We live in a world where children may well learn ideological division before they learn the arithmetical version. And with today’s frenzy driven media, one of the first division they will encounter is India-Pakistan.
Yet again, as an India-Pakistan game approaches, the clamour in the media has risen. The Women’s World Cup 2017 encounter is being hyped up as a chance for Mithali Raj’s girls to avenge the loss Virat Kohli’s boys were handed in the Champions Trophy final. But step back, try to take a bird’s eye view, and you will find that there are similarities hidden in the need to see differences. In this increasingly polarised world, sport still retains some power of unification.
Players from both countries have extraordinary stories of rising against the odds. All 30 women are trailblazers in their own way, whether it is Nuzhat Parween’s rise from the obscurity of Singrauli, or Nahida Khan’s journey despite the altitude and attitudes of Quetta. But it is in their captains where the similarities are strongest.
Mithali Raj – along with Jhulan Goswami – has been the face of Indian women’s cricket for the past decade. She led the team to their first-ever World Cup final in 2005, in what was her first full series as captain. She has two away Test series wins against England on her resume, besides a clutch of ODI batting records. She recently became only the third woman to lead her country in more than 100 ODIs. In short, she is a Legend of the game, with a capital L. There is no better example than the fact that a number of players in the Indian team have grown up idolising her.
Sana Mir has been to Pakistani cricket much that the same that Raj has been to Indian cricket. She played in Pakistan’s first-ever game against India, in 2005, the year that marked a revival of women’s cricket in Pakistan, thanks to the PCB taking over the administration of the game. An off-spinning all rounder, and one of only seven players with a double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in ODIs. She became captain in 2009, and since then, she has led the team to a landmark Asian Games Gold in 2010, and first ever ODI series win against Sri Lanka and T20 series win against South Africa. The feathers in her cap though, are her two T20 wins against India, the last coming in the World T20 2016.
While Raj has inspired the next generation through the scale of her achievements, Mir has taken a more hands on approach to shaping the players around her. And unlike Raj, who had Goswami and a number of experienced players in her side, Mir’s efforts have been more single handed. Her twitter profile sums up her life mission. “I dream to take Pakistan further in women’s cricket and take women’s cricket further in Pakistan.” And she has been the guiding force in their team, even at the cost of her own all round talents.
“My role in the team was to develop players”, she said on the eve of the tournament. “For that I never had fixed number (in the batting order) for myself. I had to rotate other batters around me. I could have definitely done better, but being a captain I never had a proper number for myself.”
India and Pakistan are also the only two teams in the World Cup who employ split captaincy in the two different formats. After a poor WT20, where India crashed out in the first round, Harmanpreet Kaur was appointed captain of the T20 side. For Pakistan, the decision came from Mir herself, also after the WT20. “It was my personal decision, to have that time for the (next) captain to be groomed so that at the time I leave there is no vacuum (sic)”, she said. Bismah Mahroof, who has played more than 90 ODIs, was appointed Pakistan’s T20 skipper.
Raj and Mir are also on the cusp of personal milestones. Raj has already broken two world records in this World Cup, and is within sight of the biggest one of all. She needs 95 more runs to surpass Charlotte Edwards as the world’s leading run scorer in ODIs. For Mir, the landmark is more personal; she is three games away from being the first Pakistani female with 100 ODI caps.
Sunday’s game is all the more special, for it could be the last time these two face- off in a World Cup. Mir is 31, Raj 34. When asked whether she might play another World Cup, Mir hinted towards the negative. “It seems to be (my last World Cup), at the moment, but I can’t say for sure.” Raj meanwhile, was more certain of her future. “This would be my last one-day World Cup”, she said. “In all practicality I won’t be a part of the squad in four years.”
Every fan will wear their national colours with pride on the World Cup’s super Sunday. As for the match, India go in as the in-form team and Pakistan have had two tough losses. The game itself might not be the most competitive; but two players, each monoliths for the sport in Asia, might meet on this stage for the last time.
It is an occasion for both sides to celebrate, together.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the series ‘Cricket How To’ on YouTube, and tweets @SnehalPradhan