Women’s Cricket in Pakistan and the Roles We All Play
I’m meant to be writing a review of the National Women’s T20 Tournament 2023-24 – which I am, I swear – but I had a thought, which turned into a poll, which turned into an idea for an article. So, here we are.
At 12:54 AM PKT on 31 January 2024, I posted a poll onto my X account.
I asked: “Do you feel the fanbase and reach of Pakistan women’s cricket has grown *significantly* since this time last year (January 2023)? And if yes, why?”
Later, after some feedback, I added a reply: “Friends, the women’s cricket fanbase is 100% dependent on the team and their performances. This question, however, is specific to the role of media coverage (by fans and/or the PCB). The team has been performing for a few years. So why are we growing in number now?”
The poll received 463 responses. Of course, I used non-random convenience sampling, so I’ll concede that there may be a potential bias and lack of generalizability in the responses. But the sample size is significant, particularly when you compare it to the interactions received on a typical post on Pakistan women’s cricket (source: trust me bro, but also a cursory look at the PCB’s and my X accounts). So we’ll plough on and trust the poll to be at least somewhat representative of Pakistan women’s cricket fans.
Now, the results:
As you can see above:
- 21.0% (97 people) chose “No, it hasn’t grown.”
- 4.5% (21 people) chose “Yes, because of PCB’s efforts.”
- 62.6% (290 people) chose “Yes, because of fans on X.”
- 11.9% (55 people) chose “Yes, because of both [PCB and fans].”
Though the results are quite flattering, this poll wasn’t meant to be a “gotcha!” at the PCB or meant to indicate that fans are carrying the brunt of women’s cricket coverage in Pakistan.
Actually, if you ask me, there’s a correct answer to this poll – or rather, an answer that I would have given if I were a participant. I believe it’s #4: Yes, Pakistan Women’s cricket fandom has grown significantly in the past year, and in terms of coverage, there is an important role played by both the PCB and fans of Pakistan women’s cricket.
The responders to the polls, the majority of whom are deservedly patting themselves and each other on the back (which I support because we deserve it!), mostly all admit to one thing: 79% of them acknowledge that women’s cricket in Pakistan has grown a significant amount and that in some way or another, the PCB and/or fans have played a role in this.
It may seem obvious, but that’s exactly what this poll was trying to show: that we’re all in this together, both the PCB and the fans.
The PCB’s role and responsibility in the growth of women’s cricket is undeniable.
The PCB is the reason our girls and women have money coming in every month via international or domestic contracts. They’re the ones that ensure tickets go on sale and get sold for tours at home. They’re the ones that organize domestic tournaments. They’re the ones that fight with unwilling (unfeeling, perhaps even deplorable) broadcasters to cover women’s cricket – or don’t fight with them, in the case of away tours. They’re the ones who are in charge of investing, developing, covering, marketing, and effectively birthing and raising women’s cricket from the ground up to infinity and beyond.
The PCB is everything to women’s cricket. And everyone who works there MUST remember that. So when we ask them to do right by our women’s cricketers, when we ask them for more, they should know it does not come from a place of disrespect or ungratefulness – it comes from a place of love for women’s cricket and respect for the power held by the PCB. We know you’ve done a lot for women’s cricket, and we know several of you are carrying its coverage and development almost single-handedly. And that’s why we ask you for more work and transparency, and that’s why we hold you accountable.
Now, the real winners of this poll: the fans.
It seems to me that sometimes, the PCB takes women’s cricket fans for granted. So often in professional cricketing circles, I have been told: “Women’s cricket ki tou audience hi nahin hai, aap ke ilawa inko koi nahi dekhta” (Women’s cricket doesn’t even have an audience, no one watches them apart from you). This is held as an excuse for no broadcast deals, no women’s league, and few (if any) chances for people to watch our girls play in person, amongst other things. We are told that women’s cricket in Pakistan survives on the back of the men’s cricket sphere, that it is the benevolence of the PCB that keeps it alive today, and nothing else, because no one is watching, no money is coming in from views or ticket sales, and no one cares for women’s cricket outside of the PCB.
I’ve argued with them before when I’ve been told these things, and I’ll say it again: this is a lazy and frankly dishonest take. But I’ll let the 463 responses speak for themselves. Sure, the audience is less than men’s cricket, but it is growing, and that matters.
And we say it is growing because we can see it growing. Who would know this better than us? We know because when we won a low-scoring game versus the West Indies at the World Cup in March 2022, there were a few of us who celebrated, but when Muneeba Ali smashed a T20I century versus Ireland last year in February, social media erupted with her name and her story. When we toured Australia in January 2023, very few of us woke up early to see us whitewashed. But when we toured New Zealand nearly a year later in December, so many of us found each other awake at 5 AM scrambling to find (illegal) streams to watch Fatima bowl and Aliya bat us to historic victories.
Some will say the team’s performances have been driving this primarily, and they are 100% right: the team has gone above and beyond in recent months, and beating SENA teams so convincingly has done wonders for the fandom. But they have performed before, and the response has never quite been like this.
We have beaten New Zealand before in ODIs – did you watch then? Did you know?
We have beaten South Africa several times before – did you watch then? Did you know?
We have won 2 golds in the Asian Games.
We have beaten England. We have beaten India.
We whitewashed Sri Lanka at home in 2022, just over a year before we did it to South Africa. X (formerly Twitter) did not erupt like it did several times in 2023 – and I know because I was there to watch it in person and live-tweeted as I did.
Yes, the scale of their victories is larger now (as is expected for growing teams, even with little systemic support). But it is also true that by tweeting, by posting, by recording, by yelling about women’s cricket across social media, or even by carrying posters with Bismah Maroof’s name on them, we are changing the tide. While our team of superwomen put in the hard yards on the field, we are doing our bit off the field and online.
Women’s cricket fans have always been around in Pakistan, on X, on Facebook, on Instagram, on the streets, and in stadium stands. But we are growing more than ever now. That’s because cricket fans have always been around in this country. It’s in our blood, and a cricket fan in Pakistan is most often just a men’s cricket fan waiting to be won over by women’s cricket, too. All they need is to see them and to know them.
Women’s cricket fandom has grown because of the team’s own excellence and success, but also because of the videos and media interactions that Nazir bhai, Ahsan bhai, Emmad bhai, and every other media person orchestrated, and then because of the cricket lovers that flocked over to this team and learned to love them in their heartbreaking losses, epic wins, hilarious off-field videos, and inspiring stories.
Women’s cricket in Pakistan is not us fans versus you, PCB.
We’re all in this together for the betterment of women’s cricket and for the future Nida Dars and Diana Baigs and Sidra Ameens to know that they will always have two things: a board that will raise them high and fans that will know and chant their names.