Austria, a British territory has slowly been earning a name in the game of cricket. Here’s an interview with the Captain of Austrian Women’s National Cricket team – Andrea-Mae Zepeda who started learning cricket at the age of 7 in her school. She grew up playing cricket with boys in her backyard. Little did she know that 10 years down the line, she would be leading her national side.
Austrian Cricket Association has managed to grow the game by organizing local matches and tournaments for the girls. Due to their efforts, today we have five female cricket clubs in the country.
Tell us about your initial cricket days. What was your childhood cricket like?
I can recall that when I was 7 years old, I had a cricket lesson at school. I enjoyed it a lot, but I thought that nobody else in my class would start playing cricket. I got into it two years later when my younger brother started playing cricket. For a while, we also played together. In my city, there is currently only one cricket pitch, but luckily it is near to my house. In my youth, there were very few girls who played cricket, which is why I usually trained and played with the boys.
Did you look up to any cricket role model/inspiration whilst growing up?
I didn’t start watching cricket regularly since the CWC19, so my idols were in my own club. I follow the journey of Armaan Randhawa and Razmal Shigiwal as they aren’t only incredible batsmen but have an amazing mindset for Cricket. Apart from that, I admire Mitchell Starc because of his outstanding bowling and Sterre Kalis from the Netherlands, who shows us that you can also play excellent cricket in ICC associated member countries.
Back then how did you cope up with your studies/education/ other commitments along with cricket?
I did not have any major problems reconciling education and cricket until my final year. In the end, it was rather close, but I survived the time well. We do not play professional cricket here, so we always emphasize that we fully understand when a player prioritizes her education and puts cricket in the background.
How did Austria women’s cricket team happen?
We had a few female cricket players like myself in the academy but in 2016 we had a really wonderful start of the women cricket. Our Facebook page helped us get some new players and then more and more female cricket players started joining the training sessions some of which stayed. Now we have 5 clubs with female cricket teams. It’s also important to mention that the Austrian Cricket Association and the clubs with female sections do a lot to promote and support female cricket in Austria.
We do not play professional cricket here, so we always emphasize that we fully understand when a player prioritizes her education and puts cricket in the background.
Austria is not known for its cricket per se. How much has the game changed since you started playing?
Especially in 2019, a lot has happened in Austria regarding Cricket. There are 5 clubs with women’s sections and there is also a domestic league for women.
You are now a captain of the side of the Women’s National team in Austria. What roles and responsibilities do you manage on a daily basis?
I was given the responsibility of a captain by the Management and I try to lead by example for my team players. I feel I work together with my coach and team players and try to execute game plans in the field. I try to guide my team with my experience and win the matches and keep trying until the last ball of the match is delivered.
What was the general perception of women’s cricket in Austria when you started playing? Any major challenges that you have across?
When I was little, I did not think it was a downside to play with the boys. Later, however, I recognized the differences in men’s and women’s sports. I could not keep up and wanted to play in a women’s team. It was certainly a disadvantage that there were not more girls and women in cricket right from the start, and there were very few Austrians in the sport. Since there was no domestic league, many certainly did not feel ambitious to play cricket.
How many girls (approx) play cricket in Austria today? What % of these participants are locals (Austrian nationality)?
The number of female cricket players has risen rapidly this year. I do not have the exact numbers but there are 5 clubs and the club I play have nearly two full teams playing in the domestic league so you can make a guess that the number is constantly growing and nearly 90% of the women are Austrian Nationals.
Is Cricket a self-sustainable sport in the country? If not, how can it be made?
Cricket is self-sustained but it can certainly grow a lot with more support from local government. At the moment there is no official recognition for cricket from the Austrian Sports ministry due to which it does not get the same recognition in Austria as other sports. I have heard that the Austrian Cricket Association is working on it and hopefully, with more recognition, we can see more awareness about cricket.
Tell us more about the domestic structure in Austria cricket? How are the players selected in the national squad and are there any tournaments at the domestic level to filter out talents?
At the moment we have 5 clubs in Austria who have female cricket teams and the Austrian Cricket Association has started domestic leagues to provide opportunities to women cricketers. In the beginning, the pool of players was small and most of the players were from the same club but now the pool is getting bigger and new players have made into the national squad from their performances in the domestic matches.
The head coach normally selects the players based on their performance in training sessions and matches and they are selected based on their role in the team.
Tell us more about the current coaching staff, support staff, and team administrators for Austria women’s cricket?
Since the beginning of 2019, we’re having a new Head Coach, Muhammad Haroon. He is a level 4 cricket coach and previously worked in Norway. Otherwise, we get a lot of support from the association and the individual clubs.
How many clubs/academies do you have in Austria that trains female cricketers today?
This year there are 5 clubs that have a women section, more will follow in 2020.
Female cricketers from time to time also meet in the local park to train and learn from each other. I myself try to train with the men as often as possible.
What are some major tournaments that Austria Cricket organizes/participates in? Highlight any upcoming event/tournament?
We should have had a T20I series in the spring of this year against the Turkish national team, which unfortunately did not take place. In the summer, we participated for the first time in an International Women’s T20 Tournament and completed our first T20I Games.
How often are training sessions and games in the Austrian women’s setup?
We have national team training once a week, otherwise, each club has its own training sessions. Many players started playing cricket just a few years ago or months ago. Female cricketers from time to time also meet in the local park to train and learn from each other. I myself try to train with the men as often as possible.
Given experience on your side and plenty happening with women’s cricket in Austria, what are your ambitions for your cricketing career?
To be honest, I’ve never thought about what my future looks like in cricket. I try to get the best out of myself and pass on my knowledge.
What does Austrian cricket need to keep on growing? Where do you see this team 5 years from now?
If more cricket clubs put the effort into building a women section, Austrian women cricket would flourish. There would be more recognition, eventually financial support from the government, more grounds all over the country. I see women playing domestic Cricket regularly, having a league with at least 10 teams. For the national team, there will be a trial to find hidden talents. Eventually, the team will play in an ICC Women’s Qualifier in Europe. Maybe there will be one to two players who will have an outstanding career playing first-class cricket in the UK or India.
What have been your favorite moments of playing cricket in Austria? Something you would always cherish.
I’ll never forget is our T20I win over Norway in the 2019 France Women’s T20I Quadrangular Series. Norway won the Toss and elected to bat. We started well but unfortunately have given the game out of hand. We had to chase a score of 99. Even if you play as a team, I felt guilty as a captain for the performance. Our first two wickets fell very fast, I got in as two down. In this game, my long-time school friend Rezarta Avdylaj and I had the best partnership in the whole tournament. Finally, we won the game with 6 wickets in 17.4 over. It was the most mind-boggling game I’ve had until then, as I’ve made every effort to win the game.
What does the future of the game hold both in Austria and Europe?
Cricket will certainly gain more recognition in Austria in the future. It’s going very well right now, maybe competitive cricket will be played here very soon. In some European countries, Cricket is very advanced. Germany participated in an ICC qualifier for the first time this year, other countries will certainly follow in the future.
Your views on Female Cricket as a platform?
In my opinion, you’re doing a great job in supporting women’s cricket. It’s good to have some people putting more recognition into it. Furthermore, you are not only covering the top cricket nations, but also other countries that have just discovered the sport. Female cricket is a rapidly growing and you certainly, contribute a lot to it.
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