Wicket-keeping is arguably the most thankless job on the cricket field. Performing this job with paramount dedication and determination is the 17-year-old Mahek Pokar from Mumbai. She has been a part of the Mumbai U19 team since 2019 and has been an integral part of the side. An opening batter and wicketkeeper, Mahek, will be next seen in the U19 Challengers Trophy in Goa from November 1 to November 7. She wants to perform well and be eligible to play in the upcoming Quadrangular Series against West Indies and Sri Lanka U19 Girls.
Female Cricket interviewed Mahek to learn more about her cricket journey, how it all began, and her career goals with the maiden U19 World Cup around.
When did you start playing cricket?
I started playing cricket when I was in the seventh standard. On January 26 of that year, when a tennis ball cricket tournament was organized in my society, I discovered my potential for cricket. Before that tournament, I had hardly played any cricket. In that tournament, I scored plenty of runs and kept wickets. My parents, who witnessed my performance, encouraged me to pursue cricket seriously. Coincidentally, my school, Sri Ma Vidyalaya, started cricket for girls in the same year. I played school cricket and participated in DSO (District Sports Organisation) and MSSA (Mumbai School Sports Association) competitions. I have been an opening batter right from the start and, on many occasions, have single-handedly won the games for my school.
Were there any cricketers in your family?
My father and my maternal uncle played a fair bit of cricket. However, they played just for fun and not professionally. To date, my maternal uncle, who stays in the same society as mine, continues to play tennis ball tournaments. He is an opening batter. Apart from them, no other family members, including my mother and two sisters, are into cricket or any other sports.
Being the first professional sportsperson in your home, how was the support from family members?
My parents have been very supportive of my cricket. From waking up early in the morning and preparing food for me to dropping me at the practice ground, my mother and father have left no stone unturned. They have prioritized my cricket and want to see me play the sport at the highest level.
Despite being a full-time employee with a real estate company, my father has always accompanied me to my practice sessions and stayed there till the end. When my father was not around, my maternal uncle shouldered the responsibility of taking me to the ground and being there. I feel blessed to have a strong support system.
Who have been your cricket coaches, and where have you been practicing?
Being born and brought up in Thane, I started my practice at Sri Ma Vidyalaya school grounds. I train under Pratish Bhoir sir, Darshan Bhoir sir, and Jayesh Kulkarni sir. Apart from them, I have Ajit Kulkarni sir, as my fitness coach. Additionally, I train with the Mumbai U19 team at the BKC ground.
When did you break into the Mumbai U19 team?
I was selected for the Mumbai U19 team in 2019. My first tour was to Guwahati. Though I did not get a chance to play any match there, I learnt a lot sitting on the sidelines. I saw how the players prepare for the game, handle pressure situations, etc.
Against which team did you make your debut? Can you tell us more about your first match?
I made my debut against Hyderabad in 2021 in a one-day format. Though I did not get a chance to bat, I had a great day behind the stumps with the gloves. Out of the eight wickets that we took, I was a part of five of them. I accounted for one catch, three stumpings, and a run-out. We won that game by 20 runs. I derived a lot of confidence from the match and eagerly looked forward to giving my best with the bat whenever I got a chance.
Who has been your role model?
As a wicketkeeper, I have looked up to MS Dhoni and Sarah Taylor. I feel they are the best in the business. Among the batters, I admire Virat Kohli and Jemimah Rodrigues. I like the way they pace their innings.
You are a wicketkeeper and an opening batter, which seems to be a lethal combination. How do you work on your fitness?
Being a wicketkeeper and an opening batter is not easy. I understand that I must go the extra mile to work on my fitness to do well in both departments. That is why I have been training under Ajit Kulkarni sir, who has been my fitness coach. He keeps on pushing me to do better. We have a set of drills and follow a routine to keep my fitness levels high. For example, being a wicketkeeper, having strong legs is of the essence. We work on strengthening my legs and doing the relevant exercises.
You have been around with the Mumbai U19 team since 2019. Were there any challenging situations in your cricketing journey so far?
I struggled to get runs just before the U19 T20 tournament this year. Though I was doing well as a wicketkeeper, I could not carry my wicket-keeping form to my batting. I spoke to my coaches, and they just asked me to play freely. For some reason, I was playing under pressure, which was not helping my game. My coaches advised me to enjoy the game without worrying about the results. It may seem to be a piece of simple advice, but it worked wonders for me.
You will be next seen in the U19 Challenger Trophy. How have you been preparing for this tournament?
I am looking to keep things simple. I want to enjoy every moment when I am on the field. I want to play a fearless brand of cricket. For this, I have been working hard on my wicket-keeping and batting. Mainly, I have been training to improve my body movements. Also, I have been doing a lot of batting drills to get confidence. Apart from the skill-based training, I have worked on my fitness. Just before leaving for Goa, I got a chance to play a couple of one-day matches. The game-time has helped me as well.
Next year the Women’s U19 World Cup will be played for the very first time. How excited are you about that? When did you know about the U19 World Cup for girls?
I came to know about the U19 World Cup almost a year back. Since then, I have been putting in the dedicated effort, keeping in mind the goal of representing India. I am very excited about the World Cup. If I get a chance to represent India, I think it will help me build my career. I hope I get the opportunity to not only play for India in the World Cup but also make the country proud.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.