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Match Analysis

Left out of the WPL party, Maroof & Co look for joy at the World Cup

"We don't get many opportunities to play in the leagues and that's very unfortunate. We can't control that"

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Bismah Maroof and Ayesha Naseem stitched a quick fifty stand, India vs Pakistan, ICC Women's T20 World Cup, Cape Town, February 12, 2023

Bismah Maroof and Ayesha Naseem stitched a quick fifty stand  •  Getty Images

Imagine if you hit 43 runs off 25 balls against an opposition on the eve of their big-money franchise T20 league. Imagine you'd scored some of those runs, including the biggest six of the game, through your ability to pick up the slower ball off the bowler that was awarded the ICC's Emerging Player of the Year title. Imagine your T20 strike rate in the last five months is an impressive 144.66.
You would imagine that you're on the verge of a big pay-day, wouldn't you? But Ayesha Naseem, for whom all the above is true, is not.
By virtue of nothing other than her nationality, Naseem, her 14 team-mates representing Pakistan at the T20 World Cup and anyone else from their country, are not involved in tomorrow's WPL auction. As a result, they are the only team for whom the opening exchanges of the T20 World Cup did not have an added incentive. They were playing purely for the points on offer and proved motivation enough to set India a fairly challenging target of 150 on a slowish pitch, and then squeezing them for much of the first 15 overs of the reply but it will bring no extra reward.
"We as Pakistan you know we don't get many opportunities to play in the leagues and that's very unfortunate," Bismah Maroof, Pakistan's captain said afterwards. " Definitely we will love to play and we would want every opportunity we can get in the leagues. But yeah, that's what it is and we can't control that."
Instead, Pakistan put their attention on the things they can influence, like their reputation as World Cup disappointments and at least one player - Naseem - showed the potential to change that. She is a genuine power-hitter, who has the potential to become one of the game's best finishers. She uses the crease well and has the confidence to both stay deep in it and wait for the ball or advance out of it and meet the ball. Though Pakistan were 68 for 4 when she got to the crease, she did not hold back and immediately took on the bowling to give what had been a pedestrian innings some impetus.
And she had help. Much like the way Chamari Athapathuthu encouraged Vishmi Gunaratne to take on Shabnim Ismail in Sri Lanka's stunning win over South Africa on Friday, Maroof served as a mentor to Naseem through their unbeaten 81-run stand. "I just kept her calm and told her to just the balls (she wanted to hit) and otherwise just rotate the strike."
Naseem is clearly also a quick learner. From the time she came to the crease, at over 12.2 to the end of Pakistan's innings - a total of 47 balls including those bowled as a result of extras - Pakistan only faced three dot balls. Naseem was the only player, across both sides, to breach the boundary for six and she did it twice: when she got down on one knee to hit Renuka Singh over long off and then when she charged Deepti Sharma in the same region and evaded the fielder's fingertips.
Since the start of January 2021, Naseem has hit the fourth-most sixes in T20s - 17.
Despite her ability to advance an innings at an impressive rate, Maroof does not think it's time to move Naseem higher up the order. Already, she has gone from No.7 before the series to No.5 for this match and for now, that's where she'll stay. "With the role we have given to her, we are confident sending her in at No.5 or 6 because that game suits her," Maroof said.
But does Maroof wish Naseem had got a few more away so Pakistan had more to defend? It didn't sound like it.
Maroof instead laid the blame at the bowlers' feet and said they "missed our plans" to India, especially at the death. The game hung in the balance when India needed 41 runs off the last four overs but Pakistan conceded 13 runs in the 17th over and 14th in the 18th to allow India to close the game in the 19th, with a 15-run over. In that period, India hit eight fours. "We gave away boundaries at the wrong time so I think that that may be the turning point for us," she said.
At least, if any consolation is to be taken from this, none of Nida Dar, Aiman Anwar or Fatima Sana who bowled those last three overs and were the most expensive bowlers on the night, have done themselves a disservice in terms of the auction - because they're not in it.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent