“I started playing with the boys in my school,” Yasmeen Khan recalls how her cricket journey began, and reveals that her Pakistan-born father had been responsible for her introduction to cricket. His passion would lead the 23-year-old to make a mark for Namibia as her team registered their first international victory at their home ground against a full-member country.
The vice-captain for the Namibian team is a part of the stellar line-up for the FairBreak Global tournament that will begin in Dubai from May 1 and includes Pakistani stars like Sana Mir, Bismah Maroof, Diana Baig and Aliya Riaz in its featured six teams. The event will host 19 games over the course of 15 days.
Yasmeen is coming to the pitch in Dubai at the back of a high and her goal is to make Namibian cricket visible in a tournament where she will be rubbing shoulders with the game’s best players.
“The win meant a lot for us,” Yasmeen told The Express Tribune. “We always came short in the past. We beat a full-member country and it shows that we can compete on another level.”
Namibia were playing the Capricorn Women’s tri-series with Zimbabwe and Uganda being the other two countries in Windhoek.
The former captain has grown up playing cricket in her home town of Windheok. Although Namibia is an associate member, it is the sheer courage and drive of the young women that makes is a great story, and Yasmeen has been at the forefront of it.
Namibia is an upcoming nation in women’s cricket and in cricket overall. The women’s team also played the International Cricket Council T20 World Cup qualifiers in 2019 and then last year as well.
As Namibian women’s cricket is learning to pave its way into the big leagues, Yasmeen’s journey is unique and represents the potential the country holds for cricket.
The team, as pointed out by Yasmeen, is young and between the ages of 16 to the oldest one being 26 years old. It needs to expand its experience and build up on the momentum for the future.
The visual communications and graphic student is crafty on the pitch with her wicket-keeping skills and makes sure that she serves the team as a reliable batter, at number three.
In a series of questions asked to her by The Express Tribune, she recalls that the way for her became easier as she grew up in a loving and supportive household. Her father is a cricket fanatic and she picked it up from him. Meanwhile, her mother turned out to be more passionate than even her father, when it comes to sports.
“Both of my parents are very passionate,” she exclaims as she described how they follow cricket even when it is watching it on the television.
She adds that cricket empowered her as a girl in many ways; in fact, it gave her confidence to be herself.
“Cricket has given me a second home,” said Yasmeen. “It gave me confidence that I can be myself and I learned discipline and teamwork.”
She adds that she would be eager to play cricket as a child after school as well and the drive has led her to play for the U13 team and then made her way into the national team soon after.
As far as the challenges went, she focused on the positives that the sport brought and remained committed to her path. She made her international debut in 2018 against Malawi, which was also Namibia women’s cricket team’s debut in the Twenty20 format, a winning one for that matter.
Yasmeen says that growing up in Windhoek she sees progress in women’s cricket and the sport is “a bit more accessible now compared to before, although it is football and rugby that rule the mainstream”.
“There has been progress. We send coaches to the rural areas and our coaches are working and our team makes sure that we are available. More girls are showing interest in cricket,” explains Yasmeen.
However in her observation the biggest challenge that the African women athletes face is the lack of facilities for them.
“Lack of facilities and most of the African women are living below the poverty line. Then the organisations they don’t get the necessary funding like male sports,” she points out.
She said that when it comes to the cricket formats, she enjoys T20 as her teams plays the matches a lot.
She counts the Capricorn Tri-Series match against Zimbabwe where she scored 34 runs to contribute to the win as her most memorable performance to date, while reflecting upon her role as a wicket-keeper she added that the role was never her first choice. “I never had a plan to become a wicket-keeper until I got my back injury. It has been two years now. I’m ready to take on the roles that are helpful for the team.”
When asked if wicket-keepers make better captains, she explained that wicket-keepers deserve a leadership position because they have more awareness on the pitch and have better perspective, but many of the “best captains in cricket were not wicket-keepers.”
When asked who are her favourite players in the game of cricket, she names Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan. “I love watching them play,” she says, while feels former world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic has been a role model with his authenticity and strength of character that he brings to the court and off it.
Her admiration for Afridi and Younis may come from the fact that her father is from Karachi, a place she has visited twice only. “The last time was when I was only six years old, so it is long ago, but I remember seeing boys play cricket in the streets and it was so intense, yet looked fun,” she reminisced.
She said that when it comes to women that inspired her, Australia’s Alyssa Healy is on the top of her list.
Yasmeen is preparing for the international events and has just gotten done with the tri-series, and the pressures of being an athlete require awareness about mental health as well.
She said that one of the ways to stay on track is to make sure to take time off from the game, while she finds sports psychologists to be more helpful in growing as a sportsperson.
“For self-care I try to remind myself it is just a sport. Mental health is so important. I’ve only recently started sports psych. For us sportspersons, it is important for us to learn to reach out. We want to be strong all the time, but that is not how things work. We need help,” said Yasmeen.
She feels that being a full-time athlete for women is easy but for the professional cricketers it is about making the adjustments. Meanwhile for the development of the women’s game in Namibia, she said that cricket is growing fast and the change is very positive like it is for women’s sports mostly. It is about empowering and looking out for each other.
For her, the big opportunity is the FairBreak tournament now. “I want to win in the tournament. I want to showcase that I am from Namibia and we are here to compete not just to participate,” said Yasmeen.
“Fairbreak is a huge opportunity and exposure. It will help us in gaining more knowledge and experience not just for individual players but it will lift our game. I would like to thank Fairbreak especially for including the players from associate members. There’s never been opportunity like this for us before and this tournament will help us grow immensely,” concluded Yasmeen.