AJMAN //Women's cricket will be a top priority of the Sharjah Cricket Council (SCC) in the coming season as they seek greater participation from schools and parents.
The sport has been hugely popular among Indian and Pakistani expatriates, but women's cricket has been slow to take off in the UAE. Their debut on the international stage came in 2007, when a 12-year-old Natasha Cherriath led a team to the Asian Cricket Council's women's tournament.
Progress has been made in recent years and around 30 girls attend the SCC nets at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Mazhar Khan, the honorary secretary of the SCC, wants to double that number in the coming season.
"There are some parents who are a bit shy to bring their children," Mazhar said. "I believe these are all talented girls and their parents should support them. It's very safe and we make sure that when these girls are practising, no one is around there. So I think the parents, especially from those schools which are not really involved in cricket, should take a lead and come forward."
Two members of the UAE women's team, Ayesha Naushad Khan and Rashida Shabbir Hussain, were honoured at the SCC's annual awards night last week in Ajman. Teams from William Hare Abu Dhabi Gymkhana and Ibson Cricket Club, who won three SCC tournaments each last season, dominated the awards night, overshadowing Eurocon Alubond, Afridi CC and Yogi Group, who won two tournaments each.
The two new members of the UAE team, the off-spinner Nasir Aziz and Shaiman Anwar, took home five individual awards each, and Shadeep Silva had four.
Anwar, a hard-hitting batsman, was presented with a special award for scoring more than 2,500 runs in 25 matches last season.
"It's amazing," Mazhar said of Anwar's prolific scoring. "Earlier, he was a very aggressive player, but now I think he is putting a greater price on his wicket. He is staying at the wicket for that many overs to get these many runs.
"Earlier he used to just come in and slog, but I think he is maturing into a very good batsman and I am sure he will be a great support to the UAE team."
Given his form, much will be expected from Anwar when the UAE start their campaign in the four-day Intercontinental Cup against Kenya from July 28 in Nairobi. The UAE qualified for the tournament after winning the World Cricket League Division 2 and will later play Afghanistan, Ireland, Canada, Netherlands, Scotland and Namibia. "We have the Intercontinental Cup, plus we have two one-day internationals that we are playing against Kenya," Mazhar said.
"We are a more balanced side now and these new players who have come into the team are being a great support to the side. We are improving on the fielding also, which was a negative factor earlier and hopefully this Intercontinental Cup first-round match, followed by the one in October in Sharjah, should be a good test of our progress."