KARACHI: The batter swung the bat with all her might, sending the ball flying out of Karachi’s Kokan Park, hitting for six the taboo that only men can venture out into the night during Ramadan to play cricket.
The scene was from the final match of Khelo Khavateen, meaning “Play Women,” a night cricket tournament for women in the Pakistani megapolis that culminated this week.
In the teeming port city each Ramadan, while the devout fast by day, at night they come out on the streets to play cricket. For years, however, the street matches and tournaments have been dominated by men.
Karachi-based journalist Hadeel Obaid wanted to change this trend and in 2015 came up with the idea of a platform where women could also safely play cricket late at night during Ramadan. Khelo Kricket (Play Cricket) was thus born, an online startup that promotes sports among Pakistani women.
A year later, Obaid started the Khelo Khavateen night tournament, which has since seen hundreds of girls registering to play night cricket in Ramadan. A few participants have even gone on to play for the national women’s team.
“No one experimented with the idea that women too are interested in coming out to play cricket at night,” Obaid told Arab News after the final of the Ramadan tournament, which was held this year after a two-year-long COVID-19 hiatus. “We wanted to create a safe space for girls to play cricket.”
But launching a successful women’s cricket tournament in Pakistan was not easy, said Obaid, who had to face criticism, as the idea of women playing cricket late at night — and that too in the holy month of Ramadan — did not go down well with many people.
“When you first start anything, it is always hard because change is something that nobody likes,” she said.
“When nothing has been happening for so many years, and then all of a sudden somebody wants to try and do something new, you’re always faced with a little backlash,” she said.
But Obaid brushed aside the negativity and as time progressed, she experienced firsthand how families and communities embraced the initiative, which has become a launching pad for professional players.
Last week, Pakistani cricketer Fatima Sana was awarded the International Cricket Council’s Women’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year 2021 award, becoming the first Pakistani to bag the honor. Sana launched her career at the Khelo Khavateen tournament in 2016, the first edition of the series.
“She was 12 or 13 years old when she played our very first tournament,” Obaid recalled. “At that point, she was an incredible talent. We had never seen a bowler like that.”
Urooj Mumtaz, a renowned Pakistani cricket commentator, television host and former cricketer, described the Khelo Kricket initiative as “wonderful.”
“We all like to play cricket during Ramadan,” she said. “It’s not just restricted to men. It’s also now (getting bigger) with girls … It’s more about recreation and attracting more girls to the sport.”
Obaid said she had planned to take the tournament to other cities in Pakistan, but the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a spanner in the works. Now, however, with an improving disease situation, she hopes to revive her plans.
“We have a lot of people from Rawalpindi writing and telling us that they would like for the tournament to be played in the city. We got a lot of girls from Lahore writing,” Obaid said. “And so, we do want to take this there, maybe not in Ramadan, but maybe some point in the year.
“We’re hoping that in 2023 and 2024 we can keep the momentum up and actually grow it.”