Sana Mir: Collective will needed to sustain women's cricket

The recently-retired Sana Mir reflects on her career and the growth of the women's game, in an interview.

Sana Mir bowed out of international cricket in April, 2020.   -  V. Ganesan

As Sana Mir walked into retirement a month and a half ago, her team-mates referred to her as a “true stalwart of Pakistan cricket” and “a catalyst for the women's game.” And it’s certainly not an exaggeration.

In her 15-year long career, Sana has arguably been the greatest woman cricketer Pakistan has produced. Having made her international debut in 2005, she featured in 120 ODIs and 106 T20Is and is considered one of the most successful captains of Pakistan. But now that she has hung up her boots, Sana wants to “be away from the game” for a while and plans to work on the social front, helping the people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to Sportstar from her home in Abbottabad, Sana walks down memory lane and talks about the journey of women’s cricket.

Q. How has life been post retirement?

A. I announced my retirement a day before the Ramzan started, so it was a month of fasting. And I have been able to observe it much deeply this time around. For the last few years, we have had quite a busy cricketing schedule, so we were not able to spend much time at home with the parents. I have really enjoyed that. This time, I could read our holy scripture more deeply, and also read a lot of other books.

With COVID-19 happening, there is so much to do on social front - small, little things, connecting people, connecting donors with the people affected, and creating awareness. So yeah, life has been busy but quite nice as of now!

What do you plan to do next?

It looks like that we will be affected by the COVID-19 and lockdown for another few months. A lot of people will be affected more than us, so we need to do something more dominant on the social front (sic). That’s how I have planned things.

I am not a very long-term planner. I have always taken things as they come and have always gone with the flow. I will continue to keep it that way. So, for now, I will continue working for the social cause at such times.

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Many feel that your decision of retirement came after you were left out of the Pakistan squad for the T20 World Cup. Being one of the icons of the sport, how tough was it to deal with the axe?

Of course, it was quite a sudden thing, so it took me some time to actually reflect on it. Of course, decisions are not always easy and sometimes, they don’t make sense to you either. There has been a lot of reflection and for me, what’s extremely important is to enjoy what you are doing and giving your 100 per cent and never compromise on your values. For me, that’s what success is. Playing for your country in various tournaments, winning medals - that’s also part of success, but for me, it is about staying true to yourself and staying true to your values.

Post pandemic, cricket will not be the same. How challenging will this phase be for women’s cricket?

I was reading a good article from Australia where the author was using the parable of a garden and how the stronger plants go through the storms and still survive. The new or weaker plants get more affected by the storm. In no way [is] women’s cricket weak anymore but definitely, it’s much younger than men’s cricket in that sense, not in terms of history, but in terms of how the growth has happened. I just hope that all boards pay as much attention to women’s cricket. I know men’s cricket brings more revenue for most of the boards, but it’s going to be very important now.

What’s really important is that we need a global take on women’s cricket because if only a few boards take interest in women’s cricket and others don’t, the product will go down. We don’t want that. We want good, competitive matches at a higher level, so all boards must put their weight behind women’s cricket once the pandemic is over.

Sana Mir at a practice session during the T20 World Cup in New Delhi in March, 2016. - SANDEEP SAXENA

 

So, what’s the way forward?

At the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty. There has hardly been any practice for the last few months. Most of the female athletes around the world are only focusing on physical fitness. No one actually knows when they are going to play the next tournament. We are at the moment lucky to be riding on the wave after the Women’s T20 World Cup, where 86,000 people were present for the final and another World Cup is scheduled in February, next year. There is something to look forward to for every cricketer, which is a very good sign. So, in that sense, a lot of active cricketers don’t need much [extra] motivation.

But having said that, we need to make sure that the mental health of cricketers during a pandemic is taken care of. Even though they have tournaments to look forward to, they still need to be involved and talked to, especially the ones who have struggled with it before.

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But then, players do need some longer training sessions leading up to these tournaments.

Talking about the future, we need to see how many boards will work on creating bio-secure environments for domestic matches and practices, so that we can have level-playing fields for tournaments lined up.

There is going to be a difference in preparations, of course. We know some boards have a lot of resources and others don’t. So, the preparations for the World Cup and qualifiers are going to be quite different for different teams. That’s something we will have to accept.

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This time the ICC decided to split points between India and Pakistan after two teams failed to play bilateral series as part of Women’s Championships, and India qualified for the World Cup 2021. How do you look at it?

As far as India and Pakistan are concerned, it’s quite sad that bilateral series doesn’t happen and players miss out on good quality cricket. This makes me sad.

Mithali Raj (left) and Jhulan Goswami, contemporaries of Sana Mir. - VIVEK BENDRE

 

In your long and illustrious career, you have seen the Pakistan women’s cricket come a long way. How have things changed over the years?

Every time has its challenges. When we started, we had to fight for our basic rights as female cricketers in Pakistan. For us, it was basically to make everyone understand the seriousness of women’s cricket.

Not many people believed in the talents and that was a very different challenge to face and we had to go through that. The Khan sisters (Shaiza and Sharmeen - pioneers of women’s cricket in Pakistan) had to face it and then we came under the PCB in 2005. It took us at least another six years until we won the Asian gold medal, we were not taken that seriously. After that, the contracts came and gradually things started moving.

Now, when I see it, I find there is a different kind of challenge because now teams are improving rapidly. Even though we are investing in women’s cricket much more than we were in 2005, still to pace with international teams, our cricket is facing a lot of difficulties.

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The contract, the match fees - all that has come in and has helped cricketers be more professional, but of course, the competition has gone up, the demands on cricketers on what’s expected of them, the scrutiny of media - all that things are also challenges that cricketers need to go through.

Being an icon in Pakistan’s women’s cricket, is there any plan to take up coaching or getting into cricket administration?

I think I have done a lot of groundwork for women’s cricket for the last 15 years and it has taken a toll on me, personally and professionally. Before I can go back and start serving, I think I need some time away from the game. I have always shared my knowledge with others while I was playing and will continue doing that if God gives me the opportunity.

But for me, what is most important is, the quality of service you offer. For that, it is also necessary to be away from the game for some time. So, this is that kind of a time for me and once I have taken time for myself, I will definitely come back and support in whatever way - be it in Pakistan or anywhere else. Cricket is a gift that God has given me and I will share it with whoever needs it.

I have always shared my knowledge with the cricketers from Ireland, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. If anyone wanted to ask something, they could just come and we could talk about things. But now, I will be away from the game for a while.

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When you look back at your career, is there any regret?

What our faith teaches us is submission. It’s about looking at your life with more curiosity rather than grief. That’s how I want to practice living my life. There are of course events in people’s life where things do not go according to our plans, but how I see it now is that we need to think with more curiosity and realise that anything that gives you a lesson, makes you a better person. It makes you a more compassionate human being, and it does not need to be regretted as it helps you in your personal development.

A lot of my developments happened due to worldly failures. Maybe, one tournament was not successful, but it increased my values. I want to look at life with more gratitude. Whatever has happened has happened for the better.

Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Sana Mir or a Chamari Atapattu are ambassadors of women’s cricket in the Asian subcontinent. When all of you walked into the scene, the game was struggling. But things are different now. Having played a key role in the change, how would you define this story of success?

When we started, most of us - Mithali, Goswami, myself - we only came for the love of the game. Atapattu came a bit later, but for her also, it was about the love and passion for the game. It might be possible that many of us never thought of becoming stars initially, but with the time, you start accepting the role of being a role model for the young girls. The achievements for your country help you dream bigger and bigger.

With ICC putting its weight behind women’s cricket so much, the game has grown rapidly in the last six-seven years. Most of us didn’t think of achieving so much when we started. How women’s cricket and its stars are treated now, 10 or 11 years ago, we could not even imagine, even though we wanted it to happen. I could see the initial struggles and also was part of the transformation.

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With 86,000 people attending the women’s T20 World Cup final, it was a peak for the sport and I am sure, it’s going to go further.

So, there is a lot of gratitude. I am blessed that I could be part of this journey, along with so many greats of the game, who did almost the same thing in their own countries for the betterment of the game, and the next generation. We as cricketers not only connect through our games, we also connect through our journeys. And the journeys have been quite similar for all of us!

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