September 22, 2014

Four Pakistan women to watch in the Asian Games

As Pakistan look to defend their title in Incheon, we look at two bowlers and two batsmen who could be crucial to their campaign

Captain Sana Mir: Pakistan's most popular female cricketer © ICC

This week, the Pakistan Women's cricket team left for Incheon to defend the title that has come to define the modern history of women's cricket in the country. The gold medal in the Asian Games had come in the midst of devastating floods in the country as well as the trauma of the spot-fixing scandal. Consequently, it allowed the women's national team to get a rare moment in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the team has dropped off the national consciousness since then. Those of us with a passing interest were disappointed to find out that the team had been whitewashed in its recent tour of Australia, in both the T20s and the ODIs.

Yet in a country as cricket-mad as Pakistan, women's cricket suffers from being held up to unrealistic expectations. The origins of women's cricket in Pakistan are fairly recent and have involved equal measures of unprecedented sacrifice and effort as well as disastrous administrative battles. It still hasn't been ten years since the PCB officially took over the team and despite four years since the Asian Games medal, the squad has not been provided the women's-team-only stadium and training facilities promised then. Moreover, the lack of international cricket has hit the women even more than the men. The UAE is not a regular fixture as yet, and the team has to face long spells without any international or domestic duties.

Despite this, there are several stars in the women's game. They are the reason the seemingly insurmountable problems faced by the side haven't swallowed them up.

I decided to take a look at the ICC rankings for the women's T20 game, and identified four Pakistani players to watch out for in the Asian Games.

Let's start with Sana Mir. The captain and the face of the side, she is the most popular female player in the country. Originally a fast bowler, she switched to offspin and is 14th on the list of all-time T20 wicket-takers. Currently ranked 19th in the world T20 bowling charts, she reached a career-high ranking of sixth in 2012. Her batting was never a strong suit, but she has often stepped up to help her team out in times of strife. She is also in the reckoning for the allrounder rankings, where her current position at sixth is a career-best.

Following Sana on the bowling charts on 18th is left-arm spinner Sadia Yousuf. Sadia reached her peak as a bowler in 2013 during a wonder run of matches in England and Ireland. She picked up 12 wickets at 9.75 during that time and shot to second in the rankings. Her best performance came during that summer in the semi-final of the WT20 qualifiers. Batting first at home, Ireland went from 22 for 2 to 32 for 6 thanks to her, and she ended with figures of 4-0-9-4 to win the Player-of-the-Match award.

On the batting side, Karachi-born Nain Abidi is currently 20th on the ICC T20 rankings and was the team's best batsman in the format during the tour of Australia, averaging 30 over four matches. A steady, solid start to her career allowed her rankings to make decent progress, but real change came around 2013. That summer was a productive one for her as well, as she reached her career-best of 12th on the rankings. This included a priceless 45 off 41 balls which led to Pakistan's first T20 victory over England by a single run.

Finally, if you are part of #TeamMisbah because you are a fan of just how essential he has been to Pakistani cricket, then perhaps it is time to start collecting under the banner #TeamBismah as well. Hailing from that glorious city that gave us Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, Bismah Maroof is an allrounder of great talent and potential.

Currently tied with her captain at 6th for the world's allrounder rankings, Bismah had reached her career-best after the summer of 2013 when she was ranked No. 2 in the allrounder rankings. Her legspin isn't world-class, as her current rank of 51st on the global charts attests to, and her highest ranking was 27th, back in July 2013. However, it's her batting that really brings out the effort she has put in. In true Pakistani fashion, she was only 19 when she hit a 50 in her second T20 innings. Her batting really failed to reach its potential after that and she spent two years averaging in the mid-teens. But then in 2011, Bismah took her game to another level. She took the team from 32 for 4 to victory in a thrilling chase of 116 against West Indies, and she never looked back. In fact, since July 2011 Mohammad Hafeez is the only Pakistani cricketer to have scored more runs in international T20s than Bismah.

Apart from these four, there are several others who can make a mark at the tournament. Regardless of the results, Pakistan's women cricketers have proven that the journey they have travelled so long on shows no signs of stopping.

Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

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