CRICKET: JAVERIA’S TRUE GRIT

Published January 30, 2022
Javeria Khan sweeps the ball during the Pakistan v India match, Women’s World T20, 2018 | ICC
Javeria Khan sweeps the ball during the Pakistan v India match, Women’s World T20, 2018 | ICC

After only two years in, Javeria Khan thought her international cricket career was all but over. At age 20, the off-spinner was banned for having an illegal bowling action, days after it was reported suspect by umpires in Pakistan’s 2010 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup match against Sri Lanka in St. Kitts.

Devastated, Javeria might have quit cricket altogether, had it not been for her mother’s reminder to her of why she’d got into the game in the first place. It wasn’t for this that Javeria gave up her ambition of becoming a chartered accountant, her mother insisted. It wasn’t for a two-year-long career that she bunked all those economics classes to play cricket with her friends at the PECHS Girls’ College in Karachi.

After that pep-talk by her mother, Javeria was ready to start again. “If a girl is interested in playing cricket and does not have her family’s support, it is very difficult,” Javeria tells Eos. “We can’t get separated from our families and live our lives all by ourselves.”

Her brother played a huge role in her comeback. During the Ramadan of 2010, at night before Sehri and two hours before Iftar, Javeria would bat while her brother bowled to her. He coached his sister, a specialist spin bowler, to become a top-order batter.

Yet, the hours of practice did not translate into Javeria’s performances in the selection camp that followed. However, due to her decent capability as a fielder, she was picked for Pakistan for the 2010 ICC Women’s Cricket Challenge in South Africa.

Former Pakistan women’s captain Javeria Khan is Pakistan’s highest run-getter in ODIs and second-highest scorer in T20Is. But 12 years ago, she almost quit cricket. She tells Eos about her remarkable journey…

It was as if nature had conspired for Javeria to become a world-class batter. In Pakistan’s first match of the tournament, against Netherlands, Javeria was sent in to bat as an opener. As it turned out, she chipped in 38 off 56 balls in Pakistan’s 45-run win in the fixture. Across the T20 and ODI legs of the tournament, Javeria managed nearly 200 runs. She is now, in fact, Pakistan’s highest and second-highest run-getter, respectively, in One-day and Twenty20 Internationals.

In February 2020, when Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof took an indefinite leave of absence to have her first child, Javeria was promoted to the captaincy. Though Pakistan could not win most of their matches during her tenure, there were glimpses of the team’s potential to improve. However, Javeria did lead Pakistan to World Cup qualification.

Now 33, Javeria realises that there are many girls who cannot think of fulfilling their dreams because of a lack of family support. However, she feels that success for women athletes can help change the minds of those who would normally discourage girls aspiring to be cricketers.

From bowler to run-getter | Twitter
From bowler to run-getter | Twitter

She saw the change in her own relatives who belong to Torghar, a district in the erstwhile Fata region. They started following her exploits on the field through sports transmissions on the radio. “When I was doing well, they started taking pride in me,” says Javeria.

The Karachi-born cricketer, therefore, believes that the role of the community is key to promoting sports among women. Encouraging girls to take up cricket professionally will in turn create a bigger pool of players to groom and wider selection for teams.

“It can’t happen while sitting idle,” says Javeria. “Everyone, including the media, has to pool in their efforts to spread awareness that taking part in sports is healthy, irrespective of gender. This culture needs to be made common and the higher authorities should play their part.”

The former Pakistan captain also calls for systemic changes in order to carve a path for women cricketers to become true professionals. Currently, there aren’t many tournaments taking place at the domestic level and the highest level of professional exposure that a player can get is if she makes it to a Pakistan camp — these are usually set up to prepare for the national side’s upcoming assignments.

Since he assumed charge in September last year, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja has mentioned his plans to organise a Pakistan Super League-style franchise tournament for women.

It is an exciting prospect for Javeria. “I am glad the chairman talked about it,” she says. “The franchises, too, should take initiatives to provide opportunities to women cricketers.”

Javeria says a proper grassroots system, while incentivising women monetarily — currently there are contracts for national team players only — will also give young cricketers exposure to an environment similar to that of international cricket. When inducted into the national team, new players take a lot of time to adjust to playing against world-class foreign sides, according to her. Javeria wants to see a professional culture of cricket at the grassroots and stages higher than that of domestic cricket. “There should be a system where schools and clubs come forward by having their own teams,” she says.

The Pakistan team is scheduled to travel soon to New Zealand for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, set to be held from March 4 to April 3. The national side will take on archrivals India in their tournament opener at Tauranga on March 6.

While Javeria is confident that the team will play each match to win it, she is also aware that the group is in a stage of transition. “As a team, we always play to win,” she says. “Skills-wise, we are as good as anyone, but I think some mental toughness is needed, especially for the young players to perform well.”

Pakistan will be led by Bismah Maroof in the World Cup, who comes back into the national side for the first time after February 2020. Javeria, who filled in for Bismah during the latter’s sabbatical, calls her team-mate and friend an inspiration for women athletes.

Talking about her, she says with a big smile, “Bismah got married and continued playing, which removed a barrier in the minds of girls that you cannot play cricket if you get married.” She continues: “To have a baby and then again make a comeback takes even more strength. She sets one more example that, yes, you can have a family and you can have a cricket career also.”

With the likes of the resilient Javeria in the side, an inspirational skipper in Bismah and exemplary performances by the likes of Fatima Sana — who has been named the ICC Women’s Emerging Cricketer of The Year — the upcoming Women’s World Cup is surely one to look forward to for the Pakistan team.

“When you play for your country, you want to win maximum games,” says Javeria. So far, Pakistan has never made it past the first round at any world cup. “We’d like to convert our performances into results now and end the World Cup in a better position.”

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 30th, 2022

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