Sana Mir says the perception about Pakistani women is vastly wrong from the reality and women in the country are part of most professions back home now
Sana Mir wasn't even a full-time cricketer when she decided to forego a career in Electronics and Telecommunication engineering. From playing street cricket with her brother to becoming the captain of the national team, her career has come a long way since making her debut in 2005. She speaks about her formative years, the role her family has played and how the gold medal at the Asian Games in 2010 has changed the face of women's cricket in Pakistan. Excerpts:
Many believe Pakistan is conservative when it comes to women taking up sport. Do you think that perception has changed since you made your debut in 2005?
I think this perception is media-based, to be honest. Unfortunately, not many good stories about Pakistan come out in the media. Things have improved drastically from what it was like ten years ago. Women are working in almost every field back home. Yes, when it comes to cricket, we are still an upcoming team. We started playing professionally in 2005, but the team has been in existence since 1997. We also have the women back home taking up hockey, badminton and swimming. So, yes things have improved.
How difficult is it for women to take up sport at a professional level in Pakistan?
Initially, it was very tough. When we started off in 2005, a lot of us had to sacrifice our jobs and studies to play full time. I wasn't even selected in the team when I chose to take up cricket. I didn't know what the future had in store. I was confused whether to take up a new field, or an already established one like Engineering. But now, cricket is getting a lot of recognition. It is important for educational institiutions to lend their support. There are one or two universities who've come out to help the girls. Things have improved after the Pakistan Cricket Board has introduced central contracts for women cricketers. Girls are now paid to play cricket.
Has there been any corporate support back home to support the women playing cricket?
Right now, we have only one sponsor in ADBP Bank. We would love to have more institutions and corporates come on board and help women's cricket. After all, financial security is also important. What we want is a situation where no player feels insecure at any stage. We don't want them to think about what could happen after their playing days.
How is talent identified and nurtured?
Women have access to all the regional academies and centres that the men use. The set-up is very good in big cities like Lahore, Karachi and Sialkot. There are different coaches for women. There are good training and lodging facilities as well. We have 13 teams competing in the 50-overs national championship. These are the teams from where we get the talent. Each city chooses one team to represent it after a district tournament and open trials.
You have players coming from various regions across the country. Is it a challenge to bridge the divides?
As a captain, it has never been a challenge. Being from an army background, I've lived in all four provinces of the country. Getting the team together to play for Pakistan is the biggest motivation one can have. There is only one common goal, one dream and every girl wants to fulfil her role.
How has the PCB helped to facilitate training?
Over the past two years, we've had a lot of camps. The board has organised a lot of international tours. The attitude towards women's cricket has changed since we won the gold at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010. Even coming into the ICC World Twenty20, we had a tour of Ireland, which we won. We had a good training camp here and played a couple of warm-ups, so they are doing a lot for women's cricket now. But yes, the awareness has come after our win at the Asiad in 2010.
You've beaten sides like South Africa and West Indies recently, something that didn’t happen in the past. Do you think the side believes in itself a lot more now?
After going winless in the first two editions of the World Twenty20, it was tough for us to digest the fact that we didn't perform as well as we would have liked. We knew we had to change our mindset. We had talent, but it wasn't translating into performances. We've worked really hard at training, and I think the improvements will slowly show in every aspect of our game.
Did you have pep-talk sessions with any of the Pakistani greats before the tournament?
We had a four-day camp in Lahore which was mainly affected by rain. So we had a few sessions with the psychologist on the mental make-up and how to approach a match day, how an individual prepares for the game keeping the team's interest in mind. We also spoke a lot to Aamir Sohail, Javed Miandad and Intikhab Alam, all of whom gave us tips on the technicalities. So yes, interacting with them really helped us.
Talk us through the role your family has played in your development as a cricketer?
If I'm sitting here today, it is only because of my family. My parents have been really supportive. I started off playing on the streets with my elder brother. My mother has made many sacrifices for me. She ensured that I didn't have to really do any household chores, she just allowed me to play. When I told my father about my decision to quit engineering, he backed my decision and told me there were very few women cricketers as compared to engineers in the country. So that was the backing I needed. He is the one who allowed me to pursue my dream.
Is there some awareness back home about women's cricket and the Women's World Twenty20?
Yes, a lot of people are now aware of us. The Asian Games Gold medal changed things for us. The men's team normally gets all the attention, but this time there were a few publications and media houses who also extensively covered our progress. I'm thankful to them. Results won't come overnight. It will take time, but what is important is that the sport has to grow, and for that we need to play more often against the international sides, which I'm sure will happen as we go along.