Pakistan has a huge population of 197 million, and of them 70 percent are crazy for cricket. So, it is not a hard task to imagine how jovial Pakistanis can be to see the game on their own grounds. How desperate they would be to see their stars playing in-front of them.
Women’s cricket has evolved since Pakistan won the Gold medal in 2010 Asian Games. People started to accept and acknowledge the women’s team ability to be good at the game they loved. With fair ups and downs Pakistan has managed to beat all teams except Australia till now. But as players it is obvious that team missed performing in-front of their home crowd. This is why the recently concluded series against Windies was a historic one, as the visitors agreed to play three Twenty20 Internationals in Karachi before the One-Day Internationals were played in Dubai.
Windies agreed to travel to Pakistan quite late, but what a decision it turned out to be. The last time Pakistan Women had hosted international cricket at home was against Bangladesh in 2015. The hospitality, as expected, was amazing and the Windies players loved it, something so many of their players acknowledged on social media.
The last time Windies had come to Pakistan was in 2004 when women’s cricket was still not under Pakistan Cricket Board. There were obvious security concerns this time around, and that was one of the reason PCB picked up the Southend Club. It is in a good and secure location and there is accommodation within.
The build up was exciting with a wave of joy and excitement waving through the country before Windies arrived on January 30. They were received with great love and heart warming gestures in local traditon. Once they settled in with the accommodation the trophy unveiling was done at a local tourist attraction of the Arabian Sea with a camel ride to follow for the two captains.
The stage was set and word was out for the crowd to come in. The venue was filled with people for the first match – mostly made up of children from school and colleges who were eager to watch the superstars in action. Deandra Dottin did not disappoint them with an unbeaten 90 at a strike-rate of 150. It was a sheer display of powerful hitting as Dottin left everyone mesmerized.
The next game was even more thrilling with the game decided in the Super Over, and once Dottin was the difference as she hit Sana Mir for two big sixes and a four in those six balls to set up the series win for the visitors.
Pakistan wrapped up the historic occasion with a consolation win in the third T20I after posting 150 for 6 – their highest total in the format.
The echo of this home series will be heard for quite a long time. One can only thank Windies team for taking the initiative to revive cricket in Pakistan. One of the most touching sight from the series was seeing the Windies players interacting and dancing with the crowd and winning their hearts by posing for selfies and signing autographs.
Pakistan had successfully deliver the message that the country is all about love, passion and compassion for the game and the players. Anisa Mohammad, who played her 100th T20I during the series, mentioned that returning to Pakistan after 15 years, playing cricket here and then leaving the country was one of the greatest experiences of her career.
Shakera Selman said that it was a honour for her team to be able to bring back cricket to Pakistan.
Once the teams flew to Dubai, the Women’s Championship points table came under focus. Yet again, another kind of history was made as Dubai hosted it’s first-ever women’s cricket match.
The way Pakistan fought back to win the second and third match after losing the opening game was encouraging. Sidra Amin’s 96 in the second ODI was the difference as was Nida Dar’s 82 to help Pakistan post 240 on the board. Once Mir trapped Stafanie Taylor, Pakistan strengthened their control over the match. Even though Natasha McLean hit some lusty blows, she ran out of partners and Pakistan eventually prevailed by 34 runs.
While Mir finished with impressive figures of 3 for 21, Diana Baig, making a comeback, was the biggest difference. Her swing and nagging length was difficult to handle as she finished with career-best figures of 4 for 34.
With the series levelled, there was so much to play in the final ODI at the ICC Academy ground. I interviewed Taylor at the toss and she was full of determination to make the game count. It showed in her knock of 52, but others did not support her much in windy conditions as Windies were dismissed for 159 in 47.3 overs. Once again Baig proved to be the difference. Also, Dar running out a dangerous looking Dottin for 28 was crucial. Bismah Maroof was brave and brilliant in her captaincy as she manipulated the field as per situations and made canny bowling changes.
The Pakistani opening pair of Sidra and Nahida Khan provided a steady start with a stand of 32, and then Sidra and Javeria Khan took things under control. But Javeria’s dismissal in the 23rd over triggered a mini collapse and suddenly the target looked far. Kainat Imtiaz and Mir, however, calmed the nerves with an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 24 runs to take Pakistan home with 16 balls to spare.
Fittingly, Mir – a long time servant of the game – hit the winning runs to give Pakistan their first-ever series victory over Windies. It was a perfect gift for Bismah, who was playing her 100th ODI. The win, crucially, put Pakistan alongside India on the third spot in the points table. They now have 12 points from 12 games, and it is their best ranking so far. Pakistan are most likely to gain six points from three matches against India as the Mithali Raj-led team may not be playing against their arch-rivals because of political reasons. It will put them in a strong position to avoid the Qualifiers, and there cannot be a better news for Pakistan cricket than this.
I have seen these girls working hard, giving their everything along with the support staff over the years and this is a wonderful reward. This also suggests that the right kind of work is happening behind the scenes to put Pakistan on the appropriate track. This team has evolved, but as Younis Khan, who spent a few minutes with the girls, said, “this is just a start.” Seeing Wasim Akram, Mickey Arthur, the men’s team coach, and others at the venue was also encouraging.
Back home this win has sent a huge wave of inspiration. What girls can achieve if they trust their talent and stay determined is a huge takeaway. It is a double win for Pakistan – taking cricket back to their backyard for the fans to enjoy and also winning a series. Lastly, no word of gratitude is enough for Windies Cricket Board in helping Pakistan cricket in its long-term endeavour.