Though Australia are seen as the overwhelming favourites for gold medal in women’s T20 cricket at 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Sunday morning’s atmosphere at Edgbaston resembled the environment of Mumbai and Lahore combined in one when cross-border neighbours India and Pakistan rekindled their fierce rivalry.
Before the start of the multi-nation event, the organisers had said that the match between India and Pakistan has “really caught the interest” of the local public in Birmingham, which has a huge presence of Indian and Pakistani origin people.
The second Group A match of the respective teams was a crucial one: – India, despite having the upper hand against Australia, lost by three wickets. Pakistan, on the other hand, were also coming off a loss, a 15-run defeat from Barbados.
With no bilateral cricket happening between these two teams, a one-off meeting in events like Commonwealth Games and ICC tournaments is how fans from both nations have to be satisfied with. Despite the gloomy weather and rain delaying the toss, there were different hues of blue and green sported by fans in the stands.
Though Indian fans had more reasons to cheer as they coasted to an eight-wicket victory, players from both sides noticed the boisterous crowd support at Edgbaston. “It’s fun playing in front of a huge crowd, when some of them are cheering for you. I could hear some of the fans cheering my name on the boundary and that felt really good,” said all-rounder Sneh Rana, whose spell of 2-15 headlined an impressive Indian bowling show, after the match.
Opener and vice-captain Smriti Mandhana, who enthralled the crowd with an unbeaten 63 and sealed India’s eight-wicket win, agreed with Sneh’s views on the record crowd at Edgbaston reminding them of the spectators back home and urged supporters to come for India’s matches in England. After the Commonwealth Games, India will be playing three ODIs and as many T20Is against England.
“In the last few years, we have got a considerable amount of support from our fans. We all enjoy it when we play in front of a big crowd because it motivates you. Whenever there’s a catch taken, or a four or a six, the cheer is really special. I would like the fans to come out in big numbers for all our matches because it motivates the whole team. Our fans are amazing. Wherever we play, we feel at home.”
Pakistan wicketkeeper-batter Muneeba Ali Siddiqui, who top-scored with 32 off 30 balls, had words of praise for the full house crowd. “We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the vibes throughout the match. The crowd is really good, welcoming and supportive.”
Muneeba struggled to time her shots but soon found her grove with boundaries off Renuka Thakur and Meghna Singh. She felt a score about 120 on a hybrid pitch could have been great and was sad with her dismissal of chipping a simple catch back to Sneh off her own bowling. From there, Pakistan were swiftly bowled out for 99 in 18 overs per side match.
“My intention was to score in the powerplay. Some of the shots I played came off well so it was a pretty good start. My dismissal was really soft and disappointing. We thought 120-plus would be a good score, but 100 runs was difficult for the bowlers to defend on this kind of wicket.”
For Muneeba, who’s a left-handed opener, keeping while seeing Smriti play delightful shots all around the park was a nice adventure. “I always try to learn from the best players around the world – wicketkeeping helps me to do that. It was a really good experience.”
Sneh, the best bowler of India on the day with her slow pace and getting some lovely dip, turn and drift, was happy with her work in the match and reminded everyone that a match against Pakistan is just any other game for them.
She had been rested from India’s tour of Sri Lanka in late June and spent time at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. With her double strike of Muneeba and captain Bismah Maroof, she justified her selection at the expense of left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad.