As the first British female cricketer to perform at the pinnacle of domestic cricket wearing a traditional Muslim hijab, Abtaha Maqsood is already something of a pioneer.
Now the Sunrisers leg-spinner, along with several of her team-mates, is doing more to help smooth the path for aspiring young female players across the south-east as an ambassador for Take Her Lead.
The organisation, set up by Isa Guha last year with the mission of building a more inclusive environment to enhance every girl and woman’s experience of cricket, has partnered with Sunrisers to help achieve that goal.
Maqsood is one of the players who has taken part in a series of workshops around the region, visiting cricket clubs and working with Lord Taverners and the MCC Foundation to meet and mentor girls of different ages and backgrounds.
“Having role models is so important,” observed the Scotland T20 international. “One thing we did quite a lot was to start with our stories, talking about growing up and how we can relate to these girls.
“That helps them to open up and tell us about the barriers they face. Having that relatability factor is very important, it makes people more open with you – as they say, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it!
“I was the only girl in the club for my whole time in junior cricket and I found that really difficult. I was quite a shy young girl anyway and it could sometimes be quite an unwelcoming environment, something I’ve talked about a lot in these workshops.
“Luckily we’ve found there’s less and less of that now. There are a lot more girls’ clubs and teams within schools as well, so they don’t have to go through that experience of being the only girl.”
However, while being the sole female representative on the playing side may be much rarer since Maqsood’s childhood in Glasgow, a shortage of female coaches remains an important consideration for girls today.
“I’ve only really had one female coach in my entire career and that was Kari Carswell (now director of participation at Middlesex) right at the start,” said Maqsood, who took match-winning figures of five for 30 earlier this season when Sunrisers routed Southern Vipers in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
“As a role model, Kari was amazing and it did help being able to look up to her. It’s definitely getting better, but not enough – it’s something girls have really identified in the workshops.
“Sometimes male coaches just don’t understand what to say and do when the game isn’t going well. You have to talk to boys and girls in a slightly different way – girls find having a female coach around is more relatable, maybe also a little bit more welcoming.
“Wanting to treat girls the same as boys is all about equality – but actually we are different and we need to celebrate those differences, understand why we’re different and what we need to make sure we’re the best cricketers and people we can be.”
Maqsood’s own rise through the ranks was a rapid one – spotted at the age of 12, she was fast-tracked into Scotland’s Under-17 side and made her full international debut soon after her 19th birthday.
But her work with Take Your Lead has also given the 24-year-old opportunities to offer vital encouragement to girls who might lose heart if their cricketing development is advancing at a slower rate.
“I have had a couple of girls ask about trial processes and how they can get through those,” added Maqsood. “For me, it’s actually a good sign that it’s getting harder and harder to progress as quickly as I did.
“When I was younger, there weren’t that many girls playing in Scotland, so I did get a little bit lucky! Now there are so many more women playing, in Scotland as well as England, but at the same time we don’t want to lose people because they find it challenging.
“I always say to these girls that you’re going to have ups and downs in any sport, but without a good work ethic there’s no way you’ll get to where you want to be. Things get challenging and that’s when you need to step up, show your character and surpass the challenge.
“Don’t give up when the going gets a little bit tough! As long as that doesn’t happen I think we’re going to get some really good characters in the next few years – and hopefully we can do a lot of good through Take Your Lead to help it come about.”
This article was written by Ben Kosky from the ECB Reporters Network.
Photo: Clare Adams