Nothing can quite prepare you for the pressures of international cricket. I remember one of the early games in my career — a match against England in the inaugural edition of the Women’s World T20 in 2009 — it was a surreal feeling, going on to the ground, reflecting on my journey into the national side. I remember the adrenaline rush when I walked out to open the batting alongside Bismah Maroof. We were chasing 123, and there I was facing up to Isa Guha… I was desperate to make an impact on the game. I started with a solid defensive stroke, a wild waft outside off stump, and then a lofted shot over extra cover. When Guha came back at me with a short ball, I remember swinging blindly at it. In those few minutes it was like my brain had shut down, and I was relying solely on my instincts to get me through…
Until 2005, when women’s cricket came under the purview of the Pakistan Cricket Board, there was no competitive domestic structure in Pakistan. We had a pool of around 30 players, who were selected via trials— these were the players who made up the national team.
In such a setup the jump to the international level was immense— the pace of the game was different, the quality of cricket was different. The professionalism and skills were nothing that we had experienced before, so the gap was quite visible. However, as a team, and as individual players, we realised what we needed to work on to be able to compete at that level. With the limited resources and facilities we possessed we implemented all the things we learnt in our sessions— the fitness, conditioning and practice routines were totally different for all of us.
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In those days, regional cricket was the route into the national team. I represented Lahore for three years before getting selected for my first national camp. My first day at the National Cricket Academy was mesmerizing — seeing the senior players, who I had heard so much about, walking by was quite thrilling. I learnt a lot at the academy — understood my game, worked on my shortcomings and saw what the game looked like at the highest level.
Looking back, I believe at the start of my international career, the lack of good, hard competitive cricket meant I took a while to gain confidence at the top level, but the more I played, the more confident I became. Back then, we didn’t play too many (international) tournaments, so it was about trying to create match scenarios in practice and test yourself there. Most often, that is not enough, but we had to make do.
Personally, my transition to international cricket became easier only when I started to practice and train keeping in mind what international players do. When I developed the right mindset, my game at the domestic level also changed — that did the trick for me, not just in terms of confidence, but skill level as well — I became more consistent.
Over the last few years, things have changed quite significantly in Pakistan. The domestic tournaments— we play a 50-over challenge and a Departmental T20 tournament now — are well organised, high quality matches with many more young girls coming through the ranks. Straight away, since the number of girls playing the sport has increased, the domestic setup too, is becoming more competitive.
Of course, that has in no way completely closed the gap between domestic and international cricket, but it has made things slightly easier.
What I learnt through my career is that apart from having a positive mindset and understanding the technical and tactical side of the game, it is very important to have a strong base and understanding of what it is to play good, hard competitive cricket. The more competitive domestic matches are, the easier the transition will be. Needless to say, the atmosphere and pressure of an international match will always get to you, at the start, no matter how good a player you are, but a solid base/ years of playing in challenging/ pressure situations makes the transition slightly less nerve-wracking.
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