Bowled over by rise of women’s cricket

Pakistan's Sadia Iqbal (left) and Nida Dar celebrate the dismissal of Bangladesh's Shamima Sultana during the Hangzhou Asian Games women's third-place playoff match on Monday.

BEIJING: When Nigar Sultana first touched a cricket bat at the tender age of 2, no one could have imagined how far the sport would take her.

Now 26 and captain of the Bangladesh women’s team, the breakout star at the T20 World Cup has added an Asian Games bronze medal to her fast-expanding silverware collection.

Sultana, nicknamed “Joty” by her teammates, described Bangladesh’s campaign at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou as a milestone — not just because it proved the team’s world-class pedigree, but, more importantly, for projecting a confident and vibrant image of Bangladeshi sportswomen.

“I think it actually opens (a window) to many people to show how capable we are in front of the world,” Sultana told China Daily after leading the Tigresses to a five-wicket victory over Pakistan with 10 balls to spare on Monday.

“Nowadays our cricket board and the government are supporting us so much, and we want to be the example for so many young girls who want to pick up a bat.

“How we played here today and in the future, we just wanted to make them feel confident and try to motivate them to play for their country.”

Bangladesh was hoping to improve on the two silver medals it won at cricket’s two previous Asiad tournaments — Guangzhou 2010 and Incheon 2014.

However, a third-place finish at a venue with challenging batting conditions was not at all bad for a team that made it to Hangzhou by overcoming plenty of challenges, according to Sultana.

“I think it was very difficult at the beginning to choose cricket as a woman in Bangladesh because of the lack of facilities, funding and family support,” said the wicketkeeper-batter, who in May was named Bangladesh’s Women’s Cricketer of the Year.

“Every team comes with an aim to win the highest honor. But it is pleasing for us to come back again and rectify the mistakes we made on Sunday (against India).

“It is better to return home with something than nothing. The whole team is proud and happy.”

The rise of women’s cricket in Bangladesh over the last decade has helped garner greater support for women’s sports in general in the country, further lowering the barriers to participation and bolstering the self-belief of more young female athletes, reckons Sultana.

On the opposing side on Monday stood another respected captain in the women’s game — Pakistan all-rounder Nida Dar, her country’s flagbearer at Saturday night’s opening ceremony.

The 36-year-old veteran made history in February at the T20 World Cup, where she broke West Indies great Anisa Mohammad’s record to become the No 1 wicket-taker in the shorter format, with 126 wickets in 130 matches.

In a country where cricket is followed with an almost religious zeal, Dar said the sport offers women and girls the chance to demonstrate their grit and strength.

“We are passionate about it and it’s a great honor to play cricket in Pakistan,” said Dar, who is nicknamed “Lady Boom Boom” in reference to her idol, Pakistan legend Shahid Afridi.

“We are not treating it just as a game, we are all involved with it in Pakistan.”

“All the girls are very keen to represent Pakistan. It’s always a great honor for us.”  –The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item