Roha Nadeem
Roha Nadeem Image Credit: Supplied

Roha Nadeem loves cricket, a simple fact that reflects in the way she talks and writes about cricket. A childhood sports enthusiast and a teenaged cricket player, Roha is a print, digital and TV sports broadcaster whose work is a remarkable manifestation of passion being the key to pursuing a profession that is fulfilling in a long-lasting, substantial, and personally rewarding way.

Noticeable in Roha’s cricket writing is her love for the written word. Her writing like everything else in her life began at a very young age. She was sixteen when her first article was published in the Express Tribune, Pakistan. For a few years, she wrote blogs and op-eds for Dawn, Pakistan. Roha’s cricket articles are delightful stories full of tiny details that are typically unnoticed by most sports writers, technical insights described in relatable terminology, and incisive commentary that stems from her comprehensive knowledge of the sport. The same aspects delineate her live and recorded analyses and interviews with cricket personalities.

Academically brilliant, Roha, now twenty-six, graduated from NUST Islamabad with a degree in mass communication. As a Chevening scholarship recipient, she did her postgraduation with distinction in media and communication from UK’s Cardiff University.

In 2017 Roha made her TV debut for Pakistan Cricket Board’s Pakistan Super League. In 2021, she worked for the England Cricket Board. In 2021, she also co-hosted, with Pakistani artist Fakhar-e-Alam, the Pakistan Super League’s seventh draft. Currently, Roha hosts a twice-weekly show for the digital platform Cricwick.

In her world beyond sports, Roha’s closeness to her family is her strength. Her mother, who works in Kuwait, and her younger twin sisters, undergraduate students, are her support system. Roha’s father passed away when she was studying in the UK, a “dark dark time” —the irreplaceable loss of the man who “passed on his cricket passion” to her.

For Gulf News, I asked sports broadcaster Roha Nadeem a few questions:

Mehr Tarar: Why cricket?

Roha Nadeem: I was drawn to cricket because of the sheer adrenaline it was able to induce. I fell in love with the game just as the T20 format was beginning to take over the world. The pace, the sixes, the rivalries all piqued my interest greatly, not least because the sports channel would always be on in my house.

But in retrospect, I think cricket allowed me to stay connected to my home country. My family had moved to the Middle East when I was eleven, and cricket became a nostalgic linkage to Pakistan. There is something so intrinsically Pakistani, or rather brown, about being glued to the TV set during a tense match like your life depended on it. Cricket allowed me to be part of that subculture even though I was thousands of miles away. It made me feel Pakistani to the core.

When I gave trials for the Kuwait under-nineteen side, I had no real hope I’d get selected into the final fifteen. I used to wake up at 4:30am on weekends to go to practice, and my family called me crazy. Yet even at the age of thirteen I knew that I loved this game deeply and was ready to put in the blood and the sweat. I wanted to become the next Sana Mir!

However, I decided to quit playing because I really needed to do well on my A-levels. But I couldn’t keep cricket out of my life. My father was the one who saw the spark in me before anyone else and pushed me to start writing. I channelled all the love for cricket I had in me and poured it onto paper. That was when I knew I wanted to pursue media and journalism as a degree.

So what if I couldn’t play anymore, I thought. My voice became my bat.

Roha Nadeem
"When I stopped playing, I promised myself that I would never lead a life without cricket....": Roha Nadeem

What was the best thing about playing cricket? Do you miss playing professional cricket?

The best thing really was being on the ground. Although I played briefly and was just a beginner at the time, I really miss being in the centre as opposed to just the sidelines of the cricket field. There truly is no parallel to how much you learn about the game through that vantage point. So yes, I do miss the sense of achievement and legitimacy that comes with playing internationally.

But I wouldn't trade it for what I do now. When I stopped playing, I promised myself that I would never lead a life without cricket, so I'm deeply grateful that I get to work in this field and stay connected to the game, not to mention work with some of the legends of the field.

Sports broadcasting, despite the presence of several noted female presenters, is predominantly a male-dominated world. How would you describe your experience of entering this profession, and what are the issues, if any, that continue to impede your career development?

I'll admit there are more opportunities for women to break through today than there were ten years ago. In my experience, landing that first gig was not much of a struggle since I already had playing and writing experience. People had read my work as I was very active in the cricket circuit. I remember my first ever interaction with Ramiz Raja, who replied to my hello with “Oh, so you are Roha? I read your article a few days ago!” That really made me feel validated and welcomed.

To answer your question, the problem is not so much breaking into the net but staying there. It is not an easy industry to grow in, since as a woman you are often doubted and put down by the audience, by your peers and by institutions. When I say growth is difficult, I mean there is only an extent to which you will be allowed or deemed appropriate to engage with the game, especially if you have not played the game professionally. My biggest fight is with this perception. Thankfully, I get to work with some very encouraging individuals on a regular basis who allow me the creative freedom I need in order to deliver my best work.

If you could, what would you change about Pakistan’s sports broadcasting overall?

The quality, not the quantity, of opportunities could be better for women in Pakistan. It is about time women are perceived as more than just eye-candy and are utilized for more than moderating an all-male panel of experts. There is definitely a shift in the industry now, and it is wonderful to see more girls coming in confidently. Worldwide trends also depict a shift in the traditional sports press rooms in the sense that more women are now visible covering sports on television and through bylines.

However, we need to look around and ask ourselves whether the type of opportunities that are assigned to women are reflective of their talent and skill. This is something that I try to do in my own way through my work. I enjoy thinking outside the box and not relying on my director for a script. I like having that creative control over my work where I can challenge myself and bring my flair to a project.

There needs to be an environment where women could reach the top of the hierarchy when it comes to sports broadcasting. More women should be seen as editors of the sports desk or calling the shots in the sports production arena. That would be a real change.