HEAD of the Women’s Wing of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Urooj Mumtaz Khan, holds high hopes for the female cricketers of the country just as the national side headed for the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.
In an exclusive interview with Dawn, Urooj expressed candidly views about a variety of subjects which comes under her domain.
“There is no doubt that the women’s game in the country has a vast scope for improvement, and under the current PCB management the women’s game has drastically grown and is definitely heading in the right direction,” an optimistic Urooj said here on Saturday. “A lot has been done over the past year-and-a-half for the promotion and growth of the women’s cricket in Pakistan, something which was grossly underrated in the past. We at the PCB are striving to create the best possible environment for the women cricket to flourish.”
When asked to comment on Pakistan’s prospects in the forthcoming mega event, Urooj pointed out no stones were left unturned in terms of preparations. “As you know the PCB recently staged the National Women’s T20 triangular championship in Karachi as part of our planning for the T20 World Cup. The three-team event saw top domestic players competing in equally balanced teams to provide quality competition at the top level. This also provided the players a platform to perform and make a case for selection [for the World Cup].
“The quality of cricket was brilliant and the matches were fiercely fought. We staged the final under lights at the National Stadium to emulate the conditions our team will face in the T20 World Cup — as two of our four group matches are under lights.
“Further the PCB decided to send the squad as early as possible to enable the girls get further training there. The reason behind sending the team two weeks prior Down Under is to help them acclimatize to the conditions there. They will be playing a three-T20 International series against the West Indies and a couple of warm-up matches before the T20 World Cup begin on Feb 21.”
Being the chief of the three-member women’s national selector committee, former Pakistan skipper Urooj says the panel has a great responsibility to ensure the best possible teams are selected for international competitions and series.
“I believe myself along with Asmavia Iqbal and Marina Iqbal, bring unprecedented experience to the table. All three of us have played cricket at the highest level and we understand the system along with the challenges faced by the girls at various levels,” Urooj stressed. “This is the first time that we have an all-female selection committee, which says a lot about how the women’s cricket is being taken seriously. My experience and exposure at the top level, along with being the captain, especially during the initial years of the game, helps me envision the game from a holistic point of view.
“Further, it is a great honour for me to be part of the part of the [revamped] Cricket Committee because my induction is a clear sign of the value being given to the women’s cricket by the PCB. My aim is to spread the game to far-flung areas where there is scope of unearthing great talent.
The PCB set up a cricket academy in Quetta through its Cric4Us initiative to promote young girls to take up the game. Previously, women cricketers faced problems when they had to practice but now we have regional academies, all over the country, operating regularly.
“The women’s domestic and international matches are being live-streamed regularly now. This not only creates awareness about the women’s team but also attracts more fans towards the game. And the development is not only limited to players. We have women umpires and coaches in the system and they are being groomed through various workshops.”
“The current PCB regime has valued women’s cricket like never before. Women’s cricket is one of the main pillars of the organisation and it is working to improve the game at all levels, beginning right from the grassroots.
“The improvements in central contracts, to business-class flights, increase in travel and daily allowances, along with the introduction of match fee at the domestic level are all signs of development of women’s cricket.
Urooj predicts turnaround for Pakistan women’s team in terms of results and improvement and pinpointed the areas where more needs to be done.
“The national team has shown a lot of improvement over the past few years. They are currently ranked fourth in the ICC Women’s Championship and have a realistic chance of securing automatic qualification for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2021. It is pertinent to remember that the team finished second last, at the seventh spot, in the previous edition of the ICC Championship and is currently ranked seventh in the ICC Women’s ODI team’s rankings.
“Our aim is for the Pakistan women’s cricket team to become a force to reckon with at the international stage, but with this come at different challenges. At this stage there’s a limited pool of 45 cricketers available for top-level cricket.
“The skill-set and fitness are the two major areas where we need to improve and, over the past few years, the girls have shown massive improvement on these fronts. Our fielding has improved and so have the fitness and skill levels, but we have got to do more.
“There’s certainly room for improvement and there lies a gap between us and the top two-three teams. But, that gap is shrinking with every passing day due to the hard work that these girls and their coaches have put in. We will obviously see more improvement as the side continues to play against quality oppositions at the apex level.
“But, along that, the revamping of the domestic structure and setting up a pathways programme will lead to quality athletes coming up the ranks.
“There are encouraging signs already because 2019 was a fantastic year for the women’s team. A thrilling T20 series against West Indies in Karachi saw a super-over finish resulting in a 2-1 West Indies win. The favour was returned by the girls in green when we created history by winning the ODI series 2-1 against them in the UAE.
“We followed this up with creating history again in South Africa by leveling the three-match ODI series 1-1, and although we did not win the T20 series, Pakistan put an excellent show to finish an exciting T20 series at 2-3. The South Africa series saw two youngsters, Rameen Shamim and Fatima Sana, make debuts. Rameen later captained Pakistan women’s emerging side in the ACC Emerging teams’ tournament recently.
“The momentum continued in the home series against Bangladesh, where the pressure was immense as it was the first time the ladies were playing an international match at the Gaddafi Stadium. With massive crowds in, the girls did not disappoint and bagged the T20 series 3-0 and the ODI series finished with a 1-1 draw.
“The series was a sign of progress as three players made their debuts, including the 16-year-old leg-spinner Aroob Shah, while Sadia Iqbal and Saba Nazir were the other two who impressed with the ball,” she added.
Urooj, who like both her parents is a qualified dental surgeon, is thrilled by the induction of young girls in the 16-17 age-brackets. “It’s heartwarming to see the effort put in by these girls. The talent is immense within the upcoming lot. The exuberance of youth is brimming to the top and with the motivation and will to learn, these players will be instrumental in taking Pakistan to the top.
“This further goes to show that the improvement in the women’s game in the past months. To have teenagers making it to the national side and playing alongside the experienced campaigners, gives them an opportunity to learn and grow but also pushes the seniors to continue improve, raising the overall standard of the game,” Urooj concluded.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2020