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Match Analysis

Pathbreaker Nida Dar once again proves she is Pakistan's life jacket

Ten years ago, she helped Pakistan beat India for the first time ever in a T20I. All these years later, she's still at it

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Nida Dar raises her bat after reaching her sixth T20I fifty  •  Asian Cricket Council

Nida Dar raises her bat after reaching her sixth T20I fifty  •  Asian Cricket Council

Every generation has one or two players who become torchbearers of the sport in the country. For the longest time, Pakistan were lucky to have Sana Mir. Since her retirement, that mantle has been taken over by Nida Dar.
At 35, she's closer to the end of her career than to the beginning, but her contributions to Pakistan have been immense. She's a path breaker in every sense - the first from Pakistan - male or female - to 100 wickets in T20Is, the first Pakistan player in the WBBL. the first... you get the point.
On Friday, Pakistan needed her experience and more. If the defeat to Thailand the previous evening wasn't enough, they were to face India in a vital clash. Dar is believed to have told the team in no uncertain terms how they let themselves down and had to lift their game several notches to just compete.
She, then, led by example, walking in at 33 for 3 and mounting an expert counterattack. She played the field - and the bowlers - all while staying true to the principles of risk-free cricket. And still she ended up with an unbeaten 56 off 37 balls. Dar grew up wanting to bash the ball around like Shahid Afridi. Over time, she's had to temper those instincts, but they are still there.
Dar's batting has an industrious side to it as well. It's how she surprises her opponents. One minute she's brand new to the crease. The next, she's 12 off 8. Today, Dar didn't play a dot ball until her 11th delivery, by which time she had already crashed two boundaries. She swept Radha Yadav to beat deep square, and then with mid-on in, stepped out to crash Rajeshwari Gayakwad down the ground. If India thought they could get a few quiet overs, they were mistaken.
The secret to Dar's success against spin is no half-measures. When she steps out, she commits fully. This conviction can throw bowlers off guard, because immediately Gayakwad asked for mid-on and square leg to go back. D Hemalatha wasn't spared either, her offbreaks proving to be the right fodder for Dar to kickstart Pakistan's revival.
Dar's batting potential has never been in doubt, but during the ODI World Cup earlier this year, she spoke of how her WBBL stint had helped change the way she saw the game, and herself. How range hitting, an alien concept for young girls in Pakistan, was as specific a skillset as bowling yorkers or taking catches. How she had benefited from training not harder, but smarter.
This new and improved version of Dar knows how to turn games around, and in style too. The sashay down the pitch to muscle Pooja Vastrakar out of the ground was as big a statement one could make, without trying to. Her 76-run stand with Bismah Maroof stung India even before they realised what actually hit them.
By the time she walked off, Dar had lifted Pakistan to 137 for 6. Yet for all that, there was a looming belief that India were perhaps a Smriti Mandhana special away from sealing the deal. There was still work to do.
And she stuck to it, even after a catch went down off her bowling. In the last over of the powerplay, Dar lulled Jemimah Rodrigues into a big shot. What Rodrigues failed to account for was the drift that made her reach out for the ball. The end result was a sliced catch to backward point. Then at the death, with the scales slowly tilting India's way, Dar came back and delivered the knockout blow when she had Harmanpreet hole out to long-off.
Arms aloft, big smile, a grin to the left, high five to the right - Dar's Afridi-like celebration told you the story of a bowler who had walked the talk. It told you how Dar had delivered the same intensity she had demanded of her team after the Thailand loss.
Ten years ago, in sleepy Galle, with the world's attention on the men's T20 World Cup, Dar helped Pakistan beat India for the first time ever in a T20I. An emotional Dar spoke after the game about how she wouldn't have any proof of her work - that win wasn't on live TV - something she could show her older brothers proudly, because she was dissuaded from playing what they called was "a boy's game."
All these years later, she's still at it. Bowling like her life depends on it, batting like she's the life jacket of a team looking to turn the tide. In two of their three wins over India, Dar has played a pivotal role. Friday's game was played out in front of 2000 fans and so many more on TV. It's entirely possible her brothers may have been among those watching proudly as Dar scripted a memorable win.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo