The Moon and the Stars Stand Witness to a Remaking
Presented with another chance to follow the script or the opportunity to rewrite it, Pakistan Women choose to do the latter.
It is the Asia Cup 2022 semifinal against Sri Lanka. Pakistan need 16 off 17 with seven wickets in hand. Nida Dar and Bismah Maroof are set on the crease. No worries, they should get there. Except they don’t. 17 deliveries later, Nida is on her knees, head hung low. Aliya is biting her lips, holding back a sob. Bismah is on the bench – still, too stunned to speak, too shook to move. They have fallen short by 1 run.
T20 World Cup 2023. The last time they met their arch-rivals before this, they emerged victorious. The confidence is high. India need 41 off 24 deliveries. Not entirely impossible. But there is a good gap and it is increasing, Pakistan must cash in on it. And Richa had almost gotten out if not for her review. The batter should be under pressure, of course. Except she is not. A flurry of boundaries and the game is done with an over to spare.
The same T20 World Cup. A target of 117 by the West Indies. That is so chase-able. They will get there. Or maybe not. Too many hiccups in between. But it is okay. Aliya is there. And they have six wickets in hand. Boundary, a single then two consecutive boundaries! 5 needed off 2 now. Another boundary maybe from Aliya? A hat trick of boundaries sounds nice. Except she is out the next ball. The last ball is a leg-bye. The dugout is silent.
Almost. Nearly. Just about. Quite but not quite. The same script.
Fast forward to seven months later.
Eyes on the ball. Focused. She looks fierce when the bat is swung hard. The ball goes up in the air, the fielder has no clue where it will land and the ball rushes away for four. The batters have already run one by the time it does. Pakistan needed one to win on the last ball, they run that and also manage a boundary. Exhilarated, the batter tosses her bat in the air and runs. She wants to get rid of her gloves too. She just wants to be free. She is free. Free from the shackles of the past. Free from the curse. The crowd is chanting her name. Aliya Riaz is in tears, tears of joy.
The dugout sprints to the field. They hadn’t moved till they were sure the game was won. They had been still in anticipation, in fear and in nervousness. But they are racing to the middle now. Everybody wants to hug Aliya. Everybody wants to scream with her and let the ghosts of the past free. It has happened. Finally, it has happened. After feeling like an impossible task, after repeated failures, after repeated losses in games they should have won, Pakistan are over the line. The line that felt forbidden has been crossed.
Two days later, same ground, same series, they need 53 off 36. Sure, the ever reliable Bismah just got out but Sidra is also set and she is still there. Except one boundary later, she is gone. The equation is 49 off 34 when Aliya joins Muneeba at the center. Gettable. And Aliya won them the last game. But there is a history, a past that’s harrowing. It is starting to come back. The what-ifs. The doubts. Not in Aliya or Muneeba’s minds though. They have little memories of the older past and a lot of the recent past – two days ago. So they are on a mission. Mission: finish this off. And they do. There are fours and there are sixes and there is a determined control with which this is happening. Pakistan need 1 off 6 balls at the end. They get 6 off 1. Aliya hugs Muneeba and her hands go up in prayer. She has done it again. After all those times of not being able to do it, she has done it twice. In a row. The dugout is cheering, the series is won.
24 hours later, it is the third T20I. The target is surprisingly the same as the first two games. However, it is South Africa that is chasing now. Something about games favoring chasing teams. They need 27 off 18 with seven wickets in hand and a set Wolvaardt batting on 69. Should be a cruise from hereon. Except the Pakistan spinners have other plans. They grow the gap. And Sadia gets Wolvaardt in the 19th over courtesy Fatima Sana’s incredible catch under pressure. 13 needed off 6 in the last over. Sure, Pakistan won the last two games under pressure but this is different. They won those with the bat. Can they do it with the ball? Diana is bowling the last over. Opposition has not had any difficulty playing pacers. And the second ball of the over is a no ball. Pakistan collapsing under pressure again? 9 off 5 now. The free hit doesn’t bring any runs. So doesn’t the ball after it. South Africa are panicking but Diana is smart and Fatima Sana has quick arms. Fourth legal delivery of the over – they run Tucker out. 8 off 2. Second last delivery – no run. Last delivery – one run. Yes, they can do it with the ball too.
They have done it. Not once. Not twice. But thrice. In a row. And they have done it to complete a whitewash over a team that only recently played the final of the T20 World Cup – the tournament this side could only manage one win in. And they have done it at home. In front of the home crowd. In front of their families. Under the lights, in the center of the city. And the moon and the stars have stood witness.
There is a rush of green to the center. It is a group hug. There are laughs, there are high-fives, there are jumps and there are jubilant screams. And somewhere in between those celebrations – fears are countered, nightmares are forgotten and demons are buried.
When the Girls in Green walk out of the ground that night, they do with rejuvenated spirits. The girls who pose for a memorable picture with the trophy in the dressing room have reignited beliefs in their abilities and it shows in the way their eyes shine and the sense of relief that reflects in the big grins on their faces. In everything that has happened in those 119 or so overs in the first few days of September, a past is left behind, the present is celebrated and a future is dreamed. It is historic. Everything about it. The tour, the results and the manner the results have come, everything is going down in history.
The August leading up to this September in Karachi was cooler than usual. Everybody thought so. Everybody felt so. It felt a little different. It was a little different. Something was brewing. The winds knew. And now the world does.