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Aisha Jalil: Inspiring change through cricket

Posted: 8 March 2019

Pakistan, Impact,

For International Women’s Day 2019, we are recognising the power of collective action and celebrating the achievements of Australia Awards alumni who are driving gender balance. This is the story of Aisha Jalil from Pakistan, who has recently been named one of the world’s most influential Muslim women in sport.

Australia Awards alumna Aisha Jalil was named in the 2018 Muslim Women in Sports Powerlist as one of the 30 most influential Muslim women in sport in the world. This well-deserved recognition is a result of her tremendous contribution towards developing women’s cricket in Pakistan. Aisha says this is one of her proudest achievements, alongside being a core member in the management of women’s cricket in Pakistan and being a recipient of an Australia Awards Scholarship. As Assistant Manager – Women’s Cricket at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Aisha looks after international cricket operations and game development programs in Pakistan. In her journey to the top of the line-up, this power woman has had to face ‘a few yorkers and nasty bouncers’.

A proud cricketing nation, Pakistan won the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup in 1992, the ICC T20 World Cup in 2009 and the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017. The country’s national men’s cricket team is recognised as one of the most unpredictable teams in the world of cricket, with the capacity to shake up any match against an international team.

However, the Pakistan women’s cricket team, while having won gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, has not received as much recognition or support over the years. For a long time, the team operated under a tight budget and scarce resources.

But now, a change is in order; a change which involves the contributions of Australia Awards alumna Aisha Jalil. Born and raised in Pakistan, Aisha has three brothers but is her parents’ only daughter. Like many Pakistanis, she first experienced cricket while playing in the streets and grounds of Karachi with her siblings.

Aisha was a bowler and tail-end batswoman for Pakistan’s first women’s international cricket team. She also went on to play as an opener for the team. She represented Pakistan in a tour of New Zealand playing against Australia and New Zealand in 1997. This team was not backed by PCB at the time and was financed by the provincial government of Sindh and the Government of Pakistan.

‘I was 16 years old and wanted to join the cricket team. But most of my family were against me playing cricket at an international level. However, one of my uncles supported me and helped me realise my dream of playing for Pakistan. Later, I got the blessing from the rest of my family too,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t even have my own cricket kit to take with me and had to take my older brother’s kit.’ While studying at St. Joseph’s College for Women, Karachi she was awarded the Performance Award for Sports for her contributions towards the victories of multiple sports teams.

Aisha then stepped away from playing with the national women’s team to pursue her education and went on to complete her Master in Business Administration in 2003 at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology. She then went on to work on education-related programs in the development sector.

However, cricket was always Aisha’s passion.

In 2009, Aisha received an Australia Awards Scholarship to complete a Master of Management in Sports Management from the University of Technology, Sydney. Upon her return, Aisha initially found it difficult to obtain a job in the sports sector due to the lack of opportunities for female administrators and managers. She then started work as a Project Manager in a youth development project, iLEAD (Inspiring Leadership, Empowerment and Development). The project, which used sports as a tool for development, was funded by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs in Sindh and Habib University, with British Council as a technical partner.

While working for iLEAD, Aisha and her team developed a curriculum for fundamental sports skills. She was influenced by her time in Australia to come up with this idea to ensure that athletes are developed from an early age. She then implemented that curriculum for two and a half years.

Aisha believes that her knowledge in Sports Management was a good mixture of experience-sharing and academic content. ‘I’m thankful to Australia Awards for the opportunity I got to learn in a multicultural and dynamic environment,’ she says.

‘My classmates in Australia were from all around the world. You bring those experiences and their expertise back with you, and that really helps you learn and implement various strategies,’ says Aisha.

‘For example, the concept of career planning is weak and almost non-existent in Pakistan for those in Sports. They don’t look beyond their sporting careers. If a career ends with an injury, having just financial insurance is not enough. You need to move ahead in life, and players or athletes in Pakistan do not exactly focus on where they will be once they retire or if their performing days are suddenly over. So, when I plan new things, the experiences shared by fellow students during my studies in Australia help a lot.’

Aisha had initially applied as the General Manager of the Pakistan women’s cricket team. Although she did not receive the job at the time, the newly appointed General Manager found her profile on LinkedIn and asked her to apply for the position of Assistant Manager, involving the management of international and domestic cricket operations. Aisha was selected and accepted the role, confident that working in a management position would allow her to make an essential and significant contribution towards the team’s development.

Now, Pakistan’s national women’s cricket team is starting to leave its mark.

‘We have high performing and qualified foreign coaches and backroom staff now. We have all the necessary facilities available. It shows in our results too,’ says Aisha, who points out that the team recently won a One Day International against New Zealand for the first time, and made a clean sweep against Sri Lanka (3-0) in a T20 series.

Aisha aims to further develop women’s cricket in Pakistan, starting from grassroots and going beyond match victories. She also aspires to work for the international men’s cricket operations in Pakistan to help break through attitudinal barriers.

‘If you want your team to reach a level where they can compete with bigger teams like Australia and New Zealand, you need to develop youth from an early stage, so they can replace the senior players when called upon,’ she says. ‘The younger players are not currently on par with international standards due to the lack of opportunities.’

To address this gap, PCB has now launched five grassroots-level cricket academies and 10 cricket centres across Pakistan for women. Aisha is an integral part of this initiative and is designing a cricket curriculum for the academies and the schools. She is responsible for getting the academies up and running, then managing them and the staff.

‘It is safe to say that PCB is moving in a positive direction regarding women’s cricket,’ she says. ‘Our academic programs will focus on Under 17 and Under 23 player development. The higher focus currently is on the U17 team because ICC is planning a U19 world cup in the next two years and the now U17s are expected to compete in the World Cup. It was my dream to one day see these academies established and be a part of them, and I am living the dream.’