Sana Mir regrets Pakistan Women's seclusion
For every tourist in Cuttack, a visit to the remains of the Barabati Fort and the Deer Park not very far from it, on the banks of the Mahanadi River, is a must. However, despite being based at walking distance from both, the Pakistan Women's team can't take a trip to either.
Not just because they are focused on making their presence felt at the ongoing Women's World Cup. It has more to do with security reasons, after tension on the Indo-Pak border in the lead-up to the tournament had put a question mark over their participation.
As a result, Pakistan has had to stay apart from the other three teams in their group, who are all put up in the same hotel in Cuttack's twin city of Bhubaneswar; Pakistan stay within the Barabati Stadium premises, at the adjoining Odisha Cricket Association Academy. On the upside, the academy's accommodation boasts facilities as good as any other hotel in town and the team doesn't have to take the one-hour bus ride to and from the stadium every day.
"Everything is good over here, but we wouldn't mind that [bus journey]," Pakistan captain Sana Mir told ESPNcricinfo after their training at the Barabati Stadium on Friday, the eve of their second group tie against New Zealand.
Mir, one of the senior most pros in the team, had a taste of Indian culture during the Asia Cup in 2006. Now, she feels for the "four to five girls who are visiting India for the first time". "It's a shame because the last time when I came to India, my image of India changed a lot," she said. "Despite the historic rivalry between the two countries, the people here were really amazing. And we took a lot of love back to Pakistan. And I just wanted this new generation of Pakistan girls to feel that love and warmth. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, we can't have that."
Moreover, Mir and her team-mates are missing out on savouring the company of the other teams - the discussions about the game and the sampling of new cultures, which usually go with the territory of a big, global sporting event. "Our pool has wonderful teams like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. New Zealanders, especially, have been really friendly always," Mir said. "When we stay at the same hotel, we walk up to senior players and learn a lot from them.
"That has been taken away [this time around]. Hopefully we can sit together with them before the group stage finishes and we head off to the next stage."
In the first half of their tournament opener against formidable Australia on Thursday, Pakistan produced one of their best performances with the ball but then let themselves down with the bat. Mir is doing everything she can to keep their morale up after that mediocre showing with the bat; after the team trained for well over 90 minutes, the Pakistan captain gave them a long pep-talk.
"I just reminded them that it has been a long journey for this Pakistan team to come and play in this World Cup. We have tried hard and showed against Australia that we are capable of stretching any team. We just need to apply ourselves better with the bat and that's what the emphasis would be on against New Zealand tomorrow."
Their subcontinent counterparts Sri Lanka surprising England in Mumbai was encouraging for her team, Mir said: "We have a lot to draw from what they have achieved, it was great to see Sri Lanka beating England yesterday. Their victory and our performance with the ball has shown that the gap between the top four and the bottom four is reducing. We just hope we can narrow it down further going ahead in the tournament."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo