How Pakistani Women Defied Diktats & Witch Hunting To Build A Cricket Team!

Ayush Puthran's Unveiling Jazbaa traces the history of Pakistan women’s cricket team, unravelling in details the struggles, the records, the ups and downs. 

My love for sports, and books, is a gift that I had received from my family, especially my maternal grandfather whom I lost early on this year. Hence, unknowingly, often now, I seek the comfort of that familiarity through them.

But when I picked up Ayush Puthran’s Unveiling Jazbaa: A History of Pakistan Women’s Cricket, I realized how ironically opposite were the philosophies of the man who taught me about sports, and the ones about whom he taught.

Dadu always used to say — be content with what you have. Yet, one can hardly imagine what would have happened if Shaiza Khan, and her sister Sharmeen, had stayed content with their foreign education, and brief stints with cricket. They dreamt of a women’s cricket team for Pakistan, and pushed hard till they made it; till Pakistan’s women cricket team earned their place on the international front.

As the subtitle of the book suggests, Unveiling Jazbaa traces the history of the women’s cricket team of Pakistan, unravelling in details the struggles, the advantages and the disadvantages, the records, the ups and downs.

More striking was the appropriate change of tone at the right places to suit the instances- Puthran was lucidly emotional when he narrated the personal struggles of the players, yet very empirical when their match records were reported.

And not just the tone. I was impressed with how he revealed the intrinsic complexities of the social network. Here are my two cents on it.

Nothing stands alone

Aayush Puthran adds a prologue to his book, where he speaks nothing of cricket.

Then what is it about?

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He narrates the various instances of Pakistani women rising in defiance against the patriarchal political dictators. They included the likes of Iqbal Bano, Asma Jahangir, Madeeha Gauhar, Nahid Siddiqui, etc. It explained to his readers the rigid political system of the nation during the 1980s.

Then, he moved onto to connect it with women’s cricket in his concluding lines. This idea was recurring through the entire length of the book- intertwining tales of political and personal, adeptly. It reminded me of Rafia Zakaria’s The Upstairs Wife, which happens to be one of my favourite novels.

In an age, where people prefer being apolitical to avoid political controversies, this book is a jarring reminder that one cannot be so. The idea of political has been narrowed down to ideologies, or being loyalists to particular parties. But, it stretches way beyond that. In a society, every decision taken by an individual does have a butterfly effect on the other, and it makes you political.

The sisters who dreamt of establishing a cricketing team of Pakistani women were not really defying political laws, but societal norms. The decision to materialize that dream, to move ahead with it, to convince the parents involved political consequences. The journey of these girls were, somewhere somehow, influenced by the leaders in power through Pakistan Cricket Board’s patron-in-chief.

Driven by the passion, these girls just wanted to play cricket. But at the larger front, it brought about crucial social and political changes.

Who are we really fighting against?

One sad but not-so-amusing reality that was a common element far too many times in the book – women pulling down their fellows. Be it the example of Shaiza’s hot-headedness, or Urooj’s grudge for having taken the captaincy away, it had me wondering if— we as women are really fighting against patriarchy, or are we the very products of it?

Cricket is a sport of camaraderie- a team game. It depends on partnership (sports pun alert!), and team spirit, rather than the other aspects of single players. An individual can only do so much to win a particular match, but it is said that the half the fate of the match is decided by the attitude in the dressing room.

My favourite chapter in the book is titled Izzaton Trial. It explores the struggles of the players, save a couple of them, against the conservative mindset of their family, relatives, and even locality. The ones who even make it to the game are expected to keep the izzat of the family, who have been so liberal in letting their girls play. Funny how their permission to play or not, both, depends on the izzat of the family — log kya kahenge!

What are we without our names?

What caught my eye was the omission of the names. The girls who narrated their sides of the story had requested that their names be concealed. Essentially, for safety concerns, it had an unintentional impact at large. Allow me to explain.

Names are the unique part about us- it gives us our identity. The moment you take it away, our individuality blurs with the common mass. When the names were removed from the players, it looked to me as if it is one voice narrating the heart-wrenching tales of rigidity and struggles of the women across the nation, cricketer or not. It reached to me as if a single narrator is unfolding the narratives from collective memory.

As a young woman, it is no longer surprising to me the similarity of the narratives of oppression on our gender across the globe. Amusing how we feel threatened to use our names to voice our concerns, and struggles.

“‘Girls are expected to uphold the honour of the house, and playing sports wasn’t respectful for girls in our region.’” ~ Nahida Khan, Unveiling Jazbaa, pg.151.

But women too? Shaiza was never acknowledged, or thanked even, for breaking hell unto everyone to bring about a team, let alone spending multi-million in an effort to bring about a team. Her vision, efforts, and leadership were discarded the moment it did not please the ego of another woman on board.

Similarly, most of them on the team have been wronged by one or the other, not patriarchy, but products of patriarchy — the yearning for control that lends them an identity. It becomes problematic when it hinders the larger cause.

You’re never on your own, kid

It is strange how sometimes, it is someone from outside who makes better attempts to understand us rather than our own. The then golden captain, Sana Mir, had to fight hard for a foreign coach. Because men from her own country lacked the empathy, and the urge, to view the female players as their equal.

Despite hailing from the same culture, these male coaches, except Mohatasim Rasheed, chose to be the patriarch of the squad, and consequently, soon fell out with the players who were dominated by their ignorance. That is when PCB brought Mark Coles, a New Zealander, to the scene. Needless to say, he along with the captain of the team changed the scenario of Pakistan’s Women’s Cricket Team.

Though he, and their bowling coach (an Englishman), were surprised to see the girls lacking the autonomy, they had come to realize how it was the patriarchal set-up of their nation that had moulded the girls the way they were. The rare few who had the support of their family, turned out different. Oh, how sweet it would be, if one encouraged the other irrespective of gender! One can only dream.

The writer is unafraid to delve into the ruthless, but inevitable, politics that goes on in a team sport. He ends it with connecting the role of the leading women in the cricketing scenario, and how the rise of one depended on the other.

In various ways, Unveiling Jazbaa is a memoir for me. It records not just the inspirational journey of these 86 women who have played for Pakistan till date; but also their heart-wrenching stories of witch-hunting, defeat, their lows, and the simultaneous journey of Pakistan as a nation, and it’s very unstable social fabric. Kamila Shamsie’s concluding lines of her foreword very aptly summarized the book, when she said:

“What do they know of cricket who only men’s cricket know?”

Want a copy of this book?

If you’d like to pick up Unveiling Jazbaa: A History of Pakistan Women’s Cricket written by Aayush Puthran, use our affiliate links at Amazon Indiaand at Amazon US.

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About the Author

Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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