An exclusive interview with the captain of the UAE women’s cricket team Humaira Tasneem as she walks us through her inspiring cricket journey. She has been involved with the national team since she was 12, and is certainly a role model for women cricketers in the region. With hijab over her head and courage in her eyes, Humaira has played a key role in uplifting women’s cricket in UAE. She was recently awarded as best bowler of the tournament. Humaira and her team are now looking forward to make their mark in the upcoming T20 Asia qualifiers 2017. Here’s how?
1. What drove you to cricket? Walk us through your initial cricket days?
I used to play cricket with my brothers. My dad used to watch a lot of matches on TV and at that time it was mainly considered as a men’s sport so I used to play it but not take it seriously.
2. Who were your cricket role model / inspiration whilst growing up?
Growing up, my cricketing role models have been players like Raina and Ms Dhoni. But now they have changed to players like Stafanie Taylor and Mithali Raj.
3. Back then how did you cope up with your studies / education / other commitments along with cricket? Was it hard to convince your parents about choosing this profession?
I used to play basketball too and although, I found happiness in playing these sports, It was really hard at first because it was a lot to handle. My parents always supported me and believed in me. They say that I can do whatever I want as far as I am studying and submitting my assignments on time. They do not expect me to top all classes and I am relieved from that pressure. I also have the support of my friends, because a lot of times I miss classes and they will always back me up and help me catch up with submissions and exams. My parents always say “Make sure your company at school/college is right and everything will be fine”. When your support system is backing you up, there is no tension.
4. What made you take cricket as a profession? Is cricket a sustainable profession in UAE or there’s something more players do for a living?
We are not contracted players, yet. The players have other jobs/ university/ school and play cricket mostly for passion. A lot of us have to make sacrifices because of our love for this sport.
5. When and how did you come to know about your selection in the national team? Could you recall the moment and describe it in words?
It was 2008, I was 13 and I was playing cricket in my school, DPS Sharjah. My coach saw me bowling and told me that I should try out for the UAE women’s cricket team as they were looking for lady players to play in a tournament in Thailand. That is when it started.
6. What was the general perception about women’s cricket in UAE when you took it as a profession?
At that time, nobody even really knew there was a team. It was new at that point. There were about 17 girls who came for practice and 14 would be selected from that. We were all kids. If you look at it now though, we have a balanced team with seniors who have a lot of experience in this sport and juniors who are talented, young cricketers ready to grab any opportunity.
7. Just 22, you’re a captain and have been in exceptional form. What do you feel is an area to work and improve on at a personal level?
I always think there’s room for improvement in everything. I will always work in all three compartments of the game to improve every bit that I can and make sure that I become the best player I can be.
8. How has UAE women’s cricket evolved over the years?
It has been an incredible journey. We have improved a lot from where we started off in 2007. Ten years later, here we are, going for our very first ICC tournament and I could not be more proud and overwhelmed. Even in the UAE itself, we have more exposure, with almost 100 girls coming for academy training. People have even started to realize that there is a women’s team in the UAE. We beat teams like Kenya and Malaysia recently and we aim to go to the top. This Qualifiers is a start of a new journey for us and we want to grab this opportunity and use it well.
9. How is it like playing cricket wearing a Hijab? Were there any pre-conceived notions or societal pressure?
Its the same. At the start I was a little uncomfortable but I got used to it. There are no pre-conceived notions. Most people don’t even care. The common question I get asked is “Don’t you feel hot in that” and honestly, I don’t. It’s a part of me now so I am very comfortable.
10. Could you tell us more about the current coaching staff, support staff and team administrators for UAE women’s cricket?
The Emirates Cricket Board has supported women’s cricket from the start and if we do well in this tournament then we are going to get more opportunities. We have a lot of people behind the scenes working hard so we can qualify for tournaments like these and we are very appreciative of their effort.
11. Throw some light on the current domestic structure in UAE? Highlight some of the camps/tournaments that have helped churn out quality female cricket players?
We have four academy teams and we play matches against each other throughout the off season – ECB tournament and the Dubai Cricket Council tournament. A lot of young girls keep joining the academy teams and playing with us. Since we all know they are the future, we make sure they get ample experience, support and encouragement so they continue to learn and become better players.
12. ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 was a great platform to raise the profile of women’s cricket across the World. Is there any tournament in UAE designed especially for female cricketers?
ECB recently held the UAE women’s International t20 tournament 2016 which saw competitive teams like Kenya, Uganda and Malaysia taking part in it. It was a huge experience for us to play in our home ground and beat teams like Kenya and Malaysia. We had a lot of girls from the UAE come up to us during the tournament asking us for details about the steps to getting selected in the team.
13. A moment that you feel was the turning point for women’s cricket in UAE?
I think the Oman Gulf Cup tournament in 2014 was a turning point. We won it by beating teams the Gulf teams like Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. From there, the graph has been going up.
14. What is the biggest challenge still prevalent in the UAE women’s cricket circuit? Highlight the steps taken to mitigate these challenges.
The main challenge is getting young talent. We have more number of girls coming up to play the sport, but it would be great if we can get a lot more youngsters so we can play u16 and u19 tournaments exclusively for girls. This will happen if schools started making girls cricket teams, coaching and playing tournaments against each other.
15. How many cricket academies do we have for girls in UAE right now?
Almost all academies in the UAE are open to accepting girls, nurturing and training them to become better players. They all want to promote women’s cricket.
16. How important is the upcoming tournament – T20 World Cup Qualifiers for you and the team?
It’s probably the most important tournament of our lives, yet. We have been waiting too long for an opportunity like this. The Emirates Cricket board and specially our manager Chaitrali Kalgutkar have worked hard to get us this opportunity and we are going to make sure we use it well.
17. How’s the preparation going on? Where do you see your team in the tournament?
We have been preparing for a long time. We had a summer camp then we played the Indoor World Cup which gave us a lot of tricks as it was a different format and now we have been having a national camp for the past two months. I think we are going to be a good competition for the rest of the teams in the tournament. We are ready to give it our best.
18. A lot of aspiring female cricketers have asked us this question. What are the pathway / steps to playing for your country (UAE)?
We normally have a Talent Hunt in the year to get girls to come and show their talent in cricket. Apart from that if you join any of the main academies and practice with us, that will get you to playing for UAE. When you play the tournament, all stats are noted down and the best players are chosen for the national camp. Apart from this, I would advise the youth to keep playing cricket in their schools, and if they do not have a team, then petition and bug your P.E teachers to get you one. You have to work towards this because you will be the future of UAE women’s cricket.
19. Your views on Female Cricket as a platform?
Female cricket has been my favorite platform for women’s cricket. The platform covers cricket from around the world and it helps us, women cricketers and the audience, to always stay updated about the happenings of women’s cricket in the world. The fact that there is a platform that exists exclusively for female cricketers is great.