Fatima’s rapid rise is a great example of how focusing on age-group and regional academy programmes can unearth a lot of talent.
Having made her debut for Pakistan in 2019, Fatima had a breakout year in 2021. The right-arm pacer managed to pick 20 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 24.90, including a five-wicket haul against West Indies away from home.
As she awaits the announcement of the result, Fatima spoke exclusively to Women’s CricZone about her performances in the last year, sharing new ball duties with Diana Baig, on the decision to become a fast bowler, the upcoming women’s cricket World Cup in New Zealand and much more.
How does it feel to be nominated for an ICC award?
Firstly, I want to thank God. It is great for me as a youngster and I will use this nomination to motivate myself to do better. I hope in the future I can win more such accolades.
Having not played any international matches in 2020, how did you prepare yourself heading into 2021?
I made my debut in 2019 but then in 2020 unfortunately the pandemic hit us. Once that happened, I had to do all my training at home itself. I set an aim that whenever things are opened again, I want to start off well and do well for my team. I want to thank god that 2021 went well for me. I want to credit my team, all the seniors, and the coaching staff who supported me. I managed to do it because of the way they believed in me and gave me opportunities.
Your 5 for 39 against the West Indies was the first time in eight years that a Pakistani bowler picked up a five-wicket haul in ODIs. Talk me through that day.
I would just like to say that I was a junior player in this team and all the senior players supported me well, especially Danni (Diana Baig). She is the one who is my bowling partner and tries to lead from the front. Ahead of the match, she told me all about the pitch. She told me that the ball will grip from the surface and told me that as pacers we have to exploit it. The fact that the wicket will be beneficial for us was something that she put in my head. And all I wanted to do was to exploit it and execute the plans. Thank god that all of the plans worked out.
How has your relationship with Diana Baig been on and off the field?
When we are in the nets and practicing, she is always telling me things and giving me crucial insights. She tells me when the wicket is in our favour. When there isn’t a lot in the wicket, she tells me what needs to be done. It feels good that as a senior player she is always guiding me. Watching her from close as a fast bowler and knowing that there is a teammate who is trying to help you grow is special. It almost feels like we are growing together, which is a nice thing.
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In the same match where you picked that five-wicket haul, you also scored a 19-ball 28. Tell us a little about that knock.
Once I was in the middle, I just thought that if the situation has come down to this, I have to stay and take the team to a better position so that we are able to get a good score. I just wanted to contribute to the team’s total and wanted to do my best for the team by scoring as many runs as possible.
Do you see yourself as a fast bowler or as a bowling all-rounder?
As a fast-bowler, I aspire to be the fastest bowler in the world. But I enjoy batting as well. My coach had told me before as well that I have some batting talent and can do well. So, he would make me bat, and with time I developed an interest. Now, I want to serve my team as an all-rounder.
In the World Cup, will we see more of Fatima the all-rounder?
What I really like about this team is that the head coach David Hemp always tells us to double our skill sets. He makes it a point that we should be able to do multiple skills. He says even if you are playing as a bowler, you should be able to contribute as a proper batter. I think whatever change has come in my batting is because of him. He always says that I should be able to contribute to this team as an all-rounder. And now, even I want to serve Pakistan in that role for the next few years, especially at the World Cup.
How was the experience of playing at the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe?
Obviously, the World Cup qualifier is a big event and it is a huge deal to make it to the World Cup. We have always made it to the World Cup in recent years, so there was some pressure. However, we all had it in our minds that we had to follow the process and focus on it completely. Whatever happened in the past and whatever was going to happen in the future was something that none of us thought about. All we wanted to do was perform well on the day and deliver results for the team.
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How do you plan on tackling pressure in what is going to be your first World Cup?
I am really excited for the World Cup and I want to take each of the opportunities and do something good for my team during the tournament. Obviously, the World Cup is a huge event and there will be pressure naturally. All I want to do is handle that pressure well and I am working now with my coaches on how to handle it.
How did you first start playing the game?
I started in my state itself. I knew the boys would play and play a lot. So I thought if they can play, why can’t I? My father supported me a lot. He never stopped me from playing or going out and that was a good thing for me. Because my father supported me, my brothers also welcomed me and they would play with me in the streets. There were times when their friends wouldn’t want to play with me, but my brothers would still take me in. I took motivation from those moments and thought that I want to play and be better than them.
With time, I came across women’s cricket. I found out that there is a women’s team of Pakistan, which increased interest in the sport. I thought to myself that I want to play with these girls for my country.
Who was your idol growing up?
Sana Mir. I heard a lot about her and knew how good she was. When I started playing with the girls, I just wanted to know where I could find her. I didn’t know from where she played her cricket but all I knew was that I wanted to play for whoever she represents. She has been my role model and will always be one, on and off the field.
You got an opportunity to play at your home ground Karachi a few months back. Not a lot of Pakistani players in the last decade or so have been able to experience that.
It was a brilliant experience for me. The last time West Indies had come to Pakistan, I had been taken in as a net bowler and I used to try and get them out. And finally, in 2021, I managed to play against them and my family was there watching the match. On top of that, I was playing at the same venue, where my family would drop me every day for practice. So it was a very proud and special moment for me and my family.
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What drove you to fast bowling?
When I used to go to play with my brothers, I would never get a chance to bat. They would tell me that I might get hurt because I was small. Everyone used to tell me to just bowl whichever way I could. But the ball didn’t reach the batter. Then my brothers told me to run from a distance and bowl as it would then have more chances to reach. That is when I learnt that this type of bowling is known as fast bowling. And I had to make sure that the ball was bowled at a good speed because I was playing with all the boys. That is how I got the knack of bowling fast. Then I learnt that Shoaib Akhtar is the fastest bowler, from where I understood that holding that title is a different feeling.
How much would you credit the Pakistan Cricket Board for your development?
As a young player, I would immensely credit the PCB for the help which they have given me and all the young cricketers. The way they have managed tournaments, the U-17, the U-19 and then there were also matches for Pakistan A. Girls from every city got a chance to play and there were camps at the National Stadium (Karachi). These things allow players to get an opportunity to grow. There were good coaches in all these places. For me, it was a great opportunity to learn from experienced coaches. I was thinking to develop my skills and learn from the best and make the most out of the opportunities that PCB was giving me.