Trailblazer Salma Khatun feels lucky to play in the 2020 Women's T20 Challenge

The Bangladesh allrounder looks forward to her first overseas T20 league

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Salma Khatun (centre) celebrates a wicket during the 2020 T20 World Cup  •  Getty Images

Salma Khatun (centre) celebrates a wicket during the 2020 T20 World Cup  •  Getty Images

Look through the scorecards of Bangladesh women's first representative match (in 2007), their first ODI (2011), their first T20I (2012), and their first major trophy win (2018) and one name pops up repeatedly: Salma Khatun.
She has played 108 of Bangladesh's 113 international matches so far, captaining in 83, and featuring in all their 27 T20I wins and all but one ODI win. She is also Bangladesh's only female cricketer to reach No. 1 in ICC's T20I bowling and allrounder rankings.
Khatun, 30, is synonymous with Bangladesh women's cricket. She is their most recognisable face. In 2015, India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, mentioned her during a speech in Dhaka after seeing her picture on a billboard in the city.
This week, Khatun will be one of two Bangladesh players, along with Jahanara Alam, participating in the 2020 Women's T20 Challenge, a three-team tournament held alongside the IPL playoffs in the UAE.
Like many other players who will feature in the T20 Challenge, Khatun hasn't played any cricket in the last seven months, but in her last international outing, the T20 World Cup in Australia, she took six wickets in four games with her accurate offspin. She is also a dependable batter and a safe fielder.
The Women's T20 Challenge, considered a precursor to a women's IPL, will be Khatun's first experience of playing in a T20 league and in the UAE.
"I thank Almighty Allah for all this recognition," Khatun, who will turn out for the Trailblazers, said. "It feels great. Younger cricketers respect me. I am lucky to represent the country on such a big stage. I was happy when I heard that I was going to the IPL. I was practising every day in any case, but when I heard I was going to the tournament, I started working harder.
"I have never played in the UAE, so I don't really know much about it. I have to look at the wicket and size of the boundaries to see how it will help my batting and bowling."
Khatun and Alam, who is playing her second T20 Challenge, have been training under the lights in Mirpur, supervised by Bangladesh's bowling coach, Mahbub Ali Zaki.
"I loved cricket and I always said to myself that if boys can play, so can I. Nobody taught me how to hold a cricket ball or the bat. I used to do fast bowling, spin and even kept wickets"
"Jahanara gave me some information and explained what it's like to play in the tournament. It was very helpful of her. I am going there as an allrounder, so I have to do well in all three departments. I am bowling well and I have a lot of experience, which I will apply there," Khatun said.
She is also glad to have two Bengali-speaking cricketers in her team, India's Jhulan Goswami and Richa Ghosh. "It is definitely going to be great having them around. I have good relations with Jhulan Goswami. I speak to her every time we meet, and always in Bangla. I am sure we will speak in Bangla," Khatun said.
Khatun grew up in Khulna in south-west Bangladesh, a region known for its sporting excellence.
"I loved cricket and I always said to myself that if boys can play, so can I. Nobody taught me how to hold a cricket ball or the bat. I used to do fast bowling, spin and even kept wickets. I never even thought that Bangladesh would have a women's team. I just played because I loved the game.
"I always played inside our house when I was a kid, sometimes with cousins, my uncle and the neighbourhood kids. My uncle used to take me to the ground in our village when they used to play. I always played wearing a three-piece [salwar kameez], not t-shirt and trousers."
When Khatun turned 17, she heard that the Bangladesh board was going to form a women's team for which there was to be an inter-district tournament.
"I went to practice wearing the three-piece. I met [future Bangladesh cricketers] Jahanara, [Ayasha Rahman] Shuktara and [Sultana Yesmin] Boishakhi that day.
"Coach Sheikh Salahuddin asked me to bowl three balls of pace and three balls of spin. I wrapped my orna [dupatta] around my waist and went to bowl. Salahuddin Sir told me that I should bowl spin, so I became a spinner from that day. After practice, he asked me if I have trousers, t-shirt and shoes. I told him I didn't, so the next day he got me those from his shop," Khatun said.
Soon, she was scoring hundreds and taking loads of wickets in domestic tournaments and, within a few months, was picked in Bangladesh's first women's team, for an Asian Cricket Council tournament in Malaysia.
"Everyone, including Salahuddin Sir, was impressed with my batting, bowling and fielding. 'She plays better than the boys,' people said. When we came to Dhaka for the district-level tournament, I was going to spend my first night without my mother. I knew it would be tough, but I explained to my mother that I will adjust. We ended up runners-up, and I scored a hundred in the tournament.
"Later in 2007, several girls were called up from Khulna for a training camp for a tour to Malaysia. We were put up at the Dhanmondi Women's Complex and our first coach was Zafrul Ehsan. None of us knew each other so we had to acquaint ourselves."
Khatun says that the difference in training facilities made available to the women's team in those days are starkly different than those in place, these days. "I think we get facilities as well as the men these days," she said.
It's because of trailblazers like Khatun that the Bangladesh board took the women's team seriously. When you see her in the Women's T20 Challenge, you'll be seeing a player who has, for 13 years, been the backbone of a Bangladesh bowling attack, helped support a brittle batting line-up, and remains the team's best fielder.
With inputs from Annesha Ghosh

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84