Maryam Omar is the captain of the Kuwait national women's team. She began her playing career for the club in the 2016/17 season and has become a regular member of the teams ever since cementing her position with some crucial performances. She joins us to talk about her early cricketing days in Kuwait, the popularity of the game (especially women's cricket) in Kuwait, her time in Australia & with the club, the interesting stories behind her nickname & club jersey number and much, much more. Read on -
1) To begin with, please tell us about your cricketing journey. Born in the Middle East, I never thought I would end up playing cricket for Kuwait, a sport which had very little exposure and minimal interest in the Gulf. I was introduced to cricket in 2010 when I was 17 years old; I knew nothing about the game. In the summer of 2010, Kuwait Cricket organized a talent hunt targeting schools to encourage the game of cricket among girls and women. My coaches, Tariq Rasool and Tahir Khan were super supportive; they taught me all the cricket skills that I need, from the basics of how to hold a bat to playing an elegant cut shot. I trained daily for at least 3 hours. I knew I had to put in extra effort if I wanted to be good. It was really a mixture of support from Kuwait Cricket, family and coaches combined with personal struggle, hard work and self-motivation that made me what I am today.One of the greatest achievements that have happened in my cricket career was in 2013 when I was selected as captain of the national side. The selectors knew that I never missed a day of practice. I was self-motivated and dedicated to the sport. I managed to bring the team together and we worked as a unit.
In terms of the struggle to become a better sportswoman, it was necessary to face both personal and physical challenges. One major challenge concerned the fact that playing competitive sport is not a traditional role for women in the Middle East. For example, my three sisters conformed to social expectations and enjoyed cooking, fashion and socializing with friends at home. Therefore, it was particularly difficult for my father to accept my sporting aspirations. However, he came to accept my 'difference' when I became captain of the Kuwaiti cricket team.
2) When and how did you get associated with the club? How has your experience been so far?After completing a Degree in Civil Engineering in Kuwait and working as a structural engineer for two years, I was interested in pursuing higher education. I was chosen as the successful applicant after submitting an impressive application for the ACK Master's Academic Scholarship - a prestigious award to recognise outstanding achievement at the Australian College of Kuwait, enabling students to study at partner university CQUniversity in Australia.
My first season was pretty special. Not necessarily in a good way but I genuinely believe that it was a good learning experience. I was completely out of my comfort zone, new to the country, culture and did not know my way around public transport. I would frequently find myself on the wrong train/bus and would carry my kitbag and walk myself to training sessions and games. It was a hectic routine and I would stress a lot about getting to sessions on time. I was also new to the club and I felt like I didn't fit in. The club committee were really nice and welcoming. A majority of the players were also welcoming and accepting. I did struggle with peer pressure and trying to fit in but the more I trained with the girls, I was able to find common grounds. Cricket has helped me become brave and social. In a new environment, I am the type of person who never speaks unless spoken to, so I spent most of my time in solitude.
Now, I find myself quite confident and comfortable in my own skin. I have changed a lot since my first season. I have made friends and was able to gain the trust of my coach. I have started working together with the team, also managed to integrate my personal goals and benchmarks within the club goals. I am glad this happened because it has changed my game significantly! I no longer have to worry about fitting in and can now focus on developing my cricket skills.
3) How popular is cricket in Kuwait, especially women's cricket?Cricket is an extremely popular sport in Kuwait. Kuwait has a population of 4 million people out of which 1.5 million people residing in the desert nation are cricket loving expats from Test Playing Nations. Almost a million Indians, a couple of hundred thousand Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis each as well as a few thousands of British, Australians, South Africans, Afghans and Nepalese that make up 33% population of Kuwait are cricket crazy.
Kuwait Cricket is the official governing body for the game of cricket in Kuwait associated with ICC & ACC and has 14 desert grounds with concrete pitches along with 2 proper cricket facilities with turf wickets under its belt that supports seating capacity for thousands of spectators for a given international tournament.
Kuwait Cricket has 5000 registered players that compete in its domestic tournaments throughout the year. In addition to this, Kuwaiti Nationals make up an active squad of 20 members that participate in the domestic competition of Premier Leagues as well that keep interest levels adequate amongst the locals.
Kuwait Cricket hosts and conducts juniors, seniors, veterans as well as women's cricket matches. Although the emphasis has mainly been on men's senior cricket in the past, the much required shift towards juniors and grassroots levels has slowly but surely taken over with an equal interest now being shown towards women's cricket as well. Women's cricket may not be as popular as it should be as of today in Kuwait as the current pool of women cricketers have performed exceptionally well in the recent tournaments over the past few years but it has not been able to reach out to the masses just as yet.
However, with a young team of Directors at the Kuwait Cricket council and in depth focus on marketing and awareness of the game, KC aims to make 2018 as an exemplary year for women's cricket by targeting schools and running active marketing campaigns on social media to further attract the ladies.
4) What does it mean to you to be the captain of the Kuwait national team? Are you a role model for the girls playing cricket there? What does playing cricket mean to women in Kuwait?When I was assigned as the national captain, I was lost of words. The announcement was made just prior to the ACC U19 Championship in Thailand in 2013. It came when I least expected it to. Although my cricket knowledge wasn't up to the mark at that point in time everyone knew that I possessed something bigger and more important like leadership and team building skills. Honestly, I was hoping for the captain's role but only when I thought I was ready. I guess the officials felt that was ready and decided to give me a fair go at it.I spent most of my time at games accompanied by coach Tahir Khan, one of Kuwait's finest coaches. He used to sit next to me as we watched men's domestic cricket being played. We discussed captain's role, tactics and much more. The Kuwaiti Cricket board further supported me by getting me enrolled in umpiring and coaching courses. Undergoing these courses helped me upgrade my skills and knowledge of the game. My passion towards the game has pushed me beyond my limits.
It was a great privilege to lead the national side. The role was accompanied with great responsibilities. I had to live up to everyone's expectations. After all, I am not just a player now. I am the captain. To me, it meant that I must discipline myself to earn respect on/off field. I used to be carefree, joyful, troublesome individual which I later on had to change to fit into my new role. I learned to become mature and accountable of my own actions. I started setting team goals and individual goals.
My teammates are like family to me, and they reckon I am an inspiration to them. They have put their trust in me because they knew that I was ready to stand up for them and represent them in front of the Kuwaiti board.
I am a Level 1 certified coach from the Asian Cricket Council (ACC). Therefore, our Head Coach, Tariq Rasool, utilised my skills to assist him in setting up training sessions. My coach and I used to plan and tailor our sessions to suit Kuwait's harsh weather conditions. Moreover, the lack of facilities taught us to improvise and make best use of what we had. The girls noticed the amount of effort and time put into arranging and managing our training sessions and this was reflected by the level of commitment the girls showed. The girls love the game and it definitely means so much to them to be able to play sports because in my opinion, I think that the girls feel empowered.
Here, in Australia, the girls are really lucky. They have access to top-notch facilities and, most importantly, there is a well-structured cricket pathway. I wish we had something similar. I have learnt lots of things from the time that I have spent playing cricket in Australia. There is so much to take back once I return to Kuwait. I am loving the cricket here at present.
Playing under the captaincy of Briana Binch at EMPLCC, I have been able to develop a new way of thinking. I have been observing her cricket sense, from decision making/judgement skills to field setting and dealing with players. She is definitely someone that I look up to. I still have a long way to go but I am definitely a better version of myself now.
5) What are you good at in cricket?I believe I am an all-rounder and the reason I say this is because I have my days. Some days I bat better than I bowl and vice versa. In Kuwait I used to open the batting and held more responsibility. In Australia, with EMP, I don't bat at a fixed number. I have been playing at different numbers. I was required to open the batting on a couple of occasions. It is hard to bat up and down the order but I like to be positive about this and say, this is part of my development, trying to be agile and adaptable to the role that my team wants me to play. However, if I was asked about my preference, an ideal number would be 4 down the order.
6) What is your style of play?I consider myself as an aggressive player but I also try to play according to the situation. In Kuwait, women play T20 format only. Therefore, I was trained to go hard and play aggressively from the very first ball to utilise the first six overs of the power play.Here in Melbourne, the girls play both T20 and 50 overs formats. It was a new taste of cricket for me. I wasn't really successful in my first season playing the 50 overs game but this has helped me to re-asses my skills. I was able to determine areas of strengths, areas that I would like to work on. One of the main things that I am currently working on is to develop a temperament for the longer versions of the game (50 overs).
7) Any valuable advice given by someone that has had a positive impact on your game.My Coaches, Tariq Rasool and Tahir Khan, have played an influential role in my journey of becoming a good cricketer. They have always believed in me and pushed me beyond my limits. I used to train and play with the boys to get better. At times, I used to try and copy what the boys did. For example, trying to go hard and hit big, but because I was not as strong I would end up being caught. I didn't understand much cricket so I relied on what I saw. My coaches advised me to watch players like Sachin Tendulkar and few others. I was told that if I wanted to play longer innings, I should try and play my shots along the ground.
Another advice which really had a positive impact on my game also came out from my coach. And because I would usually be nervous before stepping out to bat or ball. He would always say, 'fortune favours the brave'. This statement made me realise that being brave is the only way to do it.
Cricket, in general, has changed my life. I used to be this little short-tempered, impatient kid, until I started playing cricket. I learned how to respect the game, the umpires, my team mates, the ground and even the equipment. I have become the best version of myself and this was all because of cricket. I was fortunate enough to meet people from different walks of life and backgrounds. I have travelled around and have learned to become more respectful and accepting as a person. Cricket has become a part of my life and I can't imagine a day without it.8) What have been your favourite personal & team moments so far for EMPLCC & your national team?My favourite personal moment so far has been scoring my first international 50 (unbeaten) against Singapore at the ACC Women's Championship 2013 held in Thailand came after two years of first learning how to hold a cricket bat. It was a very special moment for me. I worked hard for it but never expected it to come so soon which made me realise that anything is possible if you put in the right amount of hard work. For the National team, leading from the front, I had a very successful year in 2015 when I was able to bring back the first winner's trophy to Kuwait as well as receive the Player of the Tournament Award in Chiang Mai International Ladies Cricket Challenge. And for EMPLCC, winning the Premier Firsts One Day Flag last season was special as it was my first year.9) What awards have you won at the various levels that you have played?Well, there are a number of awards that I have been fortunate enough to win. To start with, I had been adjudged the Player of the match thrice and also the Player of the Tournament both in the inaugural Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Women's T20 Cricket Championship 2014 and the Chiang Mai International Ladies Cricket Challenge 2015. I have also won the Best Batswoman award in the UAE International Women's T20 Cup 2016. As captain, I have been able to lead my team to the winner's trophy in the Chiang Mai International Ladies Cricket Challenge 2015 and to the runner-up trophy in the inaugural GCC Women's T20 Cricket Championship 2014.10) Who is your favourite cricketer and why?The South African skipper, AB de Villiers, for his aggressive and unusual style of batting. Also, because female cricket is not commonly broadcast on TV so I do not have a favourite female cricketer. It is such a shame that young female cricketers living in other countries never get to see women play the sport. The only cricket that I watched when I started learning the game was the men's games. The first time I ever watched women play was when the WBBL was broadcast on the TV. I remember being in a cricket shop with my coach in Kuwait. It was very new to me to see female cricketers. That's when a dream formed in my heart, that one day I would love to be a part of the women's Big Bash teams.
11) Do you have a nickname in the team? If yes, how did it come about?Maryam is a very common Arabic name. When I joined cricket, I remember, around 77 school girls turned up for trials, so many had the same first name as me, so every time someone called out my name, seven heads would turn around and I would get really confused. That's when I decided to give myself a name which is a unique. MOKO is my nickname which was taken from the first letters of my full name, Maryam Osama Khalil Omar but also out of curiosity when I tried googling it, I found out that it actually meant something, some sort of traditional tattoo by the indigenous people of New Zealand (laughs).
12) Are you superstitious like many other cricketers? Do you have any such quirks?I used to be superstitious about dates and numbers. My coach back home noticed it. I used to refer to my performances relating to dates. For example: dates that have 7, 2 or multiple of 5 used to be my favourite. Also my playing jersey number is 25 which I believe is my lucky number. My coach tried to talk to me out of it and told me focus on my game instead. I believe I am slightly out of it now. But yeah, when I first joined EMP, I asked for jersey number 25 and when I learnt that it was taken, I freaked out. I then tried doubling it by requesting number 50 which was also taken. So yeah, I tripled it and luckily number 75 was available (laughs).
Also, when I am out to bat, I tend to repeat things like "watch the ball', "Play straight", and I make sure that I can hear myself say these things. It helps me stay focused. I also happen to count the fielders at the start of my inning and un-do my gloves after every few overs.13) What are the other sports do you follow?I used to play martial arts, gymnastics, judo, basketball and swimming. However, I slowly started drifting away after I was introduced to cricket; I stopped following all the other sports because I dedicated most of my time to learning cricket. I used to spend an average of 30 hours per week in the nets with my coaches. I hardly had time to do anything else, especially when I also had to maintain a good record at university.14) What do you do for a living? How do you like it?I am a full-time student. I received a full scholarship from the Australian College of Kuwait to come to Melbourne for Masters of Civil Engineering programme at Central Queensland University (Melbourne). Before coming to Melbourne, I worked as a civil engineer for two years in Kuwait. Now, I currently work with Cricket Victoria as Cricket Development Coordinator to drive female participation. I am also working as a Bridge Engineer (Intern) at Pitt & Sherry, an engineering consultancy in Southbank.
15) Lastly, coming back to cricket. What are your goals, immediate or otherwise?I am determinedly striving towards personal benchmarks and goals. One of my goals would be playing in the Women's Big Bash League someday. I know that the level of competition here in Australia is massive, which only means that I would need to work harder to be noticed and to be given a chance. I would like to follow Stuart Scott on that when he said "Don't downgrade your dream just to fit your reality; upgrade your conviction to match your destiny."