Shawaal Zulfiqar, the Teenager on Tour
Shawaal Zulfiqar is 18 years old.
Just over a year ago, in August 2022, she was captaining Central Punjab’s U19 team in the Women’s U19 T20 Tournament. There, she led her team in an unbeaten and ultimately successful campaign and top-scored overall. Then, under Aroob Shah’s captaincy, she had another excellent run in both phases of the winter domestic tournament. And then, she opened for Pakistan at the inaugural U19 World Cup in South Africa in January this year. After that, she played Phase 1 of the Pakistan Cup in May and did well again before jetting off to Hong Kong for the Emerging Asia Cup in June.
Despite not showing her best at the U19 WC, Shawaal was Pakistan’s best batter at the Emerging Asia Cup, but it was her sustained success in domestic cricket that particularly impressed fans and fellow players alike:
Following these appearances, Shawaal received a call that very few people would have expected: a call to represent the senior team at the Asian Games and in the series versus South Africa at home.
Now, we’ve spoken about Pakistan’s perpetual issues with settling their opening pair before and about how Shawaal was fast-tracked because captain Nida Dar and her new coaching set-up were impressed with her intent and proactive batting up top. (Read: “Muneeba in the Middle” here). But this article isn’t really about how Shawaal was a saving grace for a side slowly realizing that their best ODI opener, Sidra Amin, may not be a good T20 opening option. It’s not about the team, really.
It’s about Shawaal Zulfiqar herself, the teenager on tour.
Shawaal Zulfiqar, who, in the last 3 months, has:
- Opened for Pakistan versus South Africa at 18 in a historic tour at home
- Struggled to find her footing in her best format versus SA and in the Asian Games
- Been sent back to the emerging side to play versus WI-A and Thailand instead of being called up to Bangladesh with the senior team
- Found her form and won POTS in the T20 tri-series
- Been recalled back to the senior side for her first overseas tour
- Scored a match-winning 41 in the first T20I
- Helped Pakistan get a win versus New Zealand in New Zealand, a historic feat for an Asian team and their first-ever win versus New Zealand
I’m not sure who is to be credited for the idea of sending Shawaal for the emerging home tour instead of the Bangladesh series: maybe it was Nida Dar, the selectors, the interim coach, or even the elusive vice-captain. But whoever’s idea it was should get a pat on the back: not only was Shawaal instrumental in Pak-A’s success, but the tour itself was instrumental for her confidence. Indeed, the Shawaal Zulfiqar I saw batting with Nida Dar today was the Shawaal Zulfiqar we’ve been waiting for at the senior level.
In a way, Shawaal’s innings today was a metaphor for the start of her senior career. She started off unsteadily: her first ball, she nearly chopped on, and her second, a loud but unsuccessful LBW shout. She stumbled her way to 7(20) and looked rather uneasy, getting rushed at times, mistiming, and only showing rare glimpses of control. With the run-rate climbing and pressure mounting, it seemed a match-losing powerplay for Pakistan. A couple of overs later, Muneeba went for a desperate swing, miscued it, and got caught out in the deep, leaving the teenager alone at the crease at 15(28).
This was the 9th over. When the first wicket falls in the 9th over for Pakistan, it’s typically Bismah Maroof who walks out. But today, it was Nida Dar.
Nida Dar, who has been struggling for form in T20Is this year (14.5 average/94.6 SR before this game). Nida Dar, who chose not to send her experienced and trusted middle-overs anchor Bismah Maroof out to bat, and sent herself instead, the resident middle-overs aggressor, who (at her best) is the most fearsome batter Pakistan has ever produced. And as one expects from a mind like hers, she walked out with a plan.
She went up to Shawaal, and, in Shawaal’s words, said the following: “Ab bas khula khelein ge, boundary hasil karein ge. Bas ab rokna nahin hai. Bas khelna hai.” (Source)
Translation: “Now, we’re going to play freely and hit boundaries. We’re not going to stop. We’re just going to play.”
And everything changed. The OG aggressor, Lady Boom Boom, the captain of the Pakistan team, set Shawaal Zulfiqar free. After scoring 15 runs with just 2 fours off 28 deliveries, Shawaal hit 26 runs with 5 fours off just 14 deliveries, doubling her SR, finding gaps, and even going aerial. She got out trying to hit some more, but by then, with Nida’s guiding hand, she’d made up for her slow start. With a partnership of 51 off 25 balls, they had set up the stage beautifully for an Aliya Riaz special.
The second half of our innings was everything Pakistan fans could ever ask for and one that Shawaal Zulfiqar should be proud of. The start of her career in the senior side hasn’t been smooth sailing, much like the start of her innings today. But she more than made up for it in the end and even ended her innings in a way that epitomized the batter she is: aggressive innings-builder and chock-full of intent. The same is true, or will be, for her career. She may have struggled to make an impact versus South Africa and floundered in Hangzhou’s tough conditions at the Asian Games, but she was a massive part of Pakistan’s first-ever win versus New Zealand, that too in New Zealand. Her first game in SENA, and Shawaal walked off with her head held high. There will be many more moments like this. There will be many more wins like this. And Shawaal is likely to be at the helm for many of them.
Congratulations to Shawaal Zulfiqar, who went from playing U19 domestic cricket to playing and beating South Africa and New Zealand’s senior teams within a year.
To Shawaal Zulfiqar, the teenager on tour.