Following our dreams isn’t always as easy as one hopes, but Urooj Mumtaz proves that it is possible. Despite being in the middle of her studies to become a dentist, she didn’t miss the chance to pursue her passion of cricket; a passion that resulted in her becoming the captain of Pakistan’s Women Cricket Team, as well as the first women to be a chief selector for the team. We had the opportunity to ask this talented and remarkable women a few questions – read her interview below:
What made you want to shift your career path from Dentistry to Cricket?
To have the opportunity to represent your country is an honor and a privilege above all. I play cricket for the love of the game. To be fortunate enough to wear the green blazer and be in a position where I could make a positive impact and inspire individuals to dream, is an unexplainable feeling. It was what spurred me on to pursue my passion to play cricket for Pakistan. I continued my dental studies simultaneously and graduated as a dentist in 2008, while being Captain of the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Team.
Pursuing a career in cricket as a young woman surely must have been challenging – what are some of the difficulties you faced?
Everything was a challenge to begin with. From the lack of infrastructure and facilities, to sponsorships, monetary remuneration and even recognition – people were unaware that the Pakistan Women’s Cricket team existed. The biggest challenge was changing the mindset. I was extremely fortunate to have the utmost support of my family, which enabled me to carve my own path through these obstacles.
Can you tell us about the moment when you realized you wanted to pursue cricket professionally?
My earliest and most vivid memory is from when I was 7 and witnessed a superhuman, Jonty Rhodes, fly across and crash into the stumps to runout Inzimam Ul Haq. It was my dream to do the same in Pakistan colors with the world watching. That sketch turned into a reality in early 2004, when my very first opportunity arrived to represent Pakistan. The West Indies women’s cricket team was due to tour Pakistan in March 2004 for 7 ODI and 1 Test match.I was at Karachi Gymkhana playing a 25 over game on a Saturday morning. Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan visited Karachi Gymkhana, in hopes to acquire the cricket ground to host the WI matches. I went for trials the next day and got selected for the Test and ODI Matches for the WI series. It was then when I decided to pursue the sport professionally.
As part of the selection committee, how do you try to do things differently than your predecessors might have?
I tried to change the culture by having open and honest conversations with the players – having an open channel of communication is essential for a healthy working relationship. The players have a right to know why they were not selected and what the reasons were that led to the decision. I make it a point to speak to all the players personally, highlighting their improvements and shortcomings and what we, as a cricket board, have envisioned for Pakistan women’s cricket.
Did you have any pre-game rituals or traditions? How did you prepare for each match?
Visualisation was my key. The night before every match I would find a quiet space and imagine how we as a Team will win the next day. I would play out key moments of the match repeatedly and end it with picturing myself taking a victory lap with the Pakistan flag.
What advice do you have for young girls who are passionate about sports, but are facing hurdles?
Dream and dream big – remember the biggest obstacle/challenge you will ever have to face and overcome is you and your own mind. So be the change and smash the boundaries. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Nothing comes easy, but until you don’t try you will never be able to see what you are capable of. As Nelson Mandela said “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.
When you think back to your time playing cricket, is there one moment in particular that stands out?
Yes – I was 23 and Captain of the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Team, leading the team to the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2009 in Australia. On our arrival in Sydney we heard of the attack on the SriLanka men team. The next day at the Opening ceremony of the WC, I was asked the first question of the night: What do you have to say about the horrific attack on the SriLanka men’s team in your country? I clearly remember saying: “We condemn the terrible attack on the SriLanka team. It is an extremely sad and unfortunate incident that took place yesterday and we all prayed for them. However, Pakistan is a beautiful country with peaceful people. You cannot let a few individuals define who we are as a country. I and my team, standing before you today, are an example of what the people of Pakistan are like.”
With the top 6 teams to qualify for the next stage and Pakistan being 8th, our return tickets were already given to us upfront. To add to our worries, we got off to the worst possible start by losing to India by 10 wickets. It was those tickets that inspired and motivated me, I took them & spoke to my team, “this is our moment, it’s now or never, we have an opportunity to make our mark at the world stage, show people who we are what Pakistani’s are made of. Let’s go out and give it our 100%”.
That night I visualized our next game (Sri Lanka) and how we celebrated the winning moment. Brimming with self-belief and determination and wanting to make Pakistan proud, we created two historical moments. Pakistan beat Sri Lanka by 57 runs, for the very first time in 19 encounters and it was also Pakistan’s maiden victory at an ICC Women’s World Cup. That feeling till today is unexplainable, the visualisation changed into reality. We also went on to win against West Indies in the Super Six stage and finished 6th in the WC. These two wins remain the only wins by Pakistan in a Women’s World Cup. These spectacular historical moments are forever etched in my memory
Who is your inspiration?
My entire family, especially my parents. They always believed in me, motivated and enabled me in every way possible to follow my dream. And of course that picturesque moment in 1992 when Imran Khan lifted the Waterford crystal trophy in a floodlit MCG in front of 87000 people with a million others watching on. His personality and his charismatic leadership, was indeed an inspiration.
How do you balance your personal life with your career?
Striking a healthy work-life balance can be tricky. I am extremely passionate about Pakistan cricket and feel extremely humbled to be in a position where I can give back to the country and sport. The key for me though, is the happiness I get from this. Prioritising, organising and communication are the essentials for me to find the best balance.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome to be where you are today?
My entire journey has been full of life defining experiences. Challenging the way people think, breaking the status quo and changing the mindset has been and still is, my biggest challenge. I have always welcomed the challenges however – I feel they are opportunities to improve in every facet of our lives, both personal and professional.
What are your career goals? What do you see yourself doing going forward?
Playing for Pakistan and being the Captain for the team have been the highlight of my playing career and I would definitely love to be involved in the game in one way or the other. Cricket commentary and broadcasting is a whole different ball game and I feel I am meant to be in that space regularly.