Pakistan women have professional approach, says captain
Sana Mir, the Pakistan women's cricket team captain, has said women's cricket in Pakistan has developed significantly since the PCB handed contracts to 19 women cricketers. Pakistan recently finished as runners-up in the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh and will take part in the Women's World Twenty20 next year and the Women's 50-over World Cup in 2013.
"Our approach to the game is entirely professional now," Mir, who was Pakistan's second-highest run-scorer during the qualifiers and also took four wickets, told ESPNcricinfo. "It is not just a game but a profession we have chosen to earn a livelihood from."
The Pakistan women's team only emerged in 1997 and it took them almost four years to register their first win, in a home ODI against Netherlands in 2001. They had to wait till 2004 to beat a top-flight team but victories have become more frequent in the last two years. Earlier this year the PCB offered the players central contracts, after they won the gold medal in the Asian Games in 2010. Mir, who is on a Grade A contract, said women's cricket is now headed in the right direction.
"We have been struggling in many areas but in the last couple of years things have improved significantly. Cricket is very old in our region but among women it is not that popular; it has gained popularity among girls only in the last six-seven years.
"But we are heading in the right direction. Technically, we have to do a lot to break into the top three teams but we have gained a lot of ground. We have to work on our bench strength. We have to introduce the game at the grass-root level. In Pakistan there are only a few cricket clubs for women; the number of them has to increase to three figures. We still have nearly 50 girls as backup for the national squad."
Mir was conservative in setting goals for the upcoming World Cups, saying winning was more of a fantasy than an achievable goal. "We have been in the World Twenty20 before and lost our way in the opening round, so this time our target is to at least get through to the second round. As far as the 50-over World Cup is concerned, we have better chances and are targeting at least the semi-finals."
Pakistan have risen to sixth in the women's ODI rankings this year but Mir said they were still some way off competing with the top teams. "We are still far off from being the best as they are many areas in which we lag behind. The most important things we need to work on are fitness, endurance and mental strength. We need to play more and more quality cricket against better teams to flourish. We are at No. 6 now and our first priority is to hold this spot and not slip back down."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent