AnalysisAll eyes on Fatima Sana

All eyes on Fatima Sana

There are a few things you should know about Fatima Sana.

To start with, she’s a right-arm medium-fast bowler for Pakistan’s national team.

She was the ICC’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year in 2021.

She debuted at 17 years of age in 2019.

Last year, she was the first and only Pakistani player to play the Women’s 6ixty and CPL.

Near the end of her stay there, she twisted her ankle and was ruled out of cricket for a few weeks. She missed the Asia Cup and came back to play Ireland at home, then played Australia away, the T20 World Cup in South Africa, the exhibition games at home, Fairbreak in Hong Kong, Pakistan Cup (Phase I) at home, and the Emerging Asia Cup back again in Hong Kong. After that, she played South Africa at home, and in the 2nd ODI, almost exactly a year after her last injury, she hurt herself again — her thigh this time.

This injury would see her out of international cricket for 83 days — 83 long days where she watched her team unsuccessfully battle it out in the Asian Games and versus Bangladesh in Bangladesh.

Now, in New Zealand and fresh from the NCA, she’s back to her best.

She’s been bowling off-cutters, nailing her lengths, varying pace, causing the ball to skid and crash into the stumps, getting Suzie Bates out twice(!), and, for every one of her 6 wickets, breaking into exuberant celebrations that I’m certain will reverberate in the Oval for weeks to come.

Fatima did all this, and she won Pakistan two games on the trot. She won Pakistan their first-ever series in SENA with a bowling performance our fast-bowling ancestors would be proud of. She ensured we made history at the Suzie Bates Oval as only the second team to beat New Zealand in New Zealand in a T20I series, before Australia, before England. Not to mention, she’s got the most wickets by far (6) and the 2nd lowest economy (5.00) until now, behind only Nida Dar’s 4.87 economy rate.

On Sunday, she killed the game early on by getting NZ’s top 3 out in her first 3 overs, ensuring that New Zealand ended at a total fit for a chase. She marked her return to international cricket with a career-best bowling performance of 3-18 (4) — and you would’ve thought, that day in Dunedin, that surely, surely nothing could top this.

Turns out that winning an entire series versus New Zealand for the first time is better than winning a T20I versus New Zealand for the first time. Turns out Fatima Sana would better her performance on Sunday, leading the way with her captain, Nida Dar, as Pakistan defended a low but trying total. Technically, her 3-18 the other day is still her career-best, but believe me when I say Tuesday’s spell was just better.

I can explain. And with that, here are some more things you should know about Fatima Sana.

Fatima Sana takes pressure like a champ. She looks at dangerous batters and the doable asking rates with ball in hand… and she smiles. The same way she did whenever I tried to be funny in our interview, the same way she did at every wicket in the match, the same way she did when Muneeba ran and knocked her over when they won. She smiles. Rested, rehabilitated, and rejuvenated Fatima Sana is unfazed. She has nerves of steel. And that’s what we needed on Tuesday – twice.

The first time was when Fatima first came on to bowl that match. The pressure was on. Sadia had gone for 15 runs in her last over after bowling 2 good ones to start. Fatima was brought on in the 6th over, just like in the 1st T20I. Devine and Bates were settled and looking to charge. She delivered on her 3rd and 5th delivery, getting both set batters with deliveries that skidded enough to confuse them into playing on. It was beautiful. The 15-run over was followed by a 2-run, 2-wicket over, and Pakistan’s defense was mounting.

The second time Fatima held both her nerve and Pakistan together was not her 2nd and 3rd over. Those were fine too, don’t get me wrong: she went for just 5 in the 8th over of the match and 10 in the 16th over – which was decent as the asking rate was well above that.

So no, it wasn’t these overs.

It was the last one.

New Zealand had gone from needing 70 runs from 6 overs – which sounded like a steep, nearly impossible to ask – to 18 off the last – which sounded rather doable, especially to pessimistic traumatised realistic Pakistan fans who were watching Hannah Rowe at 31*(20) and Lea Tahuhu 13*(9) swinging hard out there.

The over just before had seen Diana get smacked around for 15 runs — trusty Diana Baig, who we often expect to control the runs on one end while Fatima attacks on the other. Again, and even more so this time, the pressure was on. Then her first ball, yorker onto the pads, wasn’t given out, and it raced away to the boundary for 4 byes. Fatima wasn’t smiling anymore. She pulled her length just slightly back, luring Rowe into a swing and a miss. And as Najiha got a bit ahead of herself trying to get a run out, it was young Fatima who calmed her down, and 14 from 5 became 14 for 4. New Zealand ran a plucky (and a bit lucky) 2 and then needed 12 off 3 with batter Rowe still on strike.

And then Fatima did what she had been doing every time Pakistan had needed a wicket this week: she delivered. She bowled Rowe straight through and sent the leg stump flying. Two rather uneventful but well-bowled deliveries later, she had seen us through to the end. Pakistan had won. History had been made. And Muneeba had knocked Fatima over in jubilation.

This match was not a Fatima Sana carryjob. There were plenty of assists and cameos: Muneeba Ali and Aliya Riaz with the bat; the warrior Nida Dar, Nashra Sundhu, and Sadia Iqbal’s early strikes with the ball. It was a complete team performance at the end; Fatima herself will tell you that. But it was Fatima who bowled the two match-winning overs at the end and Fatima who this piece is dedicated to.

And another thing you should know about Fatima Sana: when I asked her who was “the player to watch” this PAK v NZ series, she said, “Mujhe hi dekhein” with a laugh. (Translation: “Just watch me.”) (Source)

And she was right.

22-year-old, right-arm medium-fast bowler; winner of ICC’s Emerging Player of the Year 2021; Pakistan’s favorite pace bowling all-rounder; now a consecutive matchwinner down under. She made history in what were the early hours of Tuesday morning for us, and we were all awake to watch her do it.

All eyes on Fatima Sana, the shining sun of this team.

The author

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