Fahima Khatun – Bangladesh’s creative genius on and off the field

Fahima Khatun © Getty Images

Fahima Khatun is an important player for the Bangladesh team. Having made her debut in 2013, she has played 60 T20Is but only 19 ODIs. Last year, ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe, when Bangladesh were scheduled to play an ODI series and skipper Nigar Sultana missed two games, it was Fahima who led the side. 

Yet, she wasn’t in the playing XI for the first two games of the World Cup in New Zealand. For someone, who is the vice-captain of the side, this wasn’t ideal for her first World Cup campaign. But, ahead of the big clash against Pakistan, she was brought back in the team. A bowling average of 40.63 in ODIs doesn’t look threatening. But, Fahima and her side’s spirits are always high when they play Pakistan. 

“Whenever we play against Pakistan, before going onto the field, we have a lot of urge to beat them. We speak to each other saying we need to win this game at any cost,” Fahima said during an interview with Women’s CricZone before the World Cup. The reason for the urge is deeply rooted within what Bangladesh as a nation stands for. 

“You see, normally when we play other teams, we wear the green jersey. But when we play Pakistan, we have to wear the red jersey. So we wanted that if we win this time against them, we won’t wear the red jersey. We have always felt, why should we wear the red one and not wear a jersey of our choice. That is the sole reason why we are always pumped up when we play Pakistan,” Fahima said. 

The question that immediately comes up is if the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan plays any role in this fierce spirit. “Yes, the history is one reason as well. When we wear that jersey and go out and sing our national anthem, we get a strong feeling of pride. I said about that red jersey thing because of that only. But, yes, history plays a part,” Fahima said softly with a smile. 

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A small history lesson – Bangladesh was part of the British India colony till 1947 before falling under the control of Pakistan. Known as East Pakistan till independence in 1971, Bangladesh has several emotions attached when it comes to playing a game against Pakistan. Back in 1999, when the men’s team played their first World Cup, a victory against Wasim Akram’s Pakistan, who eventually qualified for the final, is still looked at as a turning point in the country’s cricketing landscape. 

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A similar achievement was in sights in Hamilton on Monday. Shathira Jakir, a Bangladesh cricketer and now an expert on Women’s CricZone, said, “people have woken up early to watch this game. They know we have a chance against Pakistan to win.” 

The optimism in her voice and that of Fahima’s isn’t misplaced. In 11 matches contested between these two sides in the format till then, Bangladesh had won five. Their latest win came at the World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe in a thriller. They came quite close once again in the warm-up fixture in New Zealand, only to fall short by just five runs. 

On Monday, they had done just about enough to stay in the game. Batting first, they got a modest total of 234 for 7. Pakistan were going well in their run chase but not cruising. With nine overs to go, they needed 56 runs, with Sidra Ameen well set on 89, while Omaima Sohail was finding her groove with a run-a-ball nine at that point. Pakistan had eight wickets in hand, with players like Nida Dar and Aliya Riaz yet to come. 

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Fahima had come back into the attack just an over ago. She bowled a few tossed up deliveries and had conceded four runs with one ball left. She tossed another one up and Sohail tried to whack her, but only managed to mistime it to the mid-on fielder. In the very next over, Rumana Ahmed dismissed Dar for a golden duck, making things worse for Pakistan. However, with the target just under 50 runs away, Bangladesh were still not in control of the game but the energy was certainly up. 

The wicketkeeper Shamima Sultana cheered, ‘thik ache thik ache, shob thik ache (It’s alright, everything is alright).’ A smiling Fahima got back to her mark and ran into the bowl. In front of her, was Aliya Riaz, who holds the record for hitting the most sixes in ODIs from her country. 

Fahima tossed up another delivery, with ample amount of flight. It seemed that it might go down the leg side, but eventually landed on the middle-stump with a lot of drift. The deception created by Fahima had Riaz trapped on her crease, in a tangle, catching her right in front of the stumps. It wasn’t the turn which got her, but the deception through the air, which Riaz was late to read. 

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During our conversation, Fahima spoke at length about how she started her cricketing journey. Born and raised in Magura in the Khulna Division, she is proud to have come from the hometown of a Bangladesh superstar. “Shakib Al Hasan er basa jekhene, okhene amar basa (Shakib’s home is near my home). He is one of my inspirations. In fact, when I joined the Bangladesh team, he told me once that you have come to play cricket, so never think that you are a girl or a boy. It’s a game for all,” Fahima said, recalling her interaction with the superstar. 

“My brother would tell stories about Indian players like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. He used to say that their thinking and mentality is very high-class and we have to reach there. He would show me videos of Shane Warne and make me understand leg-spin bowling. He was a cricketer himself and played till the district level. He helped me to develop an interest in cricket but didn’t like that I would play it. He was against me playing it.”

Fahima was born in a family which gave education a lot of priority. Her father was in the police and her elder brother and sisters were all good in studies, including her. But, she humbly claims that she is the only one in her family who hasn’t achieved a lot. “My brother is an engineer and my sisters are professors. I am the only one who feels a little less intelligent. I am nothing in front of them. But I try to make sure I do my best as a cricketer,” said Fahima with her child-like smile intact. 

Fahima Khatun and her childlike smile © Getty Images

Fahima Khatun and her childlike smile © Getty Images

“My brother didn’t support me initially. Basa te oke chara sobai support korto (everyone in my home supported me apart from him). In fact, he didn’t know anything about my training and everything. My sisters would lie to him every time I went for a camp or something. He only found out about my cricket when I was selected for the national side.”

“He was very passionate about cricket and he still is. He wanted to be a cricketer, but because he was good in studies, he moved more towards that. Now, he supports me. He was worried that there might not be a career for me and I might lose track. In a middle-class family, you need to be sure that you have a career which pays.”

A moment or two later, she smiles again and says, “because of the things I say about him, he tells me that I make him look like a villain. I know he cared about me and wanted me to have a proper career and not face things which he did during his cricket journey. There was a time when he even cut my clothes with scissors and now he buys me things for my cricket. He will sit with me at times and talk to me about my game also.”

Fahima © Getty Images

Fahima flying higher and higher. © Getty Images

Fahima talked about how she wants to visit Kolkata and take a look around. The language we spoke was the same, yet different. West Bengal and Bangladesh (known as East Bengal towards the last days of the British Raj) share a lot of similarities, but a border makes the world look at them differently. “I like your Bengali and the Bengali that people of Kolkata speak,” she said, 30 mins into the conversation. “It’s the same, but different. I wanted to visit Kolkata and roam around the city. I have heard so many good things about it. I am planning to go with my sister and do lots of shopping.”

Fahima then revealed her plans outside of cricket. Despite being a student of science, her interest in literature was immense. “I like writing poems. Sometimes I write about simple things which come to my mind. Then some days, I feel like writing something on Bangladesh politics. There have been times when I have written poems of 20 lines in about eight or nine minutes.”

“Some day, I want to publish my own book. My brother teases me saying why do I write these poems and stories. I tell him ‘there will be a day when my writings will pay all my bills and I will get awards for that’,” Fahima said. The enthusiasm in her eyes while telling her childhood stories was evident. She had to wake up the next morning for a practice session, but her knack for telling stories extended our talk beyond an hour. 

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Once Fahima got Riaz, Pakistan were sinking. Fatima Sana walked in next. Fahima bowled a similar sort of delivery. Tossed up, drawing the batter forward. There is not much turn but the ball is pitched perfectly on the middle-stump line. Fatima plays across it and the ball hits her pad, in front of the stumps. The umpire adjudged her out. Fahima was pumped up. She was screaming and dancing. There was aggression in her eyes as well as her celebration. It was almost like she is angry. No one could decode her celebration. As her teammates hugged her, her child-like smile flashes once again. She missed her hat-trick, which would have been her second at the international level, having previously got one in a T20I against UAE in 2018. 

Fahima's mysterious celebration against Pakistan © Getty Images

Fahima’s mysterious celebration against Pakistan © Getty Images

Moments later, she was involved in a run-out. Pakistan were in shambles. In just three overs, Bangladesh had turned the course of the entire match and in many ways, the future of women’s cricket in the country. And, Fahima was in the thick of it all. She was scripting a moment that young girls and future cricketers would recall when they speak about Bangladesh’s first World Cup win. A writer, one way or another. 

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When asked what her what her individual goal for the World Cup was, Fahima had said, “I have only one target, which is my only wish, my only goal, you can call it a desire. And that is to get into the ICC rankings as an all-rounder. And to be a match-winner for my team. I want to help my team win, it can be with the bowl or with the bat or even by taking an ordinary catch. I want to do that and contribute to my team. That is my dream.”

While talking about how she goes about her life, she said, “Ever since I was young, my thinking and mindset was strong. I hope that stays with me. It has served me well till now. Ami jodi monn theke kichu bhebe ni, seita te ami success payi (If I set my mind to something, I will find success in that). 

In Hamilton, she ticked one box for herself and several for her country.