Too Good to be True, Too Dreamy to be Real
Muneeba Ali jumping over Fatima Sana, both of them literally rolling over in joy. Najiha rushing over to hug them. Tears in Nida’s eyes. It’s all happening. And even though you’ve watched the clip over a dozen times now, it still looks too good to be true, too dreamy to be real.
It’s true. Pakistan have won. They have beaten New Zealand in New Zealand. It sounds like a dream. The scorecards look like a dream. And there was no way to legally watch it in the country in real time. So, should the noise be believed? Yes, the outsiders must be believed. Social media must be believed. The not-so-legal ways must be believed. Pakistan have won.
Around three months ago, when this team had whitewashed South Africa Women in front of the home crowd, you had thought this was it. This was the best thing that could have happened this year. This was your dream come true. The team management had shown flexibility by tweaking the batting order. The captain had shown her willingness to give youngsters chances by playing Shawaal in all three T20Is. And they had managed to beat the finalists of the T20 World Cup at home.
But here they were again. Rejoicing and celebrating a series win in New Zealand and becoming only the second team ever to have won a bilateral series against New Zealand in New Zealand and winning two consecutive T20Is in a row in New Zealand when no other Asian team had ever even won one.
Pakistan had arrived in New Zealand for this series on the back of a forgettable campaign at the Asian Games and a series loss to Bangladesh in Bangladesh. Fatima Sana, their premier fast bowler, was just returning from an injury and wasn’t showing great signs in the practice games. The playing eleven was still being experimented with. They were still not sure of who they wanted to open with. Shawaal, who had been sent back to the A team for the emerging teams’ series after her not-so-impressive performances in the South Africa series, had been called back, courtesy of her match-winning performances for the A side. Pakistan were still majorly reliant on their spinners to win them games, and New Zealand was a place that wasn’t the best suited to their strength.
But Nida Dar’s women had dared to dream. The hard yards were put in practice. Batting against pace was especially paid attention to. The part-time pacers were made to practice bowling in the nets. And then some bold decisions were made. After repeatedly trying out Sidra Amin in the opening slot in hopes she could transform her ODI success into T20Is by adjusting her game accordingly, she had been rested. Despite showing signs of improvement in her T20 game in the South Africa series, she had been benched. A pivotal decision was made to bring Shawaal back to open with Muneeba. But even more crucial decisions were made during the game when Nida Dar walked out to bat herself at a position Bismah normally does and put up a 51-run match-winning partnership off 25 balls with Shawaal.
As a result, fortune had favored the brave. Fatima Sana bowled the spell of her career in the first T20I to restrict New Zealand to a chaseable total before the batters arrived prepared for the task. Young Shawaal, who had struggled to find rhythm early on in her innings, also found her footing once the captain joined her at the crease. Bismah then did what she does best – hold it from one end while Aliya finished it off.
The 2nd T20I was powered by the high of the first win and fueled by the collective hunger for another historic moment. Pakistan were put to bat first this time. Muneeba set the tone up top, and Aliya, once again, came in clutch with her cameo of 32* off 22 that helped Pakistan set up their highest T20I total ever against New Zealand.
A defendable total on the board meant the bowlers were already fired up, and with the right support from the fielders, Pakistan managed to defend their total and win by 10 runs. The hero of the first game, Fatima Sana, once again picked up a three-wicket haul, giving just 22 runs in the process.
Pakistan had, for the first time ever, beaten New Zealand Women in a series. After becoming the first Asian team ever to win a T20I in New Zealand in just their second-ever T20I in the country, they had now bettered their own record in the next game. This series win also marked their first-ever T20I series victory outside Asia and Ireland and their first T20I series win outside of home since October 2018.
There is still one game to go in the series. Who knows what is going to happen in that game. No matter which way the result goes in the third T20I, though, the series has been won. History has been written, headlines have been made, and heads have, once again, turned. When most of their country people back home snoozed, dreaming of better days, eleven women in a faraway land had created for themselves a reality better than dreams. On the back of a management staff that has been repeatedly termed as ‘temporary,’ the team has yet again left another permanent mark.