Charvi Bhatt is the former captain of the UAE Women’s National Cricket Team.
Now pursuing a PhD in gender roles in sports at Amity University Dubai, Charvi has knowledge of the game both on and off the field. We caught up with her to talk about how cricket has grown in the country, and what it’s like to represent the UAE at the highest level.
Zushan Hashmi: Tell us a bit about your life prior to UAE cricket?
Charvi Bhatt: Prior to UAE cricket, there weren’t many opportunities for young girls to play the sport. However, I received a lot of support from my high school cricket coach, who would regularly let me play with the boys in practice sessions.
Just before my final high school year, we had an Inter-School double wicket cricket tournament for girls organized by one of the popular schools in the UAE (a first of its kind exclusively for girls), which my teammates and I won! This opened up doors for the hope of playing for the national someday.
What was your role in launching the UAE women’s cricket team?
I still remember it was a Thursday evening sometime at the end of the month of May when I was asked to report at a certain hour at the cricket nets at the historic Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
There was a development officer sent to the UAE by the Asian Cricket Council, in order to develop a team to play in an upcoming tournament in July. I was the first girl that day at the camp, it was sort of a combined session with the boys.
I was put through some basic drills of the game, having already played on with the boys earlier, I wasn’t alien to the atmosphere.
The major role I played during the launch was being an absolute team player, and most of us did this as it was our very first outing and we lacked experience. And we needed to motivate and support each other.
How far do you think women’s cricket has come since it first kicked off at an official level in the UAE?
Women’s cricket in the UAE has been in existence for about 13 years, and it has come a long way.
From struggling to put together 14 players for a full squad to girls battling it out in domestic leagues, to make it to the top 20. We’ve come a long way!
Though the job is only a little less than half done, and a lot more work needs to be put in for things to move forward, but Women’s cricket in the UAE has a solid future.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in playing this foundational role for women’s cricket in the UAE?
Getting girls to play a ‘gentleman’s game’ is always difficult. And that was the major challenge for us early on, we as players were looked at differently, parents were not so willing as they thought the game wasn’t created for the girls.
Due to this, we had fewer numbers in the start and inconsistency amongst the players. Players would start, come to sessions for 2-3 days and eventually stop and move to other sports.
Who are some of the star players in the team at the moment?
We have a bunch of promising youngsters who have a bright future in the game itself. To name 2 players particularly Esha Oza (top-order bat), who has now moved back to India and is already part of the Mumbai Cricket Association, we are hoping to see her soon in the Indian colours.
Another promising cricketer is Kavisha Kumari (Sri Lankan), still, in the UAE, she is a top-order bat, who is exceptional, and shows great temperament and character on the field, she is also a right-arm off-spin bowler, and has a bright cricketing future ahead.
As a migrant in the UAE, what have your experiences been in representing the country?
I have had some wonderful moments that I have been lucky to be part of. It’s always a feeling of pride when you represent the country you call home.
Representing the UAE has its own perks, the state of the art facilities which are accessible to us.
Additionally, the support provided to us by our cricketing board has made my experience worthwhile.
Not all cricketers across the world are lucky to make it to their respective national sides to represent their countries.
Are there any Emirati women playing cricket in the UAE? If so, who? If not, why not?
Unfortunately, we do not have any Emirati women playing for the side, or even playing cricket.
Cricket is unknown and not popular among the local Emirati women here in the UAE.
Due to cultural and ethnic difficulties most Emirati women are not allowed to take up a sport at a more professional level.
Also, the national game of the country is football, making it naturally popular amongst local women across the country.
Here in Australia, women’s cricket has grown significantly, with the T20 World Cup also being held in the country, what do you think UAE women’s cricket needs to reach the same level and even beyond men’s cricket?
The women’s game is now being increasingly accepted across different parts of the world. For UAE Women’s cricket to reach the same level, it will need to either host an event of high stature or qualify for the World Cup.
The game in the UAE is receiving a lot of attention lately, with efforts from the board in creating multiple opportunities for girls at all levels alongside including all-women teams in locally organized tournaments.
However, this is only the beginning and there is a long way to go. Exposure to international cricket, games with other women’s teams from other women’s cricket playing nations for the girls is key in the development of the game in the UAE.
Tell us a bit about your experiences in utilising these facilities and working closely with other players?
Not all cricketers are lucky to have access to state of the art facilities. Especially in countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. In the UK and Australia, the facilities are slightly better compared to other countries.
Only after achieving certain feet in the game, the cricketers are given access to elite facilities. In the UAE, we are privileged to have direct access to these facilities. The ICC Academy, for example, houses pitches of different soils from different regions across the world, allowing players to train and be familiar with differing conditions.
The experience in utilizing the best of the facilities is truly surreal and has also allowed us to challenge each other, and work on team-building skills making us stronger together.
Additionally, access to the ICC facilities allows you as a player to interact with visiting players/teams, both men and women giving you a first-hand experience in learning more about the game from them.
What has been the highlight of your career?
There are multiple highlights in my career. The most important, however, will always be our first international win.
It was back in 2008, we were playing ACC U19 women’s championship in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We played the hosts to win the game by one run, this nail-biting finish will forever remain the highlight of my career.
Who is your all-time favourite cricketer, both men and women’s players? Why?
From the men, it would be MS Dhoni, he was an exceptional leader, perhaps a rare find, being a leader myself I have looked up to him on multiple avenues for qualities that I have adopted myself. A true ambassador of the sport, famous for remaining absolutely cool-headed in high-pressure situations, he is not only an idol for me but for many others.
From the women, it would be Charolette Edwards, former England Captain, yet another leader with exceptional leadership qualities. I had the privilege to meet her in person when I was pursuing my masters in the UK, she is probably the most humble of cricketers I have met.
Now that you have moved on from playing cricket, tell us a bit about what you are doing nowadays?
I continue to provide cricket coaching at one of the oldest cricket academies in the UAE (Young Talents Cricket Academy), occasionally give commentary on all media mediums, for local and international games.
I am now also pursuing my PhD at Amity University Dubai, and my area of research is in the shift in gender roles in sports leadership. Cricket has shaped me into the person I am today, and I have a lot to give back to it!
What has the experience of commentating for international games been like?
A surreal experience, it’s a different world sitting in a commentary box and talking about the game you so dearly love.
At first, I struggled to keep up the pace with the overs moving by so quickly, as my first experience was on radio and radio commentary is descriptive, we have to be able to help visualize exactly what we are watching on the screens!
Shifting to a live commentary where the viewers are able to see the telecast, and all you have to do is comment on the shot played/ball bowled/the fielding, etc.
Having commentated in more than 50 international games, across all platforms, has helped me not only love the game more but also understand it in a way many players don’t.
What’s next on your agenda and UAE women’s cricket?
Currently, along with pursuing my doctorate, I want to be an ambassador of the game, spreading awareness within all communities in the UAE that women do play a game called “Cricket”, and it isn’t just a “gentleman’s game” anymore! Sorry boys for being a bit harsh, but its the truth.
Girls these days are getting fitter & stronger and if you see the games, they are able to showcase the game with similar thrill and excitement.
As for UAE women’s cricket considering the current crisis situation, things have been on a standstill, however, the girls have done the country proud and will continue to do so.