Calling them the ‘women’ cricket team won’t be entirely right as they are just girls, not women. If you calculate the average age of Pakistan’s women cricket team and compare it with the average age of the other seven teams competing in the upcoming ICC Women Cricket World Cup, our team, with most of its players still in their teens or early twenties, will be the youngest in the lot.
But that does not in any way mean that they lack in any department of the sport that brought them together on one platform with the same dreams, hopes and aims. “I have told them that with the kind of work they have been doing, if they apply themselves in all the four departments, that is, batting, bowling, fielding and wicket keeping, they can turn a match around in their favour no matter how big a team they may be playing against,” said chief coach Mohtashim Rasheed.
“I also tell the girls that they have to take it match by match and try to give their best each time. After all it is the team that performs better on any given day that emerges victorious in the end,” he added.
About their particular group in the World Cup, Group B, the chief coach informed that it has four teams, namely, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Due to security reasons and in the face of threats by the Shiv Sena, the entire group’s matches have been shifted from Mumbai to a new venue, Cuttack, in Orissa. The coach or the team hadn’t heard much about Cuttack but their spirits remain high. “All we want to do is play as we qualified for this World Cup,” said Mohtashim.
“South Africa also qualified with us. We have beaten them before. As for Australia and New Zealand, we haven’t beaten them as yet but that doesn’t mean that we cannot,” he pointed out.
Memories of last Cup
His captain Sana Mir is also upbeat about the whole tournament. This is the second World Cup for her and some of the other girls in the side, namely, wicketkeeper Batool Fatima, Qanita Jalil, Asmavia Iqbal, Javeria Wadood Khan, Bismah Maroof and Nain Abidi, making them the seniors. Sharing her memories of four years ago, Sana remembers how Pakistan was not expected to reach the Super Sixes and how their tickets and booking for the return trip was all done in advance.
“And then our match against Sri Lanka changed everything. All our batters contributed and we beat them through sheer team effort. Then it was the Sri Lankan team that moved out of the hotel as we moved into their rooms for the Super Sixes,” Sana laughed.
“But despite the upset, we were still the underdogs in the Super Sixes. India dismissed us for 53, England for 75 and New Zealand scored 378 against us. Their Suzie Bates, with her 168, created the record for the highest runs in any Women’s World Cup. Still, we beat West Indies and improved our world ranking, too. This time we are in the top six teams and Sri Lanka and South Africa are the seventh and eighth teams,” she informed.
Hard work and determination
Training with the 15 players named for the Pakistan side by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Women’s wing were five reserves — Kainat Imtiaz, Sania Iqbal Khan, Zeba Manzoor Hussain, Mariam Hassan Shah and Marina Iqbal. “They won’t be going to India with us, but train as hard with the entire team as they are reserves and know that they can be called for national duty anytime during the competition. If not this time then later, these girls know that their hard work will eventually pay off as only the best get a place in the playing XI like our new girls, Elizabeth Barkat and Diana Baig,” said Mohtashim.
“Thanks to the new domestic set-up allowing all cities to play, spinner Elizabeth Barkat was discovered just before the Women’s World T20 last year and we can’t do without her now. And pacer Diana from Gilgit is our recent discovery. If she performs well during the Cup, she makes a place for herself in the team,” he said.
The final camp before the World Cup was also held in Muridke, which is situated just outside of Lahore, and the squad ran into difficulties when it started raining cats and dogs for some three days continuously there, which resulted in their missing net practice and their friendly matches with boys’ cricket academy teams. It was raining as hard in Lahore as well so going there for practice was also of no use. That was when the chief coach Mohtashim, deputy coach Tahir Mahmood and trainer Yasir Malik decided to hold indoor training sessions.
Taking the girls to the Green Room at the Lahore Country Club, Muridke, the coaches and trainer stepped outside while the girls held an aerobics session. “Half an hour?” asked Mohtashim. “No, Sir, 45 minutes,” corrected Sana.
“We trust them to do aerobics on their own,” explained Mohtashim later as they might have some reservations about our being there. “I trust my senior girls completely. They will hold a tough workout session as all in my team have become very serious about their fitness lately after they started winning international matches,” he said.
Sana from the start gave away strict orders to stop laughing. Qanita, too, kept an eye on all as they worked on their cardiac fitness. After 15 minutes the ones in the front moved to the back of the room and the ones at the back came ahead. No one was allowed to hide at the back. And when the pace of the music picked up all together, captain included, finished their session with bhangra. And unaware about the girls transforming from grasshoppers to leaping frogs inside, the coaches and trainer tapped their feet outside.