For a nation deemed oppressive to women, blamed of confining them to the indoors and forcing them to act out their trade with utensils and needles, the sight of eleven girls hopping around in track suits and not shalwar kamiz, and with heads covered in caps and not dupattas would certainly rob Pakistan of the unwanted titles.
While the men’s team makes headways into uncharted territories amid a spate of turmoil, their female counterparts continue to flux opposition off the field – despite its mediocrity on it. And as opponents are left dumbfounded by Pakistan’s mere participation in the events, the nation itself sits in oblivion.
“There is no dearth of interested individuals in the country,” said the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Women’s Wing Chairperson Shirin Javed. “We have girls coming from Quetta, from Gilgit, from remote villages that we didn’t even know existed and with names we can’t even pronounce. They are barred from leaving their houses apart from going for training and matches.”
Arguments, conflicts and scandals have played their part in ensuring the interest in the sector develops, and grows, for the wrong reasons. However, from the days of girls playing alongside boys on roadsides, on makeshift pitches and on rented grounds, the interest has only increased.
“Times have changed,” added Javed. “No longer are the parents worried. We have girls playing in track suits. We have parents dropping their daughter for training on a bicycle. A kitchen is not the only place girls belong to now.”
Words of one, not realised and echoed by the rest, however. Critics are after their heads, labelling them budget-wasters, hopeless performers, sinners even. The marriage factor is their primary aid. Playing with boys, their bodies open to scrutiny by the onlookers, and an inferior win-loss ratio, the secondary.
“We get critics almost every day but it’s part of our duty as female cricketers to ignore those,” said Nain Abidi, a Karachi-based player forming the backbone of Pakistan’s batting line-up. “It hurts, especially after we’ve achieved so much for the country. People just don’t want to see us play.
“But I’ll still encourage individuals to come forward despite the criticism, the glare, and the condemnation. Sport, apart from physical benefits, teaches us punctuality, respect, responsibility and, in our case, how to convert negative thoughts into positive actions.”
For some, cricket is a respite before the inevitable wedding ceremonies. Some even leave everything behind – despite the limited freedom – their studies, their jobs and perhaps their future. Only to pursue dreams alien to our culture, albeit temporary, and to emulate their male counterparts. All the while aiming to go one better.
“You’re spending so much on the men’s team,” said Abidi. “They play all year round, unlike us. And look how many trophies they’re bringing us. We’re also doing our fair share. We should be treated as equals and people should realise that cricket is not just a gentleman’s game.”
The writer is the Sports Editor of The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2010.