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CRICKET: GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN

February 17, 2019

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Merissa Aguilleira and Bismah Maroof on a camel at Karachi beach
Merissa Aguilleira and Bismah Maroof on a camel at Karachi beach

The West Indies women’s tour of Pakistan a couple of weeks ago — for the three T20 match series in Karachi and another three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in Dubai — wasn’t just about cricket. It was about winning hearts.

Before this, the West Indies women had last come to Pakistan in 2004 for a Test and several ODIs. The only member from that squad who made a return to Pakistan this time was Anisa Mohammad. For the rest of the team, it was their first time in Pakistan. But that didn’t keep them from mingling with the crowd, comprising of school and college girls mostly, at Karachi’s Southend Club where the T20 matches were played, and dancing with them while posing for photos and as many selfies as were requested.

‘ALL SAFE AND GOOD’

Skipper and wicket-keeper Merissa Ria Aguilleira says they loved the crowd and how they interacted with them was spontaneously. “When we are visiting a country for a series or championship, we are also there to market the sport and we are mindful of that and careful about the way we behave,” she says.

Eos spoke to some of the West Indies women who recently concluded their first Pakistan tour in 15 years. They came to conquer hearts and they succeeded

About coming to Pakistan, she said her friend Darren Sammy convinced her to go. “He told me that it was a safe and a great country to boot with very friendly people and that I would really like it here. He was right. It’s all safe and good,” she smiles.

Sharing her first impressions of Pakistan, Aguilleira says that she wouldn’t forget the drive to their hotel from the airport after landing in Karachi. “The entire route had so much security,” she recalls. “Security was also the reason we didn’t go out to explore the city.”

Nevertheless, Aguillera got to see a little bit more of Karachi compared to her team. The Windies captain was captured in photographs riding a camel at the Karachi beach with Pakistan women’s team captain Bismah Maroof at the unveiling of the T20 series trophy. “Your country can be compared to our Moruga in Trinidad and Tobago, though it is never this chilly there. Also I had never ridden a camel before. I was terrified, especially when it was going to sit again after standing up,” she laughs.

DAVID AND GOLIATH?

For West Indies’ six-foot-tall fast bowler Shamilia Connell it was the people of Pakistan rather than the country that reminded her of home. “The people here are as friendly as in the Caribbean,” she says.

She also had a message for the young girls who had come to watch them play in Karachi. “I’m sure there are many among them who would be inspired to play cricket professionally someday,” she says. “Go follow your dreams. Don’t look back, no matter what life throws at you. Set your goals and just do your best. And remember, everything you put your mind to will be yours one day.” 

Anisa celebratres her century of T20 matches with Pakistan’s Sana Mir
Anisa celebratres her century of T20 matches with Pakistan’s Sana Mir

Surprisingly this very tall bowler was a little nervous about bowling to Pakistan’s tiny opener Javeria Wadood Khan. “She moves around a lot at the crease which gets to me,” she laughs, making one think of the story of David and Goliath.

PICKING DANCE MOVES

Left-handed batswoman and a reserve wicketkeeper Kycia Knight, meanwhile, says that she was impressed by Bismah Maroof’s captaincy. “She is a very good leader and she plays very well too,” she says while also praising Sana Mir for her bowling. “Sana is very effective with the ball on a pitch which lacks bounce,” she observes. She also had some words of praise for all-rounder Nida Dar. “She is as destructive with the bat as she is with the ball.”   

Knight, who seemed to be really enjoying dancing with crowds following the post-match presentation ceremony of the third and final T20 match, despite losing it to Pakistan by 12 runs, says that she had picked up some new dance moves in Pakistan which she was definitely taking back to the West Indies to teach her friends.

A LASTING FRIENDSHIP

And what about Anisa Mohammad, for whom it was not the first time in Karachi? She says that the last she was here she was only 15 and got to play just one ODI match. Back then the national women’s cricket team here played under the umbrella of the Pakistan Women’s Cricket Control Association, founded by sisters Shaiza and (the late) Sharmeen Khan. The lone Test match played at the time at the National Stadium Karachi saw Pakistan’s Kiran Baluch scoring a historic 242 runs. But Anisa says that all that was a blur for her “because I didn’t play that match.” 

She only remembers making friends with another player who was also a teenager like her in the Pakistan team. She was talking about former Pakistan captain Urooj Mumtaz Khan. “We are still friends,” she says.   

The last match in Karachi also marked the 100th T20 match for Anisa, as it did for Pakistan and one of its oldest players, the brilliant ex-captain Sana Mir.

West Indies’ media manager Nasira Mohammad speaks to the media at  Southend Club | Photo by the writer
West Indies’ media manager Nasira Mohammad speaks to the media at Southend Club | Photo by the writer

NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY

One person you couldn’t take lightly in the visiting team was someone who was not playing. West Indies’ media manager Nasira Mohammad is in her own league. Tough as nails, she was giving all the local media the jitters even before the press conferences.

“Hey, has everyone switched off their phones?” One nervous reporter turned around to ask the others before the post-match briefing after the last T20 match. And there was Nasira then speaking before the West Indies skipper. With hands folded, she boomed: “Please switch off your mobile phones. If we hear a bell or anyone speaking on the phone during the briefing, we will just leave. Please be respectful,” she said before giving Aguilleira the nod to carry on.

Nasira, who is Muslim — as her name suggests and who also wears a hijab — has served as the media manager of West Indies men’s team too. She says she used to play cricket at university but then, after starting a career as a sports journalist with a TV station back home, she couldn’t find the time to play much. “Still I remained close to the game due to my writing and reporting,” she says.

Her career as a sports journalist was also what got her this position. She says that she was offered the job of communication executive by Cricket West Indies in September 2017. “I am originally from Trinidad but I moved to Antigua for the job as it is the cricket headquarters,” she explains.

Nasira also spoke a bit of Urdu and she also said that Rahat Fateh Ali Khan happened to be her favourite singer. Asked then if her parents were from Pakistan originally, Nasira smiled and shook her head. “No, not my parents, but somewhere six or seven generations up we are from this region, yes. The bit of Urdu I know has also trickled down through the generations,” she adds.

The T20 series, which the West Indies women won 2-1 was followed by the ODI series in Dubai, which Pakistan won 2-1. In Dubai the visitors were led by their regular captain Stefanie Roxann Taylor, who wouldn’t know what she had missed in Karachi as the Dubai matches hardly had any spectators.

The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 17th, 2019