Britain’s first hijab wearing Asian female cricketer – an exclusive interview with Abtaha Maqsood
Image by About Pakistan
Born in Glasgow to Pakistani parents who migrated to Scotland, Abtaha Maqsood has broken barriers and become a role model to many Asian women in the UK. Not only did she start playing for the under-17 squad at the tender age of 12, but she has also made a name for herself through a successful cricketing career spanning over a decade.
Considered to be one of Scotland’s most reliant bowlers, Maqsood is also Britain’s first Hijab wearing cricketers. She joined the Birmingham Phoenix last year and mentioned in an interview that it was “a dream come true” for her.
For this year’s The Hundred Cricket Tournament, Maqsood returned with the Phoenixes, leading the attack and once again being a flagbearer of true commitment, passion and representation. She was also recently honoured with mural dedicated to her at a local primary school in Birmingham.
Ahead of The Hundred, we spoke to the ace cricketer and dental student about her journey so far, the challenges she has faced as a young Asian female player and her advice to Asian women who want to become professional cricketers in the future.
How did your passion for cricket begin?
“My parents are from Pakistan and they love cricket over there. My dad in particular absolutely loves cricket and taught me and my siblings all the basics from a young age. We used to play a lot in the garden which really sparked my interest.”
Image by The Telegraph via Getty Images
When did you first start playing cricket?
“I played in the garden with my family from a very young age but I started playing at Poloc CC when I was 11.”
How has the journey been for you in the realm of cricket as an Asian woman?
“For the most part it’s been great. Luckily for me I have felt very safe and included within the Scotland women’s team. Club cricket could sometimes be quite tough as a young Muslim girl, being the only girl in the team. I sometimes felt a bit out of place but when I started playing women’s cricket I felt much better.”
You became a professional cricketer while studying dentistry, was it difficult to maintain a balance between the two?
“Yes, it definitely has been quite tough, especially because dentistry is a pretty hands on course. I just need to try and organise my time very well so that I can give importance to both cricket and university.”
Could you tell us about your training process?
“Recently I have had quite the busy summer playing for the Sunrisers down in London. We train at least 3 times a week, gym twice a week, 2 sprint sessions and a conditioning session per week and usually play a game on the Saturday.”
Have you faced any challenges in your journey so far? If so, what are they?
“Unfortunately there will always be challenges to overcome when playing sport and I’ve definitely faced a few. There is always constant pressure to perform and get selected in the starting 11, especially now that I play professionally it adds a bit more pressure to perform well. That pressure can be quite difficult to handle but I like to look back at all the great moments I have had in my career and try to remember that the reason I play cricket is because I love it and it’s fun and that takes the pressure away.
I have also faced some abuse on social media being a Muslim, hijab wearing cricketer. Luckily these comments are in the minority but it’s still a shame that there are still people out there who want to bring you down. I have had amazing support from my friends and family and teammates so I don’t let these things get to me.”
What was it like debuting in the under 17 Scotland squad at the age of 12?
“I remember being so excited to play. I was so young so I’m not sure I quite understood how big the occasion was – all I wanted to do was go out there and have loads of fun. I would have never thought that this would be the start of an amazing journey for me and I would be playing cricket professionally 10 years later!”
You have played several tournaments so far. Could you highlight any favourite moment or milestone from them that has stayed with you?
“The Hundred last year was a surreal experience. Every moment from that tournament is special to me and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to play with and against some of the best cricketers in the world. I’m so excited to do it all over again this year.”
Image by Roy Smiljanic, Birmingham Phoenix
Were there any barriers or challenges that you had to face and tackle as a young female Asian cricketer?
“Yes, as mentioned before, when I played in the Hundred last year I experienced a barrage of negative comments on social media surrounding my religion and race.
In my early days playing cricket I struggled with finding halal food during tours and match days and had to stick with a very limited vegetarian diet. I also don’t wear shorts or short sleeved shirts and there was a period of time where I didn’t have suitable clothing and had to wear a plain long sleeved shirt under my training and playing top in hot countries which wasn’t ideal. Luckily things like this have been sorted out and I don’t even have to ask for halal food or long sleeved shirts anymore as they are now just provided for me.”
What do you think about the representation of Asian female cricketers in the UK?
“There is so much potential out there within the Asian community which I have seen first-hand at grassroots level. It’s a shame that there aren’t enough of these players coming through the performance pathway and into the elite stage. There’s definitely still barriers out there that these girls face which is a real shame.”
What would you say to young female players who want to have a successful career in cricket in the UK?
“I would tell them to never give up. There’s always going to be ups and downs in the game and you will want to give up at one point but try your best to power through. Just know that even though there are some narrow minded people out there who will always have something negative to say about female sport, there’s so many more people out there who will support you no matter what.”
Maqsood’s achievements also include a black belt in Taekwondo as well as being Scotland’s flag bearer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow at the age of 15. Through her platform and accomplishments, she hopes to inspire many more Muslim girls to take up sports professionally and see more representation of Asian women on an international level.