Born in India, Esha Oza moved to Dubai when she was just 8. She picked up football during her middle school days, but was quick to shift to cricket and never looked back since then. Meet UAE cricket’s young sensation, who through her hard-work and dedication made it to the national side at a very young age. Esha will be seen representing her side against the top 8 sides in the upcoming Women’s World Twenty20 Cup Qualifier in the Netherlands. She has also been selected in the ICC Women’s Global Development Squad and is the only player from UAE given the opportunity.
In an interview conducted by Female Cricket, Esha talks about her journey and her future aspirations.
1. Many congratulations on being selected in the ICC Women’s Global Development Squad. How excited are you with the opportunity?
Thank you! I am exhilarated. It’s something I have only dreamt of till date and now it’s going to be a dream come true.
2. You are 20 and is the only player from UAE selected to participate in the tournament. What was your reaction when you got to know about your selection in this squad?
I had mixed emotions. I was surprised, excited and anxious all at the same time.
3. Now let us go back and talk about your initial cricket days. What was your childhood cricket like? What drove you to cricket?
I started learning cricket 5 years ago but before that whenever I used to go to India for summer vacations, I used to always play gully cricket with my cousins. I was 15 when I actually got my first cricket bat. I always used to love watching cricket and that’s what motivated me to actually start learning the game. I was more inclined towards football during my middle school days but once I started playing cricket, I totally stopped football.
4. Who were your cricket role model / inspiration whilst growing up?
Growing up, my cricketing role models were Sachin Tendulkar and Ms Dhoni. But now I also look up to Virat Kohli, Mithali raj and Harmanpreet Kaur.
5. Back then how did you cope up with your studies / education / other commitments along with cricket?
Studies was always a first priority and cricket always came second. I used to always miss training during exams but this changed as I got into the national side. Studies was still given a priority but my parents were not expecting all A stars from me. As long as I balanced both the things out, everything worked out well.
6. You have spent your initial days studying in UK. Did you happen to experience UK’s cricket culture?
I was only 5 years old when moved to the UK and was back to the UAE when I was 7. At that time, I was not in to sports and I started playing cricket only when I was 15.
7. Walk us through your UAE cricket journey? When and how did this happen?
I started playing in 2013 and the same year I was selected as a reserve for the team that was touring to Thailand for an ACC tournament. At that time, I wasn’t that disappointed as I had gone into the selection camp after only 3 months of actually learning the game but after that I was motivated to work even harder so that I would make it into the Squad for the next tournament. Towards the end of 2013, we had an academy tournament in which 5 teams had participated. In that, one team consisted of all the current UAE national players back then. That tournament was the turning point for my career. It was a six a side tournament which was 6 overs each innings. I had won the player of the tournament award in that and the best moment was when I had scored 36 not out of 16 balls against the side that consisted of the national players. Since then I have been a regular member of the national side.
8. What was the general perception about women’s cricket in UAE when you started playing? How is it now?
When I started cricket, not many academies were keen to train girls and women’s cricket was still not that well known in the UAE. I think the 2014 GCC Cup was a turning point for Women’s cricket in the UAE. We were undefeated throughout and this was a first tournament win for the UAE Women’s. Since then cricket among women in the UAE has grown massively. I remember, in 2014 there were only about 30 girls turning up for selections but now there are upto 100 girls who actually fight it out for a spot in the team through Academy leagues.
9. You have been in phenomenal touch with both bat and ball. What do you feel is still an area to work and improve on at a personal level?
I feel I need to be more consistent. Although I have performed, I have not been consistent enough, especially in international tournaments.
10. Last year, it was UAE’s first ICC tournament and the team has surprised everyone with their performance and made it’s way into the T20 World Cup global qualifiers. How easy/difficult was the entire journey, right from the preparations to qualification?
Being a first ICC tournament, we all were quite excited to get a chance to play some of the better teams and as we knew we were now going into a league with a different standard, we had to train even more harder. We worked really hard on improving our fitness levels as that was something many of us lacked. We kept the intensity of our training high and although we all used to be extremely tired after training, it was all totally worth it. We used to go for training directly from schools and work and use to reach back home really tired only at night but all of this was worth it and we made our only opportunity count.
11. Tell us more about the current coaching staff, support staff and team administrators for UAE women’s cricket? How has their contribution helped UAE qualify for T20 global qualifiers?
Currently our coaching staff consists of Coach Murali, who works really hard on raising the standard of our game and Our Team Manager Chaitrali, who manages the team and also helps out during training sessions. We also had some visiting coaches help us with our fitness training. Their contributions were mainly the reason to our success. They have been really supportive and have been working really hard to make sure that we can perform our best.
12. Qualification in the T20 World Cup 2018 could be a major turning point for women’s cricket in UAE. What are your views on this?
Qualifying for the World Cup would completely change the view of others on women’s cricket in the UAE. If we reach that stage, people would actually start taking cricket seriously and more youngsters wold be keen to play cricket. It would completely change the way women’s cricket is in the UAE.
13. UAE will now be locking horns with teams like Bangladesh, Ireland and Scotland in June 2018. How excited is the team to play against more experienced sides?
We all are very excited and are hungry for tough competition. This would be the first time we would be playing against countries like these and I am sure it’s going to be a great experience for all.
14. All the 6 teams displayed some quality cricket throughout the Asia Qualifiers tournament last year. Against which team did you enjoy playing the most and why?
I enjoyed playing against Nepal the most. The match against them was a must win game for us and Nepal have been a regular member of ICC tournament for years now. We used to always look up to them as we knew that they were of a different level when compared to us. The match had gone down to the last over and Nepal still could have won with 5 needed of the last ball. It was a thriller and was one match I will remember all my life.
15. A lot of aspiring female cricketers have asked us this question. What are the pathway / steps to playing for UAE national team?
ECB is now organising many tournaments for girls. It all starts from the school level. ECB is planning to arrange annual girl’s inter-school championships and through that, talented girls would be picked up to train and develop further. There are also national academy leagues taking place every year in with everyone gets to show their skills and prove that they are worth a place in the team.
16. Your views on Female Cricket as a platform?
Female cricket is one of the best platforms which showcases women cricketers from all over the world. It is the only platform that regularly keeps us updated about women’s cricket across the globe and its playing an important role in taking women’s cricket to greater heights.