Jahanara Alam - inspiring generations with thanks to beloved grandmother and Irish ice

Jahanara Alam Bangladeshi women's cricket superstar

Tony Bishop

Not many players have been as central to the growth of Bangladesh Women as Jahanara Alam. She has represented Bangladesh since they were first awarded ODI status in 2011, has captained her country in a world tournament and was selected in the ICC's World WT20 Team in 2018 having taken Bangladesh Women's first-ever T20 international five-for (against Ireland).

As Bangladesh Women's Cricket has grown, Jahanara has been there as part of it, inspiring admiration and interest for women in Bangladesh to take up or follow the game.

Currently starring for the Falcons in the FairBreak Invitational Tournament in Dubai, I took the opportunity to catch up with her to discuss not just the tournament, but also her role model status for her country.

The FairBreak Invitational Tournament, has gathered together leading women cricketers from around the world. No less than thirty-five nationalities are represented across the six teams, as befits the organisers global mission "to create opportunities that progress gender equality on a truly global scale, using cricket as our primary vehicle".

"Awesome", is how Jahanara describes it as she beams with pride at the opportunity, although she confesses that the Dubai decks may not be the friendliest for medium pacers. "It's a good wicket to bat on" she added with a rueful smile.

There is a real galaxy of international women's talent gathered in Dubai, so who, I wondered was she enjoying playing with? Jahanara's generosity of spirit shone through as she discussed her team mates. Suzi Bates (Falcons New Zealand captain) is "an awesome skipper, so friendly, helpful and experienced. I can learn a lot". "Danni Wyatt is great too" she says, but it is "really lovely to play with everyone and to be part of the Falcons' family".

Having taken Dani Wyatt's wicket in the World Cup, had Jahanara teased her about it? "Yes", is the laughing reply "We have discussed it. I took her wicket, but she is doing really well in this tournament and I'm so happy for her".

Also playing in the tournament from Bangladesh is Rumana Ahmad (representing the Barmy Army). "Rumana and I are so proud that we can inspire people back home beams Jahanara. It's a huge thing for women's cricket back home in our country as well. I hope we can bring the experience from here back to share with my Bangladesh team family". Always with Jahanara, alongside the warm smile and open personality, is the steely determination and sense of the bigger picture.

For those less familiar with Bangladesh Women's Cricket, I asked who are the up-and-coming stars we should look out for? "There are so many international stars I would say who could take part in this tournament in the future" she said. "Salma Khatun (all-rounder), Nigar Sultana Joty (wicket keeper), Fargana Hoque Pinky (batter), Fahima Khatun (leg break bowler), Nahida Akhter (slow left armer) are all highlighted by Jahanara.

So, how did she come to be involved in the FairBreak tournament? "When I got the invitation I though what is this tournament, but then I realised what a big ambition it had" and it is "huge for women's cricket and all women around the world". Again, there is that clear sense of personal responsibility and national pride.

"I am so happy to be a Women's cricketer and proud of representing my country. It's huge. Bangladesh is a cricket crazy nation and we get lots of support from the Bangladesh Cricket Board and the government". It is, Jahanara points out, no coincidence that the Bangladesh Prime Minister is a woman (Sheikh Hasina) "so they are very supportive". And not just for women's cricket but for every sport. "With so much support, I feel like a 'free bird'. No pressure, no problem. For me I have had a little struggle, but I can say I am a professional Woman Cricket Player and that is huge for me. I have to do something good for my country, by nation and be a role model for people who follow me. Women and men."

You get a strong sense from Jahanara that had she and cricket not discovered each other, something else have given her the opportunity to excel. "As a woman I have to be at a level that women can take positive things from me that they can take into their lives, hard work, honesty. Take those things and step by step reach your dream and you won't have regrets".

Incredibly she had never thought of being a cricketer but recalls that "in 2007 got an offer from a coach. Do you want to play cricket and I thought why not? I still remember when I played my first match against Hong Kong in Mirpur stadium in an unofficial match. I didn't bowl until the 47th over but got a hattrick" What a shame it was an unofficial match. But clearly Jahanara knows how to make an entrance!

The support of her parents also helped to set her on her way. "When I was selected for Bangladesh, I had to ask my father whether I should play or do my exams? He, wisely for Jahanara counselled that "you may only have one chance to play for your country but you will have 3 chances to pass your exam". Paternal wisdom for which I am sure Jahanara and her country are both grateful.

The biggest influence on her career, however, was not a coach or fellow player, it was her beloved grandmother.

My Grandma was wonderful, and would take me and meet me from games". Recalling the game against Ireland and those five wickets, Jahanara says "it nearly didn't happen due to a badly bruised elbow. But I had ice on it all night and was just ok to play". Bangladesh cricket it turns out, owes a debt to both Granma and Irish ice. Alas, her grandma had passed away before that Ireland game but "she would have been so happy if she had been there", said Jahanara. One dearly hopes that in a way she was.

If the five-wicket haul against Ireland was one huge achievement for Jahanara, the 2018 Asia Cup was a defining moment for Bangladesh Women's cricket as they famously beat India. "I was on strike at the end, Salma was at the other end and by the grace of the almighty I hit the winning runs" she said, broad smile and eyes alight, clearly seeing those runs as if they were yesterday.

That brought us on to the recent Women's World Cup. A tough one for Bangladesh, but they beat old enemy Pakistan (with Jahanara amongst the wickets), and for the first time faced Australia. Jahanara is sure that more chances will come to play the likes of Australia, South Africa and England and this will give us the experience and chance to fight and win".

"Everyone says 'Mighty Australia', but if we can beat them, it will be huge for Bangladesh. Not just for this generation, but for the next one as well. We can set an example if we can do it!" She adds, "every team is a tough team" and firmly points out that "Bangladesh very nearly beat the West Indies" with Jahanara herself taking the big wicket of fellow FairBreak player Deandra Dottin. "Whoever it is, however big, we want to beat them for the next generation". There again is that coming together of personal pride, national pride and strong sense of bigger mission.

At only 29, Jahanara is looking to play for a long while yet and plans to stay as fit as she can. If she does and Bangladesh continue to advance, we can expect those big scalps to be taken. And that, will be huge in for the growth of women's cricket in Bangladesh for future generations.

You can watch the Fairbreak Invitation live and exclusive on FreeSports, available on Sky 422, Freeview 65, Virgin TV 553, BT/TalkTalk 64, Samsung TV Plus and online through the FreeSports Player. https://www.freesportsplayer.tv/