By Kanika Tandon
LONDON: Salma Bi, 26, is the first Muslim woman to have played County Cricket. Currently employed by the England Cricket Board as a coach for Worcestershire as well as Warwickshire, she is the winner of the Asian Women of Achievement Award 2012 for her cricketing achievements.
Salma, who came to the UK when she was just six months old, is also a registered Haemodialysis Specialist Adult Nurse and an Olympic volunteer. She spoke with Kanika Tandon about her trials and triumphs in a sport dominated by men.
Q. How were you introduced to cricket?
A. I grew up in a family atmosphere where everybody was interested in sports. I remember watching World Cup cricket for hours on end with my family and that only made me more interested in the game. We all have childhood dreams and, I guess, playing cricket was mine. I witnessed the Ball of the Century bowled by Shane Warne in 1993 and there was no looking back for me then. I just knew I wanted to do exactly what he did.
Q. How supportive was your family?
A. My parents have always been a constant source of encouragement. They saw sports as a way to keep us occupied as well as focused about life—to have a goal and to achieve it.
Q. It must have required a lot of commitment from your side to keep the cricket going.
A. It always takes a whole day of play for a good game of cricket. I had to juggle college studies, driving lessons and playing cricket to secure a place in the women’s league team. For me it wasn’t only the passion for the game which made me persevere, but also the belief that I can carry on and achieve something in the game.
Q. Were there instances when you had to go to practice/training without informing your family?
A. When I was selected to play cricket at an official level, my family found it difficult to adjust to my staying away from home for long periods and dedicating weekends to cricket. They worried that too much of focus on cricket may take away my attention from studies. Yes, there were instances when I had to go for training after studies or work without informing them but it was only to cause them less inconvenience. I’d rather do something myself than let my family be hassled over arranging transport or keep an eye on the clock.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges in pursuing cricket?
A. I have always feared not making it to the squad. It really knocked my confidence when I struggled to get into the County games or was made the 12th man for ongoing games in a season. Those moments of doubts, when you question your own ability and enjoy the game less, are the most difficult in any cricketer’s life.
Finance is another issue since women’s cricket isn’t paid as much unless you play internationally. My nursing job pays for my sporting activities.
Q. Women’s cricket does not get as much of sponsorship or publicity or even popularity as compared to men’s cricket. What’s your take on it?
A. Women play cricket just like men—same kit, same rules and same sport, so why not the same channel? We don’t get to witness much of women’s international cricket being played around the globe. However, each season I play, it gets even busier than before, with more fixtures.
I watched the Women’s World Cup T20 Final played just after the men’s game. It was such a fantastic way of allowing the crowd to witness Australia take on New Zealand in the finals and it was such a thriller of a match.
Q. Why do you think there are so less women in cricket?
A. I have been playing cricket for over 12 years now, have travelled all over the UK and played cricket at many levels. And, I can say that the sport is always growing. Yes, I see familiar faces but still, there is so much of talent yet to be discovered. Some women, you won’t expect to take interest in cricket, actually want to do it more than anything else.
If female sport, especially women’s cricket, is promoted a lot more and wider across the globe, we will always be finding new and young players coming through.
Q. How successful have you been in breaking stereotypes?
A. I’m proud to have made history as the first-ever Muslim Asian to represent the Worcestershire Senior Women’s County Squad. It is something that has made my life’s story worth telling. I am the third highest wicket-taker in the entire region—top two being men and the next girl at the 10th position. I feel these achievements of mine have helped boost women’s cricket too.
Also, I don’t just play cricket but as a highly competent coach, I have encouraged many Asian girls to step forward and play cricket. They see me as a role model and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable. It’s not just about winning awards but being recognised for the work you do which matters.
Q. Salma Bi, what do you see as the motivating factor (yours and your students’) towards carrying on with cricket?
A. Being patient and having a never-give-up attitude is important. A drive to succeed and inspiring by example is something I have developed over the years. My younger sister Anisha Bi represents Warwickshire Under-17s Squad has a lot of potential and I am helping her prepare herself to play cricket at an international level.