Edgbaston had perhaps never been this full for a women's cricket match not involving England.
Though official attendance numbers were not available, Indian, Pakistani and neutral fans flocked in the thousands to witness this iconic rivalry
for the first time at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. And the high-stakes only added to the occasion: after losing their opening games, both India and Pakistan needed to win to stay in the hunt for a medal.
Offspinner Sneh Rana
had not been picked for India's first group
game against Australia. She sat on the bench and watched Grace Harris and then Ashleigh Gardner pull off an incredible rescue act by attacking India's spinners.
Against arch-rivals Pakistan, Rana was one of two changes that India made to their XI. Her inclusion proved to be crucial. Rana took 2 for 15 in four overs in India's eight-wicket win against Pakistan, bowling 11 dot balls and conceding only one boundary. It was her over that turned the game decisively India's way.
After Iram Javed
had fallen early, Muneeba Ali
and Bismah Maroof
had put Pakistan back on track, bringing up their 50-run stand off 40 deliveries in a rain-reduced contest of 18 overs per side.
That's when Rana was brought on to bowl by her captain Harmanpreet Kaur and her guile proved too much for Pakistan's set batters.
In her second over, Rana's flight and variations of length accounted for Maroof - the Pakistan skipper was lbw attempting a sweep. And with her final delivery of that over, Rana flighted the ball around middle stump and got it to dip and land on a good length. Muneeba had her weight forward, and the deception in flight induced a chip back to the bowler. And just like that, Rana had changed the game in one over.
She could have had a third wicket off the final ball of her spell, if not for the on-field umpire's call of not out. Aliya Riaz was hit on the front pad after missing a flick, but on review the ball-tracker showed that the impact stayed with the umpire's decision.
Rana has produced such game-changing performances before. Earlier this year in the Women's World Cup in New Zealand, Rana scored her maiden ODI half-century
to rescue India from a precarious situation against Pakistan, before returning her ODI best of 4 for 30 against Bangladesh
a few games later.
During India's tour of England last year, head coach Ramesh Powar
that Rana was "the find of this series," after she picked up four wickets and scored an unbeaten 80 in the drawn one-off Test
, followed by an all-round effort in the third ODI
. She was identified as a key allrounder
in the national set-up but, strangely, has played only five of 12 T20Is since June 2021.
Among Indian bowlers who have bowled at least ten overs in T20Is since June last year, Rana has the third-best economy rate
, and the best among spinners. Having toiled away on the domestic circuit, Rana brought to the highest level the skillset that served her well while playing for and leading Railways.
Under Railways head coach and former India offspinner Nooshin Al Khadeer
's guidance, Rana's bowling and fitness had improved significantly. And when she was rested from the tour of Sri Lanka last month, Rana headed to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru to work on her fitness some more and be best prepared for the Commonwealth Games.
She had to wait one game to get her opportunity in Birmingham, and when she got her chance against Pakistan, Rana made it count. India play Barbados next on August 3, and Rana has done more than enough to be a shoo-in for that crucial game.