Pakistan’s match against New Zealand at Taunton on Saturday marked the 100th occasion in which Sana Mir walked out for a 50-over international in her country’s green.
Ahead of the game, the girl who learnt her cricket on the “streets of Pindi” was presented a commemorative cap and memento to celebrate her achievement.
“This young lady came when we were struggling, because of the culture in Pakistan in those days. I’m proud of her,” said Mohammad Ilyas, chief selector for the women’s team, leading the tributes.
“[It] shows the grit and determination she has. She’s a wonderful leader, not only on the field but off the field. This is one cap of many. This isn’t the end, it’s only the start of your next chapter,” said Lisa Sthalekar, the former Australia spinner and current commentator at the tournament, handing her the cap.
They were, of course, stating the obvious.
A few more facts and numbers:
– Mir is the first woman from her country to reach the 100 ODIs landmark;
– Pakistan has played all of 142 ODIs;
– Mir made a 50 in her milestone match, where the second-highest score for her side was 18, and came on to bowl first change;
– Mir is the team’s highest run-getter this tournament and;
– She is one of only seven women in the 1000 runs and 100 wickets club.
That not only puts Mir’s feat in perspective, but also emphasises how central she is and has been in holding aloft the Pakistan flag in women’s cricket. And on the day of an eight-wicket hammering that ended her side’s hopes of progression to the semi-finals, she highlighted all the work Pakistan needed to do to be able to compete with higher ranked teams.
After the ICC Women’s World T20 last year, where her side memorably defeated India and rallied the country to boost the women’s game, Mir had stepped down from T20 captaincy. Now, with Pakistan knocked out of the reckoning of the World Cup, you could tell the 31-year-old was contemplating her future.
“It’s a tough one,” she said. “I haven’t decided anything yet. I’m planning to take a one-month break after the tournament and decide what I want to do for my future personally and as a cricketer. I have to take the time off. Cricket has been my first love, so it’s not easy to take any decision. At the moment, I want to focus on the last two games.”
Pakistan has three half-centurions this tournament, an improvement on last time, but so often, as on Saturday, it has seemed as if Mir is left to fight the battles with little support. The potential is there, as is the spark to want to do big things – no other team can boast about having Australia 18 for 2 in the Power Play. But the team hasn’t been able to press forth an advantage or create opportunities.
Sophie Devine praised Pakistan as a much-improved side after New Zealand’s demolition of them – and Mir as a role model for girls world over – but the progress too is a sign of the work Pakistan needs to still do.
“As a cricketer, I don’t need any other motivation other than the star I wear on my jersey and the thought that I’m playing for my country. But yes, there’s a lot of work left to be done with women’s cricket,” said Mir, opening up about the support the team needs. “You’ve seen the standard of the other teams. Suzie Bates didn’t bat today, yet the New Zealand team were standing strong. Whereas for us, one Bismah Maroof is missing (ruled out because of injury) and we’re struggling. We need to get our reserve players ready, improve competition within the team and outside. If we do that, only then can we compete with other teams.”
The batting performance had been “disappointing”, and “it’s not acceptable at international level that you’re four down for 30 runs in three-four games”, she said. However, the difference wasn’t about power hitting – despite how Devine made it look.
“We need to play more two-three day games in Pakistan to get one-day batters who can stand at the wicket,” she said.
“The way women’s cricket is evolving, it’s important we have players with technique that allows them to defend as well as hit out. Even in our defence we’re not doing well. Improving strike-rates comes when you score 200 runs consecutively, but we aren’t doing that either, so first we have to do that, then we need players who have a go at the bowlers at will.
“And pace bowlers – spinners have done a good job, but even in conditions where we might have liked to add an extra seamer, we were not sure (if they could perform). It’s important we develop good seam bowlers in the next four years.”
Pakistan could also use more games and more exposure, outside of the Women’s Championship, to help the batters deal with the pressure of the big stage.
“They’re under pressure, and we’re trying to speak to them,” said Mir. “These were the same batters who put up 200-plus runs in New Zealand (on tour in 2016), so it’s not like they don’t have potential or can’t be relied on. Yes, Bismah is out, but that shouldn’t be so big a reason (for inconsistency). We need to think the next couple of days about what we can do short term. Long term, the more big matches we play – matches are coming on TV for the first time, and I think that’s an added pressure, based on what I’ve spoken to them – hopefully these aspects will improve with experience.”
Mir’s journey, in her own words, has been “tough, exciting, fulfilling”. There should be more of that for those that follow in her footsteps. With her 100, she has set a platform down for Pakistan cricket. Now, not only do they need more like her, they need those who’ll stand on her shoulders and are ready to take the leap forwards. Bigger 100s should beckon.