Pakistan – Ready to rumble sans Sana

Pakistan players warm-up during their training session. © PCB

Ranked as low as No.7 in the world, Pakistan have always been underachievers in the women’s game – underachievers, who often tend to spring some surprises. This time too, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has surprised many by excluding their most experienced player, Sana Mir, from the 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup starting from February 21 in Australia. The exclusion not only sent shockwaves through the general cricket-viewing public going into the mega event, but also raised questions as to whether Pakistan have already started looking beyond Mir, who for the record, has played in all the T20 World Cups Pakistan have participated in till now.

If facts are to be considered, former skipper Mir – with the most number of appearances (106) for Pakistan in T20Is alongside current captain Bismah Maroof – is the only one from the country to feature in the ICC T20 players rankings (9th in bowling, 10th amongst allrounders). Although Mir’s figures in recent times haven’t been praiseworthy, her performance (four wickets in as many matches) in the recent domestic T20 triangular series might have contributed to her axing.       

ALSO READ: Pakistan squad for T20 World Cup 2020 

“I wanted to have her in the squad over which I, along with the selection committee, had deep deliberations. I respect and support the decision of the major group and hope she will continue to serve Pakistan women’s cricket in the future with the same passion and energy,” skipper Maroof said of Mir.

Besides, Mir, batters Nahida Khan and Ayesha Zafar, and off-spinner Rameen Shamim who were part the side that lost to England 0-3 in their T20I series in Kuala Lumpur, were also dropped. They have been replaced by batters Muneeba Ali and 15-year-old Ayesha Naseem, and medium-pacer Aiman Anwar. The presence of experienced allrounder Nida Dar, who recently came back from Sydney after featuring in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), will also come into account for understanding the conditions.

Pakistan players celebrate a wicket against England. © PCB

Muneeba, with just 13 T20Is to her name, has been in good form of late, amassing 292 runs in five games which include one century and three fifties in the recently-concluded domestic triangular T20 championship. Vice-captain Javeria Khan and Maroof also looked in good nick with 200 and 165 runs respectively in the same event. On the bowling front, Anam Amin (seven), Fatima Sana (six), and Syeda Aroob Shah (six) were among the wickets in the championship prompting the selectors to keep faith in them.

ALSO READ: ‘Munster’ Muneeba ready to have fun and hit big

“Ayesha Naseem is yet to have a cap at international level but, aged just 15, we have already seen that she is a talented player. Her ability to not only score runs but score them quickly, at the domestic level is a stand-out. Another young player, Syeda Aroob Shah, is only 16 but has already played for us in both ODI and T20I matches. We have already seen her leg-break and googly bowling challenge some of the best batters in the world and we’re looking forward to seeing what she can do in Australia,” Maroof said in her column for ICC recently.

Pakistan have never progressed beyond the first round in a T20 World Cup  and come February 21, one would definitely want the Maroof-led side to spring a few surprises and better their performance. Placed in Group B alongside heavyweights England, former champions West Indies, South Africa and Thailand, it looks quite difficult for Pakistan to progress into next round (only top two qualify for semifinals) but nothing is impossible on a given day.

“Our preparation has been quite satisfactory. Before we arrived in Australia we already had a competitive domestic tournament in Pakistan, and after the tournament, the team also had a 10-day camp and the main focus of the camp was to enhance our fitness, fielding, and skills work,” head coach Syed Iqbal Imam told Women’s CricZone ahead of the mega event.  

“Pakistan team blends of experience and youth, I am quite satisfied that the team has all the resources available according to the situation. We have played the last three series against West Indies, South Africa, and England, and in all these matches Pakistan played very positive and competitive cricket.”

For the record, Pakistan already lost the opening game of the three unofficial warm-up games against West Indies, while the second one was washed out.

Key Player:

Pakistan skipper Bismah Maroof steals a single against England. © PCB

With Sana Mir not around, skipper Bismah Maroof is by far the most experienced figure (106 T20 appearances) in this Pakistan squad. Having led her country in 36 T20Is, she is settled in the position of authority, and that has had a direct knock-on effect with regards to her form. With more than 2000 international runs under her belt in the T20Is, Maroof has already cemented her status as the highest run-scorer in Pakistan’s cricketing history and will play a crucial role in guiding the first-timers and decision making in their quest this time.

One to Watch:

Muneeba Ali plays an expansive shot on the off-side. © PCB

Muneeba Ali plays an expansive shot on the off-side. © PCB

In Muneeba Ali, Pakistan have a player to watch out for. It is true that the 22-year-old has featured only in 13 T20Is so far and received an international call-up after a year, but the glimpses of potential that she has shown in the domestic T20 tournament recently has meant the selectors have shown faith in her for the mega tournament. One of Ali’s biggest strengths is her aggressive mentality – she is certainly not afraid to attack from the start. When it comes to big tournaments, Pakistan has had concerns in the past of not putting enough runs on board, and with Ali at the top of the order, the team management can rely upon her considering the attacking brand of cricket she possesses in her armory.

Expectations:

Pakistan have put together a unit with plenty of youth and experience in their ranks. While they certainly have the ability to spring a surprise on any day, it is difficult to see Pakistan actually progressing to the final four. They were able to register only a single win in the last edition of the tournament, and while it is expected for Pakistan to beat newbies Thailand, anything beyond that would be a bit of a miracle.

Squad: Bismah Maroof (c), Javeria Khan, Sidra Nawaz (wk), Nida Dar, Aimen Anwar, Muneeba Ali, Aliya Riaz, Diana Baig, Ayesha Naseem, Fatima Sana, Omaima Sohail, Sadia Iqbal, Anam Amin, Iram Javed, Syeda Aroob Shah.

Fixtures:

February 26: Pakistan vs West Indies, in Canberra (Manuka Oval)
February 28: Pakistan vs England, in Canberra (Manuka Oval)
March 1: Pakistan vs South Africa, in Sydney (Showground Stadium)
March 3: Pakistan vs Thailand, in Sydney (Showground Stadium)