Kolkata: From playing backyard cricket in Jammu & Kashmir to being captain of the UAE women’s cricket team which has been doing itself proud in recent times, it has not been an easy journey for Chaya Mughal. However, the fiesty allrounder says she is still a step away from her goal - leading the country in a World Cup.
It was late last year that the UAE women’s team won the Asian qualifiers of next T20 World Cup in Dubai, making a clean sweep of all the five matches to qualify for the global qualifiers - to be held in the first half of this year. No mean fit this as the UAE had snuffed out challenges from competitive outfits like Hong Kong and Nepal to take up the lone qualifiers’ spot from the Asian continent.
‘‘It was a memorable campaign as whenever you are on a winning streak, it gives you an extra push. These five matches were really special, but a tougher battle awaits in the global qualifiers where our opponents will be Bangladesh, Thailand, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea and the US,’’ said Mughal, looking ahead at the new year.
What drives me is the fact that I have been given the opportunity to lead the country and the other girls are also as passionate. I am thankful to my school management for allowing me leaves whenever there is an assignment
Speaking to Gulf News exclusively during a zoom interaction recently, Mughal - a teacher by profession at the Ambassador School in Dubai - admitted that maintaining the same intensity in preparing for a global tournament will be tough for the UAE girls but they are up for the challenge.
‘‘Our team is a young one where quite a few of them are students and some are working. Maintaining the balance between work and demands of international cricket can be often a tough one...to talk about myself, I get free at 4 pm from school, rush back home to pick up the kit and head for practice from 7 pm. By the time I am back home, it’s 11 pm or so and that’s when I prepare the study material for the next day.
‘‘However, what drives me is the fact that I have been given the opportunity to lead the country and the other girls are also as passionate. I am thankful to my school management for allowing me leaves whenever there is an assignment. The Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), on their part, facilitate practice sessions for us in different venues to suit the players - for example those who stay in Sharjah or Ajman can train in a small group in Sharjah,’’ says Mughal.
An unique problem for the associate countries, both in men and women’s cricket, is the lack of quality opposition to play preparatory matches - and Mughal’s team is also no exception. The ECB, however, are trying to organise a few exposure matches while the women’s team also play the UAE Under-16 boys’ team frequently to make up for match practice.
Looking at the bigger picture, how does Mughal see the women’s game develope in the UAE over the last decade? ‘‘When I landed up in Dubai with a job offer in 2009, I had already represented my state in domestic cricket in India. However, I had to keep my passion in the backburner as I was not aware of the existence of women’s cricket here and there were very few girls who would play cricket those days.
‘‘Eventually, I started playing seriously here in 2016 when a friend introduced me to the fraternity and made my international cricket very next year. The scene has improved dramatically over the last three to four years along with the UAE’s rise in stature as a cricketing hub. As of date, we have a pool of 70-80 cricketers while a number of academies have started giving training to women. It’s very heartening to see girls from as early as 8-9 years are taking up the cricket,’’ said Mughal.
Incidentally, she has a first to her name as her international debut came in the UAE’s first-ever international match. ‘‘When I think back on that moment, I still get goosebumps. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Nervous because it was UAE women’s first international cricket match and excited because I was a part of it.’’
The telecast of ECB women’s exhibition game in D-10 tournament in Dubai last year, according to her, was again a huge boost. ‘‘I can’t forget the day when our first match was telecast live in D-10 tournament. It was an exhibition match and the girls were really excited as it was our first exposure before a virtual audience. Our friends and family were glued to her TV sets and it was quite a landmark day in our women’s cricket.
Interestingly, it’s not the likes of a Mithali Raj or a Charlotte Edwards whom Mughal idolises as a cricketer. ‘‘If you ask me about my role model, it’s got to be Jonty Rhodes. He was a cricketer who won Man of the Match awards just on the merit of his fielding and I would like to emulate him in a match. Among women cricketer, I admire Ellyse Perry the most as I am also an allrounder. I was, in fact, fortunate to play a match against him as well,’’ Mughal gushed.