Fatima Sana interview: From street cricket to Pakistan captain

Fatima Sana - Fatima Sana interview: From street cricket to Pakistan captain

To say it was not the done thing for girls to play street cricket with boys on the suburban streets of Karachi is an understatement. But that did not stop Fatima Sana.

At 13 years of age, she was small but quick and soon learned to love the feeling of hurling a ball at her friends and neighbours. And in a country where cultural and religious traditions have not always been conducive to female participation in sport, Sana was fortunate to have an elder brother, Sheroz, who recognised her talent and encouraged her to join in.

“My brother realised that I was a good cricketer,” says Sana, speaking to Telegraph Sport during a break in Pakistan’s current tour of England. “He told me every time, turn your arm and do some bowling. So I did and after two or three months, he chose me for a cricket academy with the boys. So after a lot of street games I started my cricket journey in the academy with boys and they were all bigger and taller than me because they were proper club members.”

Now a handy batter and a key weapon in Pakistan’s bowling attack with her pace and natural ability to swing the ball, Sana is keenly aware of the effect success can have in her cricket-loving homeland. She refers to the theme of “cultural problems” several times during the interview; changing perceptions is something that motivates her to constantly improve.

“When I started there was not women’s cricket as much as [there is] now. But after some time, when our women won against India in the Asia Cup or anything like that in big events, it was almost like PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] supported us a lot more. And now we have an under-19s team and the emerging team and the Pakistan A team. So now PCB has produced a lot of cricket in Pakistan. We all know that our society is male dominated, so that’s the biggest problem.”

Fatima Sana
When Sana started out there wasn't much organised cricket for women in Pakistan but that has recently changed - Getty Images/Andy Kearns

Sana considers herself fortunate to have had a supportive family and friends who encouraged her progress, although there were exceptions. She says: “Some of the boys were supportive. Some of the boys were not because of the cultural issues. When I joined the club and academy, my brother’s friends were there, so they supported me a lot.”

One impediment for female cricketers is finding a safe environment in which to play at night during Ramadan. Dusk-to-dawn tournaments for men and boys have long been widespread in Pakistan during the holy month but in 2016 a new nighttime competition for women called Khelo Kricket was launched. Sana was convinced to sign up.

“At that time, it was a tape ball tournament and so I wasn’t interested, but my friend told me that it was interesting. I realised because it was cricket, I should play. It doesn’t matter that it is a tape ball or a hardball, so I played. And I got best bowler, player of the tournament, best fielder of the tournament, best batter of the tournament.

“It hurts when everyone can’t understand that women can play. But a lot of men are now understanding. We need those types of tournaments everywhere in Pakistan so everyone can play. And that type of pressure helped us to grow and after that tournament everyone knows that we have women’s teams.”

Fatima Sana
There has been a shift in Pakistan regards attitudes to women playing cricket but Sana says more needs to be done - PA/Bradley Collyer

The buzz around Sana was enough to land the precocious 17-year-old a gig bowling in the nets to a touring West Indies side, where she sent down deliveries to the likes of Deandra Dottin and Stafanie Taylor. A little more than a year later, she made her international debut in South Africa, taking her maiden scalp in an eight-wicket demolition of the home side. And when captain Nida Dar suffered a concussion during Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand late in 2023, Sana capped off a remarkable rise when she led her country at the age of 22, guiding her side to an historic first women’s one-day international victory in New Zealand.

“It’s very important for us to win matches because of our cultural problems. We want the best cricket in Pakistan for women. So that’s why we want a win against England, like we won against New Zealand. After beating New Zealand we got a lot of cricket in Pakistan, the PCB and the public supported us so much and that’s the biggest thing.”

While England secured a whitewash in the T20I series and are one-nil up in the ongoing ODI series, Sana knows even a single victory for Pakistan would create excitement at home. But that is only the start of her ambition.

“It’s my biggest dream that Pakistan will play in a final and win a World Cup. And I want to be myself the number one all-rounder. That would be the biggest achievement.”

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