Sana Mir: Dhoni is my favourite

There were difficult times for women cricketers in Pakistan, but now when I see parents coming up to me and saying they want their daughters to be like us, this is the impact the team has had on the country and society as a whole.

Sana Mir, the Pakistan captain, addressing a press conference at the MAC Stadium in Chennai on Sunday.   -  PTI

Sana Mir has been enduring adversities since she was a little girl, growing up in the military milieu of Abbottabad. Charged up by the ferocity of Wasim Akram in Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup triumph, young Sana wanted to be a cricketer, without bothering to ask if there was a women’s team that played the game.

Studying in sixth grade, she became the only girl in her school’s team that comprised tenth-grade boys. The oddity became prominent as she grew older. She was forced to stay away from the game as not many were okay with grown-up girls playing in the streets. She was pained by this. She fought tears every day, while attending engineering classes. Then, empathising with her passion, her father said: “We have a lot of female engineers in Pakistan, but not many female cricketers — go and live your dream.”

She made her debut at 19. In her second match, she was part of the team that suffered a crushing loss to India. It also left her with a nagging back-ache. She was advised to leave the game. She didn’t, of course.

She stayed, even if it meant giving up her favourite pace and switching to spin. She stayed till she became the skipper of the team. She stayed till her team beat the Indians in a global event (2012 ICC World Twenty20), a feat that the men’s team hasn’t been able to achieve till date. She stayed despite her dismay of not being able to play in Pakistan. The 2016 World Twenty20 will be the 30-year-old’s last tournament as the T20I skipper, but she will stay on as a player as long as the team needs her.

She landed with her team yesterday after being delayed by political tensions and security concerns. The team missed two warm-up games and that could be a drawback heading into the tournament. But Sana has been dealing with adversities for a while now. She met the media today at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai and spoke about her team’s preparation, M. S. Dhoni and women’s cricket in Pakistan among other things.

Excerpts:

Do you think the preparation is enough having missed two warm-up games before your first match on Wednesday?

Of course every team would like to come early and play warm-up matches. But this is what we have at the moment and we have to go with it.

How is your mental framework considering the controversies of the last few days?

We, as cricketers, have nothing to do with this controversy. We are here to play cricket and we have been playing in Pakistan. We are clear about our job.

As a captain, does your role become difficult when you have so many things distracting you off the field?

Of course, when you are the leader, you are expected to manage situations and things like these can happen before a big tournament. But that is why we are professional cricketers. This is what we have signed up for and we will try to give our best.

What was going on the minds of the players when this uncertainty was going on?

At times, it was getting difficult. We knew the ICC, BCCI and PCB are competent and would find a solution. We were confident we were going to play and that is what has happened.

Who are going to be your game-changers?

There are a lot. There are six-seven names that come to my mind. Asmavia Iqbal, Javeria Khan, Bismah Maroof, Nida Dar, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin... So, yeah, there are a lot of them.

When Pakistan assembled its first women’s cricket team, there were protests and death threats. How has women’s cricket evolved?

It has changed and people now want their daughters to play cricket. This team has changed the perceptions. There were difficult times for women cricketers in Pakistan, but now when I see parents coming up to me and saying they want their daughters to be like us, this is the impact the team has had on the country and society as a whole. We have come a long way and there is a long way to go still.

The success of the women’s cricket team has meant there are other teams the country as a whole are supporting be it badminton, our football team and squash players. Overall it is good for the women of Pakistan.

Talk about your transformation from a fast bowler to a spinner.

A stress fracture in my back in 2006 meant I was asked to change my action. But around that time there was a tournament so I couldn’t do it and thanks to street cricket I knew how to spin the ball. So that helped me become a spinner.

Is there any Indian cricketer the Pakistani women’s team follow?

There are a couple of names. If I just talk about my players, Virat Kohli would be their favourite one and if I talk personally, then it would be M. S. Dhoni.

Any reason why you like Dhoni?

It’s because of the way he has led India. The way he handles himself on and off the field. He is a wonderful leader and he has handled the transition of the Indian team really well. The transition has been very smooth.

You announced that you will be stepping down as the captain after the World Cup. Is there anyone in the team who can take up the mantle?

There is always somebody else. This will be my last tournament as a T20I skipper. I think there are other leaders in the team whom we have been grooming over the past three-four years. I am honoured that I have captained Pakistan for seven years. So I think this is the right time for the next captain to come and settle in because we are two years away from the next T20 World Cup.

What are your plans after stepping down as captain?

I will continue as a player. I will be there for the team as long as the team needs me. I think Mahela Jayawardene and (Kumar) Sangakkara have shown this. They are wonderful ambassadors. Alex Blackwell has been like that. There are a lot of wonderful people I’ve seen over the years and learnt from.

How difficult is it for you not to play in Pakistan? Have you thought about not playing for Pakistan because of that?

A lot of times. There were difficult situations initially when I took over. For instance, we didn’t play a single match between the 2009 T20 World Cup and the 2010 (T20) World Cup. We went from one World Cup to another without playing an international match. Things like these come in your way to make you stay motivated, keep working hard. You don’t get the idea of how much improvement you need as a player to stay at the international level.

Yes, there have been a lot of times like that, but I would say that my team, my team-mates, my support staff and my support system — my family and friends — have been instrumental in making me play for Pakistan.