Two days ahead of the Pakistan women’s cricket team leaving for Australia to feature in the Women’s ICC T20 World Cup (Feb 21 to March 8), net practice is on at full swing at the National Stadium Karachi (NSK). Under the watchful eyes of their coaches there are a group of players busy playing a practice match in the middle of the ground, two players are busy working on their batting in the nets on the far left corner at the back while another couple are busy bowling in the nets on the right.
On a closer look — it helps that she takes off her helmet — one notices that one of the girls in the nets is none other than all-rounder Nida Rashid Dar. Recently back from Sydney after featuring in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and being the pride of the Pakistan women’s cricket team from the time she came to the side 10 years ago, Nida is certainly the right person to reach out to for any of the younger players looking for advice during camp.
“Bend down slightly and go under the ball for big hits,” she explains to young Umaima Sohail while demonstrating the right stance herself.
Glad to be receiving the advice, Umaima thanks her senior. “Ji,” she says before doing exactly what she is told to do. Nida nods her approval and is soon off to another area of the ground near the practice pitch to join the players sitting in a circle on the grass after their practice match to get tips from their bowling coach, Pakistan’s former left-arm medium fast bowler Saleem Jaffar.
But before talking to them about their bowling, the coach has something else on his mind. He has been counting the balls they had been playing with and found them to be missing a couple. A search mission gets under way while one is forced to ask what’s the big deal anyway? That’s when Nida smiles and informs me that they have been playing with white Kookaburra balls, each of which costs around Rs18,000 to Rs20,000.
Eos meets up with the Pakistan women’s cricket team during camp at NSK ahead of their departure for Australia for the upcoming Women’s ICC T20 World Cup
Thankfully the search turns up fruitful and the girls, after getting some valuable tips about their bowling from the coach, are back in the nets. Some also decide to make a beeline for those bananas awaiting them in a green fruit basket, to get their energy boost. In general, all the players have their own individual planned diets with balanced carbohydrates, good fats, etc., which the Pakistan Cricket Board makes sure that they follow. Then they pad up again for more practice.
It’s good to see the lanky medium pacer Diana Baig from Gilgit now bowling with so much confidence. When I had first interviewed her during a camp in Muridke, ahead of the 2013 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, the then 17-year old Diana had only just been discovered. Though she did accompany the team to India for the World Cup that year, she never played. Her debut came only two years later in Karachi against the Bangladesh Women in 2015.
This year too, there are a few new players in the women’s side. Speaking to Eos, 15-year-old leg-spinner Syeda Aroob Shah, who debuted only three months ago against Bangladesh Women, turns out to be quite a confident youngster, taking all upcoming challenges in her stride. “Yes, this is going to be my first international tour with the national women’s team, but I don’t feel much pressure, not yet anyway,” she smiles. “We have a great captain in Bismah Maroof, who treats all juniors with respect like she treats her senior players. Actually, all the senior players are always available to us for any kind of tip or advice. We also gain inspiration from them,” she says.
All-rounder Ayesha Naseem, the other 15-year-old in the squad, and who is yet to feature in an international match, meanwhile, is missing her inspiration Sana Mir, who will be skipping the T20 World Cup this time. “Sana is my role model. Like Sana, I am also from Abbottabad,” she tells me while collecting the bats and wickets lying on the ground after their net practice session.
Ayesha is said to be a powerful batswoman. She says she was introduced to cricket by her brother and she has always played cricket with boys, which has helped her swing the bat more quickly and hit plenty of boundaries.
Head coach Syed Iqbal Imam, tells Eos that the Pakistan Women have had a busy past five months. “There was the ODI and T20 series against Bangladesh Women in October and November followed by the three T20 match series against England in Malaysia. So the players are quite ready and in form,” he says, adding that they also had the National Triangular T20 Championship last month where the junior players really benefited playing with the seniors and, after wrapping up national camp here, they will also be holding camp in Australia.
“Ahead of the T20 World Cup, Pakistan Women will also be playing some warm-up matches,” he says. “Pakistan’s women cricketers have showed in the past couple of years that they are capable enough to win against any national side, having proved their mettle against some of the top teams of the world including England and India,” he adds. “Playing well will see Pakistan to victory on any good day.”
For Pakistan’s young captain Bismah Maroof, the upcoming T20 World Cup will be the first time leading her team in a global event. But she is really looking forward to the event, as she says they are going to Australia with a very strong side. “Our team has grown in the last couple of years and we look forward to continue to grow over the course of the T20 World Cup,” she says.
“The team is well-balanced and looks in fine shape with a good mix of senior and junior players. Among the seniors there are the ever reliable Nida Dar and Javeria Khan who are scoring machines. Among the youngsters there is Umaima Sohail, who is a good middle-order batswoman. Iram Javed and Aliya Riaz are also big hitters of the ball,” she points out.
“In our bowling attack, there is Diana Baig, who is great with the new ball. There is also Aimen Anwar and youngsters such as Aroob Shah, Fatima Sana and Sadia Iqbal and I am hopeful that we will put up positive results,” she says.
At least no one can accuse the Pakistan captain of lacking in confidence. Pakistan Women will kick off their 2020 ICC T20 World Cup campaign on Feb 26 against the West Indies Women. They take on England Women on Feb 28, after which they play South Africa Women and Thailand Women on March 1 and 3, respectively.
Team: Bismah Maroof (captain), Aimen Anwar, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Naseem, Diana Baig, Fatima Sana, Iram Javed, Javeria Khan, Muneeba Ali, Nida Dar, Umaima Sohail, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Nawaz (wicketkeeper) and Syeda Aroob Shah.
Officials: Syed Iqbal Imam (head coach), Saleem Jaffar (bowling coach), Amir Iqbal (fielding coach), Gemaal Hussain (strength & conditioning coach), Dr Riffat Asghar Gill (physio), Aisha Jalil (team manager) and Zubair Ahmed (analyst).
The writer is a member of staff She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, February 9th, 2020