Women’s cricket in Pakistan, which took off in the mid 90s, nosedived before a brief flight. After 20 years, the state is as bad as one could imagine. Only recently, the team finished its worst possible campaign in the Women’s World Cup, losing all seven games.
Subsequently, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) sacked Shamsa Hashmi, the women wing’s general manager and Sana Mir, the One-Day International captain, handing the baton over to Bismah Maroof, already leading the side in the Twenty20 format. Furthermore, the women’s selection committee was disbanded and the coach was dismissed. Ayesha Ashar, the team’s long-standing manager, was removed from her post and was assigned an interim post in the women’s wing until a new general manager is appointed.
Like always, it looks like a knee-jerk reaction, but will it serve the purpose?
Women’s cricket is not in its infancy in Pakistan. In January 1996, the first team was assembled by two sisters – Shaiza Khan and Sharmeen Khan – with the help of their father, who financed his daughters’ immense passion.
“I was the captain of the Leeds University. Our mission was to bring Pakistan’s women cricket to the world map and that was the very aim behind the formation of the Pakistan’s women cricket team,” recalled Shaiza, the former Pakistan captain who played three Tests and 40 ODIs between 1997 and 2004.
Shaiza bagged 13 wickets in a Test match against West Indies in Karachi in 2004, which is still the record for most wickets in a Test match. In the same match, Kiran Baloch scored 242, again a world record for the most runs in an innings.
“That was our performance in a Test match in which five girls debuted,” Shaiza said. “Women’s cricket has not moved an inch since then; if anything, it has taken a backward step.”
Shaiza believes the governing structure of women’s cricket is faulty and therefore things will not improve.
“Non-cricketing appointments have been a problem and Shaharyar Khan started this practice during his first tenure as the PCB chairman,” she went on. “We were in South Africa in 2005 for a vote to merge women and men’s cricket. However, we came to know that Shaharyar Khan withdrew his support.
“He issued us the affiliation letter prior to our departure for South Africa but in our absence, he handed over the reigns of women’s cricket to a Lahore college principal, with no background in cricket,” continued Shaiza, who heads the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Control Association (PWCCA).
The Pakistan Cricket Board established its Women’s Wing in 2005 and as per the PCB website, the board spends approximately Rs 110 million for the promotion and development of the game (both at the domestic and the international levels). Currently, six departments play in the domestic circuit while the board also provides central contracts to 22 players in four categories.
However, Shaiza terms this control by the board as one of the major damaging factors. “A fish rots from the head and that’s the problem with Pakistan women’s cricket,” Shaiza, an MCC member, said. “Shaharyar Khan brought in people from a hockey background with no vision whatsoever to lead women’s cricket and the result is evident.”
Mahmood Rasheed, another architect of women’s cricket taking shape in the early days, said he started with a bunch of about two dozen girls in early 2000. Most of them, he said, have been the mainstay of the team lately.
“Non-cricketing appointments have been a problem and Shaharyar Khan started this practice during his first tenure as the PCB chairman. We were in South Africa in 2005 for a vote to merge women and men’s cricket. However, we came to know that Shaharyar Khan withdrew his support. He issued us the affiliation letter prior to our departure for South Africa but in our absence, he handed over the reigns of women’s cricket to a Lahore college principal, with no background in cricket.”
“Urooj Mumtaz, Batool Fatima, Sana Mir and Nain Abidi were in that initial bunch of players. We had to start from scratch since they were lacking even in the basics of the game,” recalled Rasheed, who is currently in Iran on an Asian Cricket Council assignment.
“The PCB failed to capitalise on the initial platform and the results are obvious. The right person for the right job should be the order of the day.”
Rasheed also criticised the recent decision to appoint New Zealander Mark Coles as the temporary coach of the women’s team, saying the huge culture gap would not serve the purpose.
“The capacity of our girls is not on par with that of foreigners. An overseas coach would come with his mindset and push the girls to match those standards. It will have an adverse effect,” Rasheed said.
This correspondent reached out to the current lot of players and officials but they preferred to remain tight-lipped due to board’s strict media policy. However, a source privy to the recent developments shared insights into the World Cup debacle, highlighting the lack of coordination between the coach and the players as the main reason for the miserable show.
“The newly appointed coach, Sabih Azhar, had very little time to prepare the team for the World Cup. He met the selected team at the preparation camp in Abottababad only days before their departure for the mega event,” the source said
“Sabih was the fourth coach of the women’s team in a short span after Mohtashim Rasheed, Basit Ali and Kabir Khan. This speaks volumes of the inconsistent policies. The lack of trust between the captain and the coach over team selection became obvious during the World Cup. It was a fractured bunch which produced the obvious results.”
Sana Mir, the former captain, also touched upon this issue in an open letter recently, writing that coordination with the coach had suffered when she insisted on playing Diana Baig. According to Mir, that was the major point of disagreement.
The source, however, denied this claim and said the disagreement between the captain and the coach was not over the inclusion of Baig in the playing XI.
“The relationship was cordial until captain Sana Mir insisted on playing Waheeda in the game against England, which the coach objected to,” the source stressed.
Women’s cricket is in an abyss at the moment, and needs drastic measures to get out of the rut. Some of those measures were outlined by the recently sacked Azhar in his report.
The former coach, who blamed the “nexus” between Mir, the team manager and a couple of senior players for Pakistan’s winless Women’s World Cup campaign, proposed the appointment of a head with complete authority.
A competitive domestic structure, frequent ‘A’ tours and a women’s super league were some of his other suggestions.
Umar Rasheed, another former coach who toured with the team for World Cup in 2010, echoed the same sentiments.
“The PCB did not pay much heed to domestic cricket,” he said. “Initially, there was just one department in ZTBL which housed all the seasoned players. This practice literally killed the sense of competition at the lower level. A bunch of players kept on getting stronger compared to the rest.”
The PCB believes its constant chop-and-change exercise will yield fruit. However, past experience suggests otherwise. Unless the root causes are not addressed, these superficial measures are unlikely to yield any dividends.