WOMEN’S T20 CHALLENGE
Jahanara Alam impressed with the ball in the final of the Women’s T20 challenge © BCCI
Bangladesh fast bowler Jahanara Alam spent the last week in Jaipur rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the world of women’s cricket, and took home a lot of learnings. In an interview with Cricbuzz, Alam sheds light on her experience of playing in the Women’s T20 challenge, the difficulty of preparing for it all by herself,’that’ ball of the tournament to dismiss Sophie Devine, how she nearly quit the game in 2009, a motivation spurred by insecurity and more…
What kind of an impact has the 2019 edition of Women’s T20 Challenge had on you?
It had a huge impact because the way I used to lead my life or say the way I used to prepare myself before a match… after playing in this tournament certainly it has changed a lot. Now I know what I have to do and to develop myself so that I can do well in the future. I think the way we prepare ourselves is certainly not good enough if we want to do well in the future. Some of the leading cricketers took part in this tournament and among the 12 overseas players I was one of them. What I felt is that the other 11 overseas cricketers were much more professional. I think we are far behind as far as taking preparation is concerned, considering their approach and work method.
Can you elaborate?
Say what we are thinking now. We have World Cup qualifying after four months [August-September 2019] and we can take our preparation at a tortoise pace because we have lot of time in hand. Now we are playing Dhaka Premier Division League and we prepared ourselves individually for it while we don’t have any tournament to prepare for the World Cup qualifier. While in other countries players are busy playing Big Bash or other tournament, we don’t have that chance. I think they prepare them with a target in mind while that is not the case with us. I try to work out individually so that I am always prepared for anything.
How did you get the call for Women’s T20 Challenge?
It was all of a sudden. I was playing in the DPL and all of a sudden I was informed on 23rd that I was picked for this tournament while I was expected to play the DPL. I did not have a long time to prepare. For example we play with CA or SF balls and not Kookaburra in the domestic tournament. These balls are smaller in size compared to Kookaburra balls. For the last five months I was not playing with Kookaburra balls and just to adjust with the ball I had to take my personal Kookaburra balls and prepare myself in the academy premises after taking the permission of BCB.
The grounds were crowded by male cricketers as they are preparing for the Ireland tour while others were preparing for DPL. BCB grounds committee manager Baten bhai helped me and allowed me to use the wicket for two days and those were the two days that I managed to make for myself despite playing in the DPL, to practice with my own balls to get adjusted with the Kookaburra balls. I just did spot bowling all alone. See this was a huge change in mentality because I knew that I had to go to IPL and need to play with Kookaburra balls and have to take instant decision and perform.
I had to take all these preparation alone while they looked to be completely from a different zone all together and watching them, all I can say that I have returned with lot of inspiration. I think if I can be as strong as them, then I can make some contribution in putting the name of Bangladesh in the World map like the way I did in the last game in front of the world. The BCB president congratulated me in whatsapp for bowling the ball of the tournament while there were others who appreciated my effort and I cannot say it iin words what it meant to me.
You were saying that you prepared all alone. Do you feel it is the biggest hindrance in women’s cricket that your structure doesn’t help you substantially?
Definitely it is. How far can you fight alone? You can earn success fighting out all alone but that will be a lengthy process. If you want to earn success in short and sharp period or let us say not in short and sharp period rather in the long term, you have to work out collectively and I guess all of them have the privilege of reaping the benefit of collective effort. After talking with them what I understood is that the domestic structure of India is very strong and compared to that, ours looked to be too weak.
Like in our domestic calendar we had three tournaments earlier – district, divisional and the premier league. The District tournament was abolished long ago and last year we had only one tournament – Divisional. This year we had only tournament the National League and the Premier League but that is not good enough. We did well in the Asia Cup last year and in my 11-year career only last year I got a good feedback for clinching the Asia Cup, though 2018 was probably my golden year as I performed consistently throughout the year.
Probably all of it helped me to earn a place in the Women’s T20 league and if I can get a call in such a tournament on the back of one year’s performance what do you think will happen if we perform consistently and develop through a strong domestic structure and performing at the international level. I feel not only me there is Salma, Rumana, Kubra, Joti, Nahida, Pinky and others who are quite capable of playing in these kind of franchise league. Why they are lacking behind is because they are not performing on big platforms at the right time. But that can happen only if we can develop a solid structure.
In India there is Under-19 team and Under-23 women team and in every stage they play six tournaments in a year besides their international matches because they play international on most regular basis. Those who are not playing in the national team, they are earning from these kinds of franchise leagues and as they are receiving a financial support, it will inspire them to remain engaged in cricket and a thirst to do well in cricket will exist as it will help them have a strong financial support.
In all the three teams, the local players performed well despite not being member of the national team, all due to their domestic structure. They don’t have any fear when they come to this stage as they are playing throughout the year. But we have that problem, because we play after long gap and a result we return empty handed. As we don’t prepare well after gathering the experience, it does not count much in the long run. The steps that BCB wanted to take, if they can implement that, I firmly believe the structure of women cricket will change. If we can do that, we will perform well at the international level and at some point we can even start women’s BPL.
Let’s get back to the tournament. You weren’t picked for the opening game. What kept you motivated?
Well in the opening game when I went to the ground I was given an impression earlier that I was playing but in the last minute they told me that I am the 12th-women. I said no problem because if you allow negativity to enter your mind, you will be finished. So I took it positively and thought whenever I get the chance I must make the most out of it. From Bangladesh, lot of people said that Shakib al Hasan doesn’t make it into the playing XI in IPL on regular basis so you are lucky if you are picked and even if that is not the case you should not be disheartened. I went there with this mind set.
I was not sure whether I will be picked for the second game, but I felt was that I have 50-50 chance. All out of nowhere it is difficult to play in the middle in a new team under a new captain because you need to make her understand where you want your fielders and make necessary adjustments with other players as well. For me it was even more difficult as I was playing under flood lights after a five-month gap. So it was difficult but what I feel is, my experience in the second game helped me in the last game.
But you did not perform well in the second game as you were their most expensive bowler?
Yes I was the most expensive bowler but I had nine dot balls, and everyone in the team encouraged me saying ‘you bowled well and fielded well’ but the batters played well in the remaining deliveries that I failed to bowl as dot balls. It was an exhibition match and the overseas players were invited to play and so they played me in the last game and I tried to bowl dot balls as my total was not good in the last game. So I decided not to go for wickets and rather tried to restrict them from scoring runs. I bowled well in my first three overs but went for a few runs in the last over. Harmanpreet Kaur is known to be one of the best finisher in the world today.
You bowled a lot of reverse swing. Talk a bit about that…
I can bowl reverse swing with old balls like how with the new ball I can bowl outswinging delivers naturally. Now I am trying to bowl inswingers with the new balls. In T20 cricket, ball does not get old usually but luckily the Kookaburra ball got old and so I got the chance to bowl reverse swing. I bowled it[ reverse swing] after a long time and due to the long gap it took me a while to adjust as I could not control my bowling initially and gave away few wides because I was not understanding how much it is reversing.
Later I adjusted with it and started bowling at the fourth stumps so that it comes back from there and everyone appreciated it. I was bowling in that line just to restrict the runs but got a couple of wickets. I just tried to maintain that length and suddenly it went back sharply and as a result it turned out to be the ball of the tournament. I think my luck played a big role in it while my hard work probably paid off at last.
Your national captaincy was taken away from you. Do you it made you hungrier to perform and answer all your critics?
Not just from the time when my captaincy was taken away, I have always worked hard from the day I entered the national team in 2008 because somehow I always feared that I will be dropped the moment I fail to perform. Probably this insecurity helped me to be strong and still despite being the senior member of the national team I have that insecurity and that drives me to perform because I know I will be out the moment I am not performing.
Let me share a secret. In 2009 I wanted to quit cricket totally and I even informed our coach Jafrul Ehsan about it. I won’t go into the detail but all I can say is that it was a simple issue but it made me feel that despite working so hard if I don’t get the recognition or the feedback that I deserve than in future it will be the same and so there is no point carrying on with cricket. My parents told me just do your studies and you will have a good life ahead. I was very sad and told Sir [ Jafrul Ehsan] that I won’t continue and I am informing you because you are my coach in the national team.
He just told me look you have to play and if you work hard you will get your feedback [deserved recognition] and you must play as long as possible because you are a good player and you will earn success at some point of your career. You can say it was because of him that I continued cricket. Though I don’t want to share any further detail, all I can say is that from that day when I changed my decision and continued cricket till now I still have the fear deep inside that if I don’t perform I will lose my place in the team and so I work very hard.
Do you feel you got your recognition afterwards?
Look, cricket is a team game and there will be crowd and someone from them will recognize my effort somehow if I can perform. It can be a child or a elderly man but definitely two eyes will follow me and recognize my effort if I can perform. I have to do something for those two eyes that follow me and expect me to perform. Bangladesh is number ninth in the ranking lets see how long it takes to reach fifth or sixth in the ranking. I want to maintain my fitness till that time and perform. I want to play till 35 or 36 because I am seeing cricketers of other countries are playing despite being 36 or 38 years and all due to their fitness. Probably they are fit because of their climate and structure but that is not the case here and I have to work hard to play that long and I am ready to do that.