very easy for her to make a move to the national women’s team, but Urooj says that women’s cricket back then was treated in quite an amateurish way. “I realised this even more when playing county cricket in England,” she says. “There is a need to remodel the entire structure of women’s cricket here. We need more facilities, coaching programmes, umpiring programmes.” And she warns, “The way women’s cricket is changing now, if we don’t adapt to it, we will be left far behind in the game.”
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 31st, 2019