Omaima Waqar didn’t enjoy cricket as a kid.
She was indifferent whenever her father and sister would head out to play cricket in Toronto, scoffing at the idea of running around in the sun for several hours.
Her attitude took a dramatic turn when Waqar moved to Calgary with her sister. She started helping out with regular practice sessions at Riley Park and had an unexpected epiphany — she was good at the game.
“I was a natural bowler,” Waqar said.
She ended up training for the sport and enjoying the entire process from start to finish.
“I find that very ironic because I went from, ‘Did anyone even want to sit down and watch the sport?’ to now,” she said.
These days, a huge chunk of her week is spent playing cricket and organizing events.
It’s been 13 years since Waqar first started playing cricket. She grew to love the sport so much that she decided to start a cricket league with her sister in 2010.
“We realized that there was nobody here for women to play cricket. So we basically got in touch with the organizers for men’s cricket and we started the league,” Waqar said.
“It started off with like three to four girls just coming down and training and one coach, and then we soon started recruiting more girls and actually setting up tournaments.”
Women’s cricket in Alberta has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. According to Waqar, her team is now a diverse mix of about two dozen female players ages 12 to 35.
‘We’re definitely growing’
The players now end up competing in at least two to three games every week as opposed to a handful of tournaments a year — which was the case in the past.
“We’re definitely growing. We’re creating a platform where we’re able to display our skills,” Waqar said, adding she’s hoping to recruit more players and start a junior program for young players.
“We can start grooming those players to play for Calgary and then Alberta and, eventually, the national team, because we have the pathway set up,” she said. “We have got the coaches, we’ve got the facilities.”
Waqar, who is the vice-president of the Alberta Women’s Cricket League, believes community support can go a long way in encouraging more women to pick up the sport.
“We believe that when the community comes together and when [a] family starts supporting women’s cricket and women’s sports in general, their women, their girls, daughters, wives, sisters … tend to want to join as well because they see that support,” Waqar said.
Three players from the Alberta Women’s Cricket League have already qualified for the national team. According to Waqar, other high-performing players are under “the radar” of sports scouts.
The ultimate goal is simple: to keep pushing the envelope and help more Albertan women cricket players explore their love for the game.
‘The team is great’
Monica Arora, an experienced bowler, didn’t think she’d play cricket again after moving to Canada from India several years ago.
Arora, who has been a member of national cricket teams in India and Canada, decided to chase her passion after learning about women’s cricket in Calgary.
“When I joined this team, my joy, my happiness, my love for [the] ground, my love for cricket came back, and to me, that is a wonderful feeling,” said the wellness and fitness coach. “That’s [a] million-dollar feeling.”
Arora especially loves how cricket allows her to stay disciplined and focused while taking her out of her “day-to-day life.” When she’s on the cricket field, she’s thinking only about the game and her team members.
“Overall, the team is great. Everybody is amazing. Everybody has their companionship, everybody supports each other,” she said.
“You know, it’s good to have those kind of people around you, especially in today’s world, where it’s filled with stress. Because now there’s someone who’s really supporting you. It doesn’t matter [if] you drop a catch, doesn’t matter if you didn’t get a wicket … they are still there for you.”
Women’s cricket in Canada usually has 120 pitches, also known as overs, per team. A game begins with a coin toss and the winner gets to decide whether they’ll bowl or bat first.
Eleven players try their best to earn the maximum number of points through the course of the game while preventing their opponents from scoring more points.
Two players bat at a time while bowlers from the opposing team try to take them down — if fielders catch the ball or a player hits the stumps (three wooden sticks located at either end of the field) with their ball, they’re eliminated from the game and are replaced by another teammate.
The best way to score is to either hit the ball and try to earn extra points or run between the stumps to get more points, usually known as “runs.”
“I love the tactical side of the game,” said Danielle McGahey, a cricket player from Saskatchewan. “With cricket, you’re never really out of the game until the very end. Something could happen. A couple of wickets fall here, a couple of big shots when batting, and the game changes.”
McGahey first started playing cricket as an enthusiastic four-year-old in Australia, where her parents taught her the basic rules of the game.
“I’ve been playing for 25 years,” she said. “Growing up in Australia, it’s part of life. It’s like hockey [in Canada.]”
The cricket player didn’t want to quit the sport after moving to Canada three years ago.
She reached out to the Women’s Cricket League, which is how she ended up playing with cricket players in Calgary.
While Saskatchewan doesn’t have a full-fledged women’s cricket team, McGahey is hopeful there will be more players by next year.
“The women’s league is still in the process of expanding and growing,” she said. “We had one before COVID, but, unfortunately, [the pandemic] put us backwards.”
Meanwhile, McGahey has made it to the national team and continues playing for Alberta on the side.
‘I can only see it going up’
She says playing cricket in Canada comes with its unique challenges.
“Playing in Canada inherently means you get a long winter, so I know a lot of the girls here train very heavily in the winter,” she said. “Indoor facilities exist in Calgary, in Edmonton, and that’s where a lot of the girls will do their training.”
McGahey believes women’s cricket is here to stay.
“Even in the last, like, two years, we’ve had more tournaments available to us than ever before,” she said.
She noted that several team members will proceed to the national games and participate in multiple tournaments across Canada.
“There’s a lot of opportunities that are beginning to grow for the women’s game,” McGahey said. “I can only see it going up.”