x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

UAE women cricket team's World Twenty20 qualifying campaign 'beginning of important journey'

Humaira Tasneem proud of progress made by team in one decade, but captain is looking ahead to brighter future

Humaira Tasneem, in a blue scarf, says women's cricket has come a long way in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National
Humaira Tasneem, in a blue scarf, says women's cricket has come a long way in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National

Women’s World T20, Asia Qualifier, in Bangkok

UAE fixtures Mon Nov 20, v China; Tue Nov 21, v Thailand; Thu Nov 23, v Nepal; Fri Nov 24, v Hong Kong; Sun Nov 26, v Malaysia; Mon Nov 27, Final

(The winners will progress to the Global Qualifier)

When the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) first entered a women’s team into international competition 10 years ago, they were fully aware they might be set for some short-term pain.

Playing the long game was fraught with challenges. In their first match, they had a 12-year-old captain. Bangladesh promptly bowled them all out for nine, in a match which was all over in less than an hour.

Future planning is starting to reap results now, though. A decade on, the UAE are set for their first ICC-organised tournament, when they play in the Women’s World Twenty20, Asia Qualifier in Bangkok this week.

The pain of the past has given way for a future full of optimism.

“This is the beginning of a very important journey,” said Humaira Tasneem, an architecture student who is the UAE captain.

“We have been waiting for this for a long time. A lot of us have made compromises and sacrifices at work or school.

“This has been our dream. Some of us have been playing for 10 years. From the time we started, when there were no girls, now we have so many girls, and we are going for this big tournament.

“To play in an ICC event, it feels like it is the tournament of our lives.”

UAE training ahead of their trip to Thailand. Reem Mohammed / The National
UAE training ahead of their trip to Thailand. Reem Mohammed / The National

The landscape for women’s cricket in this country may still be some way distant from that of men, but the advances of recent times have been striking.

In the past two years a domestic competition, which has involved borrowing expertise from long-established academies, has taken root.

The elite female players have had access to the same facilities as their professional male colleagues.

The players of the national team tasted international competition, following an invite to play in the World Cup of Indoor Cricket in Dubai.

And Tasneem believes the increased visibility of the women’s game is helping change attitudes, too.

The Women’s World Cup last summer broke attendance and broadcast records for the women’s game, while the tournament in Thailand involving the UAE will be streamed live online.

“Our coach told us to numb ourselves, focus and play,” Tasneem said of the potential for stage fright. “If you think about [being on screen], you will lose focus.”

The greater opportunities to play the sport now mark a contrast to when Tasneem herself was starting out.

“We used to play cricket in our school, me and three more girls, we had a hobby playing cricket,” she said.

“There was a cricket coach and we used to bug him to let us play cricket in PE. Normally girls would play basketball, athletics, but nobody played cricket. That is how we started a team, and I was sent from there to an ECB camp.

“I think that is how everybody should do it. If they don’t have cricket in their school, they need to bug the teachers, and sign petitions.

“At the [most recent] ECB tournament, a lot of girls joined up and said, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool, we want to join the UAE team’.

“We were all so happy because that never happened before. Nobody knew there was a women’s UAE team.”

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While some of their opposition in the six-team qualifier have toured overseas for practice ahead of the competition, the UAE have stayed closer to home, and attempted to be creative.

They have played practice matches against Under 15 boys academy sides, done some batting practice on outfields rather than wickets, as well as pored over any available video footage of their opposition.

“I think over the past one and a half years they have improved a lot,” coach Murali Sockalingam said.

“Some are really nervous, I could see that, and it was my duty to make them calm and not panic.

“We downloaded matches our opposition have played, and went through the footage. Thailand conditions will be low and slow, so we have practised on normal grass, rather than in nets.”