International Women’s Day 2024

Alex Hartley’s ‘trailblazing moment’ in Pakistan and the battle to change minds in cricket

Exclusive interview: Alex Hartley has broken new ground as a franchise coach in the subcontinent, telling Sonia Twigg about her groundbreaking appointment and the battle to succeed in the Pakistan Super League while others hope for failure

Friday 08 March 2024 07:21 GMT
(Multan Sultans)

Alex Hartley might not have had time to reflect on her “trailblazing moment”, but becoming one of the two first female coaches in a men’s franchise league in the subcontinent was inconceivable a decade ago.

The Multan Sultans in the Pakistan Super League have broken new ground, first with the appointment of the first female general manager, Hijab Zahid, and then hiring Catherine Dalton and Hartley as bowling coaches.

While the PSL might not have the same riches and international fanfare as its neighbour, the Indian Premier League, players can still earn up to £150,000 for the competition, it features some of the biggest stars in the game, and matches are played in front of packed-out stadiums.

Dalton and Hartley might not be the first women to work as coaches in the men’s game, that is widely believed to be Sarah Taylor, who was appointed wicketkeeping coach with Sussex in 2021, and she has also worked with Southern Brave in the Hundred, but it is nonetheless a significant achievement.

Ever down-to-earth and speaking from her hotel room in Karachi, Hartley admitted to The Independent, that the significance of being appointed as Multan Sultan’s assistant spin coach might not fully sink in until she has returned to Manchester.

Alex Hartley was appointed Multan Sultans’ assistan spin bowling coach
Alex Hartley was appointed Multan Sultans’ assistan spin bowling coach (Multan Sultans)

“People reading this will know my personality, I’m so blasé about some things. It’s not until I sit in my room and go ‘wow, this is actually a trailblazing moment, this could change things forever’,” the 30-year-old said.

“I know Sarah Taylor and Lisa Keightley have also coached in men’s environments, but this is the first time in the subcontinent, this is massive. It’s something that I’m just taking each day as it comes.

“Everyone has been so welcoming, there’s been no barriers, the team meals that we’ve all had, have been amazing, but I’m sure it will be an experience I’ll look back on when I get home and think ‘that was incredible’.”

Hartley added: “With this team, we’ve got Hijab (Zahid) and she’s the first female general manager, and we’ve got Cat (Dalton) and myself so I know I’m in a men’s environment, but there are female voices there as well and me and Cat can lean on each other as well as Hijab.”

Hartley was part of England’s World Cup-winning squad in 2017 and retired from playing all cricket in the summer of 2023, but she has also worked as a commentator for the BBC. While she is unlikely to describe herself as a groundbreaker for women in cricket, it is not a stretch to describe her as one. In the 2022 England men’s tour of Pakistan, Hartley was the only woman to travel to the country as part of Test Match Special’s broadcast coverage of the three-Test series.

Alex Hartley would like to return for the next Pakistan Super League
Alex Hartley would like to return for the next Pakistan Super League (Multan Sultans)

She has worked as a coach before, at the Lancashire Academy, but explained that she still had trepidations over how the PSL stint would go and be received by those in the game.

“Honestly, I was nervous when I came in,” Hartley said.

“I was nervous about how are the players going to react with me, and I guess if they were going to respect me.

“But as soon as I got here and I got in the ground that has just disappeared, everyone has been incredible. So welcoming, so warm and I guess it’s new for me, but it’s also new for them as well. They’ve never been coached by females before.

“But it was one of those, as soon as we were both in the same environment, it was absolutely fine.”

Becoming a coach in the PSL is not just an on-field challenge but involves adapting to a completely different culture and language as well. Those barriers have been embraced by Hartley, who has become accustomed to sitting on the floor and eating with her hands at one o’clock in the morning in post-match team meals.

However, she believes that from the outside the Multan Sultans’ recent appointments might not always have been met with approval, from those outside the team sphere.

“I think when we came out here there will have been certain people in Pakistan who will have wanted us to fail because we were the first team with two female coaches and we were the first team with a female general manager. So there will definitely have been that,” Hartley said.

“I think this is why it’s so much more than cricket. Not only are we winning games, but we’ve got such an inclusive environment, we’re always invited to the team meals, evenings we do everything as a team.

“And that we’re winning games, I think it’s shown that not only do we know what we’re talking about, but it shows that women can be in a male environment, so I’m hoping that it’s changed the view of a few people around the world and around the country.”

Cricket has changed in recent years, from England introducing central contracts in 2014, to the rise of franchises around the world, and the inaugural Women’s Premier League in 2023, but the progress of women in the men’s game has been more stilted. The former spin bowler admits that women should not be appointed as a tick box exercise.

“I don’t want to see females in the men’s game for the sake of it. And I don’t want to see females being general managers and head coaches here and there because it looks good. I think you have to be good enough and have to have a bit about you to do it,” she said.

“There should absolutely be more women around, there’s no reason why Sarah Taylor couldn’t be a wicketkeeping coach out here.”

However, it should become increasingly normal for women to have roles in men’s cricket, with many qualified women waiting for those opportunities. Hartley maintains: “In the future, I’d love it not to be seen as a men’s role or a women’s role.”

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