Photo Credit: Oman Cricket
The GCC Women’s T20i Championship Cup held at the Oman Cricket Academy from March 20 to 26, 2022 was Saudi Arabia Women’s first-ever international cricket tournament. It was also a chastening one. They finished in last place and were beaten comfortably in all of their outings. In addition, they were on the receiving end when fellow debutants Bahrain recorded a score of 318/1 – the highest-ever in Women’s T20i history.
However, this competition was always seen by them as one to gain exposure in. Speaking of his side’s experience in Oman, head coach Kabir Khan said, “It is a learning step for the girls. It is a young team. The average age is around 15-16. All of them started playing cricket around 2 months ago with tennis balls and 30-40 days ago with hard balls.
Not taking that as an excuse but we wanted to bring our team here even though we knew they were not ready. We think of this tournament as a learning for us and for the girls to see and explore cricket, to see what type of cricket the other GCC countries are playing.
Because of shortage in time, we couldn’t go around the whole kingdom and have proper selections. There were a lot of big cities that were left out, not to mention the schools that had exams going on. There are about 30 to 35 international schools and we only had a chance to visit 4. Once we go back, these girls will focus on their cricket and while they are doing that, we will be getting other girls ready as well”.
The culture and attitude in Saudi Arabia towards women’s sport has undergone a sea of positive change in the recent past. Kabir continued, “Saudi culture is changing. It is a special instruction from our Crown Prince to grow, support and develop women’s cricket and all of women’s sports actually. That is huge because that is why we didn’t have women’s cricket in the country for so long whereas all the other GCC countries have been playing for close to 10-15 years. Which means that records will be made against us, but that is a part of growing and improving”.
Speaking on the development of sporting infrastructure in the country for cricket to flourish further, he added,” At the moment we have about 4 proper grounds. There are plans in place for academies and other facilities. Within a year or two, Saudi will have the most grounds in the region. We are planning for about 7-8 stadiums. I have visited the grounds myself and they are impressive.
Infrastructure is growing, the government’s support is tremendous, the funds are coming in. The focus is on growing cricket as a whole too, not just one type of cricket so that would be men’s, women’s, youth level, domestic, international etc. So a lot to be done in a short space of time but things are going in the right direction”.
Ending on a positive note, Kabir said, “When you get a team of this age group, they will be busy all year round, so with age group cricket as well as international cricket. So the improvement process will be a bit quicker than others. These girls have time and a lot of potential. They want to play. It’s not like when they lose a game, they lose hope as well.
Every time they come in to give their best and I, as a coach, can see that there is an improvement from performance to performance. Bowling 20 overs, batting for 20 overs, these are little milestones that mean a lot for us at this moment in time. With the government’s support, the girls’ passion and our coaching as well, they are going to be a completely changed team in 6 months’ time”.
With a charismatic and passionate coach like Kabir Khan at the helm, Saudi Arabian Women’s cricket looks to be in safe hands. Their rise will benefit the nation, the GCC as a whole but most of all, the women’s game itself.