Guwahati’s ACA Cricket Stadium at Baspara has an insect problem. And while the West Indies cricket team, currently in the city for their ODI against India on Sunday, has had to battle them in the odd practice session, their media manager — 33-year-old Naasira Mohammed — has, over the years, taken on more than just buzzing insects.
Mohammed, who is currently on her first international tour with the West Indies team, is one of the very few women in the world to manage a men’s cricket team. She tours with them, handles their media requests, organises their interviews, tracks their games, writes their match reports, keeps the world updated about what they are doing and vice versa. And while at it, she also wears a hijab.
Expectedly, wherever she goes, questions follow. “When you show up with 16 players, and you’re the only woman, people can’t help but look. I can almost imagine them thinking ‘what is this one woman (in a hijab!) doing with all these men?’,” says Mohammed, currently in Guwahati with the cricket team. The tour started three weeks back — first in Baroda, then Rajkot, then Hyderabad and now Guwahati. “It’s been great. It’s funny how many people insist that I am Indian. But I am from Trinidad, I tell them. But no one wants to listen.” While Mohammed’s family — like thousands of others — migrated to the Carribean Islands from India sometime in the 1800s, the only culture she has known, grown up with and imbibed is West Indian.
As a child, despite being from a “very traditional” Muslim family, Mohammed never grew up with restrictions and barriers. She remembers “gravitating towards the boys” — playing cricket, watching sport and the like. In her twenties, after a slew of various jobs, Mohammed found her calling when she started covering sports for the Trinidad & Tobago TV channel in 2014, becoming arguably the only female sports journalist in the Carribean at the time.
“There were barely any women in the profession. I remember one of my first assignments: it was a horse race in Trinidad. I was the only girl there. Everyone thought I had landed up there ‘by mistake’,” says Mohammed. But her four-year-journey as a sports journalist, as she travelled across the Carribean and the world (from Sydney to New York to Florida), covering everything from cricket to football to track and field, was nothing short of “fantastic” — despite all the hurdles that accompanied it on the account of her being a woman. “My trip to New York was an eye-opener. I, along with four other women, were at a press conference for Cricket All-Stars — an exhibition Twenty20 cricket series. As soon as it started, all the male journalists hurriedly went and took the seats around the table. So it was literally the table, a wall of cameramen, and then us four women,” she recalls.
Yet Mohammed has never been one to bow down: two years back, on a whim, she tweeted at the President of Cricket West Indies, that she wanted to work for them. “This was right after the West Indies womens’ cricket team had won the T20 World Cup in 2016. He tweeted back at me — and a year later, I was hired as their communication manager!” says Mohammed. Today, she manages the mens’ team too — and while they are always cracking jokes and pulling each other legs, “they respect me for who I am — a woman, a Muslim, and their manager,” she says.
For Mohammed, the hijab is like “an extension” of her — a choice she made out of her own free will. “It was my choice. Something I decided to do in 2012. In my family, my mother does not wear it,” she says, adding that while it does attract more attention than it would if she didn’t have it on, it is something she will never part with. Just on this trip, she was “bopping” to some “Soca” music in an elevator, hijab and headphones on. “I could see some men in the reflection looking at me with this bewildered expression, but later they got used to it. You see, the hijab is the first thing you see but it does not consume who I am.”