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Feature

The Pakistan women's team in 1997: the girls who believed they could

An excerpt from a new book on the rise of women's cricket in Pakistan chronicles the side's first appearance at a Women's World Cup

Aayush Puthran
25-Aug-2022
The 1997 World Cup squad with captain Shaiza Khan (seated, centre), vice-captain Kiran Baluch (standing, extreme left) and coach Jodie Davis (middle row, left)  •  Courtesy of Kiran Baluch

The 1997 World Cup squad with captain Shaiza Khan (seated, centre), vice-captain Kiran Baluch (standing, extreme left) and coach Jodie Davis (middle row, left)  •  Courtesy of Kiran Baluch

In 1997, determined to field a side in the Women's World Cup, sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan from Karachi cobbled together a team and played three games in New Zealand and Australia to qualify for the tournament. There was a long-standing dispute between the Pakistan Women's Cricket Association (PWCA) and the Pakistan Women's Cricket Control Association (PWCCA) over which body had ownership of women's cricket in Pakistan. The PWCA was the older body, established in 1978 and run out of Lahore. But the PWCCA, set up by Shaiza Khan in 1996, got official recognition from the PCB and the International Women's Cricket Council (IWCC) and so came to be the official body representing Pakistan women's cricket.
In this excerpt from his new book, Unveiling Jazbaa, Aayush Puthran traces the women's fight for legitimacy among rival factions, and their chaotic but pugnacious journey to and through the tournament.

"Pakistan have won the World Cup just by turning up here."
It was a bizarre announcement by Brijmohan Lall Munjal, the founder of Hero MotoCorp - principal sponsors of the 1997 World Cup - while welcoming the neighbouring country during the tournament's opening ceremony in New Delhi. For a team which had only just entered the world of international cricket and had the most unpromising of results, the description bemused many. But those who were aware of what had transpired en route to their arrival in India's capital weren't surprised. Shaiza Khan, the Pakistan women's captain, and her team had, despite everything, escaped Pakistan after being put on the Exit Control List - a tool used by the government to restrict criminals charged with grave crimes.
Shaiza's team may have returned from their first cricket tour with massive defeats, but their act of touring abroad and playing cricket under the banner of Pakistan had gained them a great deal of media coverage. It flustered the two groups in Lahore - headed by Tahira Hameed and Shirin Javed, respectively - who had aspired to achieve what Shaiza eventually did by taking her team for an international tour to New Zealand in a relatively short span of time. The factions, who had fought each other over two decades for the title of the PWCA, had now turned their sights on Shaiza, giving the Lahore vs Karachi tussle in Pakistani cricket a different turn.
Together, the three groups could have mustered ample financial and political clout to advance women's cricket in Pakistan. Instead, it turned into a battle of egos, with all three using their respective resources against each other.
"In Lahore, it was only a specific class of women who played cricket," Afia Salam, the journalist, notes. "Shaiza and Sharmeen weren't playing with their own class of women in Karachi. They were playing with women who didn't have the opportunities elsewhere, who wouldn't have been able to play cricket on their own. That's the difference."
With Shirin Javed having family links to influential people in the PCB, many resources from the Pakistan board were not forthcoming for the PWCCA. As a result, the latter was unable to gain easy access to established coaches. Even those who supported them in spirit refused to help them in an official capacity due to the fear of missing out on opportunities which would come along with the PCB.
One of the solutions Shaiza came up with was to look outside Pakistan. Having witnessed first-hand the quality of cricket being played by the women in Australia and New Zealand, she was convinced that a female coach from one of these two countries would be invaluable for the team. So they called the Australian Cricket Board. Jodie Davis, a 30-year-old Canberra cricketer, who had captained her club side against the touring Pakistan team earlier in the year, was approached for the role by the Australian Sports Commission in July 1997. Davis had coaching experience with the Australian Institute of Sport, and it had been nearly a decade since she had played for the country. It was an enticing offer to make the step up to coach a national team. "I agreed straightaway without understanding what I was getting into," she says.
"There were times when we would book training sessions and the PWCA would turn up instead, and there would be a confrontation. At one point, they even tried to steal our uniforms"
Jodie Davis, Pakistan women's coach at the 1997 World Cup
It didn't take much time for her to realise that Australia and Pakistan were not just geographically far apart but culturally distant as well. It had taken her three months from giving her verbal agreement to landing in Pakistan, largely due to the financial constraints. Barring her airfare, food and accommodation, there weren't any financial perks to the job. "They wanted me to come over immediately. That was something I couldn't do because there was no pay involved and I had a job here, which was paying for the house," she explains.
However, she began her preparation for the new assignment long before she received any payment, sending day-to-day plans for each week. She prepared cards, laminated them and sent photographs to help the players understand her drills and training methods. The routine was structured - start easy and get harder. Since at that time she was also serving as batting coach for her housemate, Australia cricketer Bronwyn Calver, she knew that the challenge with the Pakistan team was going to be different. "The programme that I sent over was basic. There was no point trying to jump down the track and getting them to prepare similarly to the Australians."
When she eventually arrived in Pakistan, in October 1997, just over two months before the World Cup, she came with a bag full of cricketing goods donated by the Australian team. Christina Matthews, the Australia wicketkeeper, provided the slip-catch cradle, while others chipped in with balls and other training gear.
Davis was serious about cricket and so were the Khan sisters, who picked her up at the airport and drove straight to the training ground at the army ground barracks in Lahore. On a flat piece of land, with no grass or nets, Jodie couldn't spot a cricket field. But with most grounds either not available for the team to use or with their prices quadrupled to discourage them, it was the only place where they could practise.
From the nearly 40 girls who assembled, Jodie's first task was to play selector and identify the best squad for the World Cup. Which was a struggle, to say the least. Several players had turned up in traditional outfits and sandals for practice. "It turned out, they hadn't even been training before I arrived," she notes in disappointment. "I found my programme in the corner of the lounge room. They hadn't even opened it."
The welcome wasn't what she had expected, but it offered her a foretaste of the more dramatic events that were to follow. It also gave her an idea of why training for the World Cup wasn't the only challenge they were up against. During a selection trial that the PWCCA had planned to organise at Kinnaird College, members of the PWCA got into a physical altercation with them.
"There was some pushing and shoving, and stuff was thrown at us from the outside," Jodie recalls. "I was taller and more imposing than most of the players, so Sharmeen and I tended to be the muscle when these sorts of events occurred. Both groups were quite fiery."
With the possibility of playing a World Cup in sight, the battle to hold the rights to the name of Pakistan women's cricket team stepped up a level between the groups from Karachi and Lahore. The two groups from Lahore, who were already fighting over the title of PWCA, now had to contest another rival in the form of Shaiza in Karachi. With the aid of the PCB, the PWCA started to rope in sponsors and announced in the media that the team assembled by them would represent Pakistan at the World Cup.
"There were times when we would book training sessions and they would turn up there instead," Jodie reveals. "There would be a confrontation. At one point the PWCA even tried to steal our uniforms. Shaiza was paranoid that they were spying or stealing or trying to undermine the team.
"The PWCA were constantly emailing the IWCC to say they were the official team and wanted details of the World Cup travel and team arrangements. The poor World Cup organisers were very confused, and Shaiza spent lots of time trying to ensure the PWCA didn't succeed. The PWCA had photos of their "team" and boasted in the media that they were going to the World Cup."
The PWCA hadn't just boasted, they had prepared a team, named a squad and booked their tickets for India. More importantly, they had even got hold of the names of those in the squad that Shaiza was going to take to the World Cup and resorted to despicably underhanded tactics to prevent them leaving the country.
Three days before Shaiza and her team were to leave Lahore for New Delhi for the tournament, she was informed by people close to her at the airport that the members of her team had been put on an Exit Control List. However, poor governmental administration meant the list had only reached the airport in Lahore. Shaiza was certain that an escape route from Karachi was still possible. Fearing that the visas from the Indian High Commission office in Islamabad wouldn't reach them in time, she left for the national capital while the rest of the team made a quick dash to Karachi.
Davis, though, didn't have permission to travel to Karachi. Following the murder of two US consular officials there in 1995 - communications technician Gary Durrell and secretary Jackie Van Landingham, who were killed in their car by unidentified gunmen - the city was identified as unsafe by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "I was a bit nervous about that," she explains, but left with no option, she joined the team.
"In Karachi, since it was also the weekend, we knew that they wouldn't be able to get us on Exit Control," Kiran Baluch, the vice-captain, recalls. But then another obstacle confronted them. When they reached Karachi airport and tried to book their flights, they discovered that the only available one leaving for India was a small aircraft, which had room for just 33 passengers running at full capacity.
Sharmeen, Kiran and Maliha Hussain began another mad dash - to the control tower, to the head office of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and back to the airport, using the World Cup invitation from India in a desperate plea with PIA to replace the aircraft. "They eventually changed to a bigger plane and issued us tickets," says Kiran. "Once we were on board, the captain announced that we were going for the World Cup and everyone on the flight cheered for us and wished us well."
As they soon found out, though, they weren't the only ones to reach India. Tahira Hameed had turned up with Khawaja Parvez Masood, a cricket enthusiast who worked in the administrative department of Aitchinson College. So did the PWCA's Shirin Javed, Azra Parveen and Bushra Aitzaz. All trying to make a case for being the rightful representatives of Team Pakistan.
Brijmohan Lall Munjal was flanked on the dais by Anuradha Dutta, secretary of the Women's Cricket Association of India, when all 11 participating teams lined up in symmetrical rows for the inauguration of the tournament. Since the PWCCA was the only body affiliated with the International Women's Cricket Council, the governing body for the women's sport at the time, Shaiza's team stood in the row reserved for Pakistan, dressed in green blazers and white shirts.
"Once we were on board the plane, the captain announced that we were going for the World Cup and everyone on the flight cheered for us and wished us well"
Kiran Baluch, Pakistan vice-captain at the 1997 tournament
It was the first time the cricketing world, outside of Australia and New Zealand, had caught a glimpse of the Pakistan team.
Chander Shekhar Luthra, a journalist with Asian Age, who covered the team extensively during the tournament, recalls, "We didn't know what the Pakistan women's team would be like. We assumed they would be coming from orthodox families, some of them possibly even wearing burkhas. We were so wrong. They were well spoken, well exposed, liberal and knowledgeable women. Their lifestyles were ahead of their time. Beyond their lives and cricket, we even ended up discussing the works of Salman Rushdie."
Nooshin Al Khadeer, who played for the Karnataka state side against the team as a 14-year-old in the warm-up match before the World Cup, was awestruck when she came across Shaiza during a dinner party at the Capitol Hotel in Bangalore. "That was the first time I had seen a woman smoke. When all the players were introduced to the team, we learned that she was the captain of Pakistan. It was quite fascinating, I thought she was pretty cool."
Purnima Rao, who played for India in that World Cup, and was equally ignorant about the Pakistan women's backgrounds, added, "They looked extremely confident." That confidence was palpable to her because Shaiza genuinely assumed the team was good enough to make a mark, if not to beat a couple of teams and qualify for the knockouts.
Pakistan were scheduled in Group A, alongside Australia, England, South Africa, Denmark and Ireland - of whom the top four would qualify. She assumed her team had enough skill to outdo Denmark, and possibly give a tough fight to Ireland and South Africa. Her optimism wasn't quite in sync with that of her coach, though.
"Shaiza had probably talked it up," Davis believes. "When she was speaking to the media, her father, and the PCB, she said, 'We'll win games, and our aim is to make the quarter-finals.' Her expectations were high and she voiced it."
A harsh reality check came before the tournament opener, when they lost a practice match against Karnataka in Mandya, which was attended by a crowd of almost 27,000. Pakistan were humbled by the state side on a matting pitch. "It was all too foreign for them," Davis notes. There wasn't a lot of quality at her disposal. Kiran and Shaiza had the technique to stay [at the crease], and Sharmeen was a powerful hitter. Maliha Hussain could contribute too - with both bat and ball. But that's all there was in the batting department. Sharmeen was the chief medium-pacer, while Shaiza and Kiran provided spin options. Nazia Nazir and Sadia Bano were the other players who, in Davis' words, "could bowl on the pitch".
She went on to add, "Nazia wasn't bad, Sadia wasn't too good." Most of the others were just making up the numbers. Sixteen-year-old Asma Farzand was handling wicketkeeping duties, since she had the strongest legs and most coordinated movements and wasn't one of the seven bowling options in the team. Their limitations were soon exposed.
Their campaign began against Denmark, the team against whom Pakistan believed they had their best chance of winning. However, when they were put in to bat, they were rolled for 65 after little more than two hours of play. Shaiza, who had walked out to bat at the fall of the second wicket, remained unbeaten but on only 11, as the last six batters were dismissed without scoring. Denmark's attack was largely filled with medium-pacers. The Pakistan batters had to make the pace for their shots. Past the top four, there weren't many who could do that. Even as the new-ball pair were played out safely, Susanne Nielsen and Janni Jonsson combined to pick up seven wickets. To add to Pakistan's woes, Sharmeen, Nazia and Asma were run-out.
Denmark took nearly as much time to chase down the small total but lost just two wickets in the process, both picked up by Kiran. Shaiza conceded only 18 runs from her ten-over spell, nine of which were wides, making up the majority of the 14 wides bowled in the innings. The defeat might have made a few holes in Shaiza's inflated hopes but it gave a more realistic idea of where the team stood. Six players from her side were making their debuts, while there were no international newcomers for Denmark. Regardless of the fact that Denmark were a low-ranked team, they had been a part of international cricket since 1989.
After their tame surrender against the weakest opposition, Pakistan stood no chance against the next opponent: England, the defending champions, the favourites, and the joint powerhouse of women's cricket. With only a day's break between the two games, the players had to travel three hours to Bangalore before catching a flight to Hyderabad and then taking an eight-hour bus ride to Vijayawada. It was already a hectic travel day, which was only made worse by an eight-hour delay to the flight. Having landed late at night, the players had sleep to catch up on, but also a near 300-kilometre bus ride before they reached their destination. To make matters worse, the driver tried to make up time by speeding on the rough roads, and the journey was so hair-raising that few managed to rest. Not surprisingly, even the view of the lush, picturesque Indira Gandhi Stadium framed by rolling hills didn't do much to stimulate them the next day.
That they were not match-prepared was ultimately immaterial as the contest was always going to be heavily one-sided. One of the Pakistan players overheard the English cricketers telling their bus driver to arrive at lunchtime, so confident were they that the contest would be wrapped up by then. It was probably a fair assessment, but it riled the Pakistan team and when Shaiza won the toss, she elected to field.
The English batters thrived against Pakistan's inexperienced bowling attack. Janette Brittin and Barbara Daniels scored centuries, sharing a 203-run stand for the second wicket as England amassed 376 for 2. Fatigue from the hectic travel and low fitness levels meant that several Pakistan players suffered injuries in the course of their 50-over stay on the field. It got so bad that they eventually ran out of substitutes and Davis had to take the field.
"It doesn't matter what happens to these girls for the rest of their lives, they have all worn the Pakistan cap, and have memories of playing cricket against the likes of Belinda Clark and Cathryn Fitzpatrick. You can't take these things away from them"
Jodie Davis
Even though victory was impossible, they did achieve one objective - England were kept in the game beyond lunch. Sharmeen and Maliha, who had bowled 19 overs between them earlier in the day, put up strong resistance with the bat, stitching together a slow 67-run stand. At one point Sharmeen even tonked Melissa Reynard and Karen Smithies for three sixes. Those two batters fell in quick succession to Reynard, but Kiran and Shaiza continued the defiance. Pakistan managed to score 146, losing by 230 runs. But more importantly, they had shown the steel to bat out their entire quota of overs.
"That game was our highlight of the World Cup," Jodie admits. "For a team that's out on the field after only three or four hours of sleep, having lost to Denmark and then conceding 376 runs, running around… to bat out 50 overs and lose only three wickets against a team like England was quite an achievement. On top of that, we hit their fast bowlers for sixes. That was the pinnacle."
The confidence gained from that showing wouldn't last long, though, as two days later in Hyderabad they came up against the other tournament favourites, Australia. Shaiza had the luck of the toss again. However, this time, she chose to bat. Three of the top four batters registered ducks. Sharmeen, who was the only one to get off the mark, made one run. Kiran Ahtazaz, who was making her debut, was the only player to get into double digits, top-scoring with an unbeaten 11. Pakistan folded for 27 in less than 14 overs. Australia chased down the total in 37 balls, losing only Zoe Goss in the process, run-out for a duck.
With ample time remaining after the game, the Pakistan players took advantage of the net facilities available at the stadium to train. Any access to quality net training was gold dust, especially since they needed to beat South Africa in their next encounter to keep any hopes alive of securing a place in the quarter-finals. With a day's rest, they headed off on another long journey to Baroda, more than 1000 kilometres away in the western part of India.
The extra practice didn't help much. Pakistan produced a more disciplined bowling performance, reducing South Africa to 100 for 4 at one stage, but a counterattacking 63-ball 74 not out by Ally Kuylaars lower down the order propelled South Africa to 258 for 7, a total way beyond what Pakistan had managed till then. Much of South Africa's score was also helped by a generous offering of wide deliveries - 46 in total, with all six bowlers contributing to it.
However, Sharmeen and Maliha put on an 84-run stand for the opening wicket, helping Pakistan to a strong start. While the latter had crawled to 16 in 76 balls, Sharmeen had blazed away to 48. Once the duo was separated, the rest of the order crumbled. The remaining nine batters added only seven runs as Pakistan folded for 109.
The defeat dashed their hopes of going any further in the tournament, but given all the promises Shaiza had made in Pakistan, a victory against Ireland was much needed when they headed north to the wintry climes of Gurgaon's Karnail Singh Stadium for their last match of the competition.
The desire to win, however, struggled to fuel their energy levels. They were a tired bunch by then. "We had 16 flights in 22 days," says Davis. "A lot of these girls had never been away from home, never flown. They were missing their families. They were carrying sores, niggles and injuries. They weren't used to playing every day, and we were training every day. There was no recovery facility. We didn't have a physio or a masseur. They weren't used to exercise or injuries. Against England, they were on the field as they scored 360. That's a long time chasing the ball. They didn't have any previous experience of that sort of pain, and it was difficult to work out whether some of them had a serious injury or were just experiencing extreme muscle soreness."
Ireland were equally determined to secure a crucial victory against what was, by then, their easiest opposition, to qualify for the quarter-finals ahead of Denmark. Put in to bat, skipper Miriam Grealey scored a half-century, and Catherine O'Neill and Clare O'Leary made handy contributions, scoring 45 and 48 not out respectively, as Ireland posted 242 for 7. Barring Maliha, who batted for nearly an hour and a half for a 69-ball 11, none of the Pakistan batters provided resistance. O'Neill returned figures of 4 for 10 to cap an excellent all-round display, and Ireland won by 182 runs.
"To go home with no wins was disappointing," the Pakistan coach admits. "If they had played against the other teams the way they played against England, then we would've had a chance. But it didn't happen."
Shaiza, Sharmeen, Kiran, Maliha and Meher [Minwala] stayed in India till the end of the tournament, while the rest of the players flew back home after the Ireland match. In a meeting between the three Pakistani groups and the IWCC on 26 December, it was noted that since Shaiza's group had an affiliation with the international body, only it could represent Pakistan going forward. Davis' tenure with the team came to an end and she tagged along with the Australian side through the Christmas period before flying home with them.
"The Pakistan team looked, for all practical purposes, like a real cricket team," Davis says with hindsight. "They had the whites, the cricket gear, even though it was all borrowed from Shaiza and Sharmeen. To get anywhere close to looking like a cricket team was where it started for them. Five or six girls, who were pulled out of the countryside, had to get permission from their fathers to play. The parents thought that there was no point in sending their daughters to play cricket. For those girls, getting trips in the country, flying overseas and staying in hotels - they would've never experienced that in their lives before. Every week that we would train, more girls kept turning up, wanting to train with us, wanting to be a part of the team, right up to until when we left for the World Cup. There were proud fathers bringing them along, wanting them to play for Pakistan.
"For the girls who had a bit more life experience, that World Cup was a highlight of their cricket career. But for those other girls, those who would've otherwise only married and had kids, to travel to India and play for their country, it probably changed their lives. It was more than just cricket. It doesn't matter what happens to them for the rest of their lives, they have all worn the Pakistan cap, the uniforms, and have memories of playing cricket against the likes of Belinda Clark and Cathryn Fitzpatrick. You can't take these things away from them. Pakistan now have a very competitive team, good athletes, and more players have come in as the game has progressed. The class of 1997 laid it out for them.
"If they'd waited for 11 good players to start a team, they would have never got there. They just had to get it going and it all started with two sisters."

Reproduced with permission from Unveiling Jazbaa: A History of Pakistan Women's Cricket by Aayush Puthran, Polaris Publishing, 2022. Minor edits have been made for clarity