Ayesha, 18, played 4 ODIs and 30 T20Is for Pakistan, from 2020 to 2023. © Getty
In January 2020, Ayesha Naseem – then 15 years old – was hoping that she could become an inspiration. She was fast-tracked to the national side at the back of her standout power-hitting ability. At that point, when she hadn’t even played an international game, she hadn’t set sight on becoming the greatest cricketer. All that she hoped for was to become an inspiration for parents who didn’t allow their daughters to play in the conservative region of Abbottabad, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. She wanted to get the girls out of their homes to cricket grounds.
Born in the village of Bagan, her family moved to Karachi where she started playing cricket along with her brother. “In my hometown, girls aren’t even allowed to step out, let alone play cricket,” she had told Cricbuzz then. Ayesha had a stronger support system; she got access to cricket as well as education.
In 2015, when her family returned to Abbottabad and she started playing formal cricket, there were roadblocks. “People frowned upon me for playing cricket. They constantly dissuaded me and suggested that I was a bad influence on their daughters.” Eventhough it was becoming difficult to pursue the sport from her native town and she had the choice of playing from Karachi, she opted not to exercise that option.
“What’s the point of me returning to Karachi? I had so many friends who were talented but didn’t get that opportunity. I had the support of my family, and when others see me excel, I hope they will start sending their daughters to play as well. All that these girls need is the trust and support of their parents.”
Ayesha isn’t the first woman from Abbottabad to play for Pakistan. Qanita Jalil, one of Pakistan’s finest seamers, played 117 internationals in a career spanning 10 years from 2005 to 2015. In Ayesha, Pakistan had one of the most promising young talents to take that legacy forward and higher.
Even in a short, injury-filled career, where she often batted low down the order, Ayesha managed to make an impact. The brute force with which she tonked the ball (T20I strike rate of 128.12) not only made her stand out among the rest of her teammates but also put her alongside the best of the power-hitters in the women’s game. The last of her standout knocks was a 25-ball 43 against India at the World Cup earlier this year.
Soon after the tournament, at the age of 18, she conveyed the message that she wanted to retire from the game for religious reasons to the Pakistan Cricket Board. Multiple efforts were made by the board to have her reconsider the decision, but to no success. The PCB is yet to make Ayesha’s retirement decision public.
In only 4 ODIs and 30 T20Is, she made the followers of women’s cricket take notice of her cricketing talent. Unfortunately, she couldn’t fulfill the dream that she saw as a 15-year-old.