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October 29, 2009

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Pakistan greats can help us, says Mir

Pakistan women's team captain could do with a little bit of support from her male counterparts.

Sana Mir says that some of the former Pakistan players should find time for them.

"There is no interaction with them (men's team) at all. It would be nice to call on the experience of former players like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis," says Mir.

The 23-year-old university student was in Shanghai recently for the Cricket Sixes tournament where she led a Zaheer Abbas Cricket Academy side to victory in the women's Twenty20 competition.

"I would like them and some other senior players to take some interest in our game. We need some kind of interaction with them as we don't have many matches with no teams willing to visit Pakistan now. We can learn from their experiences," Mir says. She is however quick to add that she wouldn't want to be in their shoes who enjoy a God-like status in the cricket-obsessed nation.

"They are treated like heroes at one moment and thrashed the next day. In that respect we are lucky."

Pakistan captain Younis Khan recently offered to resign over match-fixing allegations after defeats in the Champions Trophy. The allegations came despite guiding his side to the ICC Twenty20 World Cup title in England in June. Khan has since then withdrawn his resignation.

Pakistani women have wielded the willow since the eighties but deep-rooted cultural reservations have impeded their growth. But the "girls in green' struck it big earlier this year after qualifying for two major international events ? the ICC World Cup and the Twenty20 World Cup.

Striking gold

It was akin to striking gold as they were put on a payroll for the first time - earning salaries by simply playing the game they love. It could just be the momentum for change they have been harking for decades.

But the road to recognition may still be a distant dream.

"It is only two months since they have started paying us," says Mir, who captained the Pakistan Twenty20 side at the ICC World Cup in England in June. "We are lagging far behind other playing nations and lot of work still needs to be done before we are up there with the best."

Mir started playing for Pakistan at the age of 19 in 2005. She has donned her country's colors in 31 internationals, taking 31 wickets, notably a three-wicket haul against India this year. She was named the Player of the Tournament at the ICC World Cup qualifiers in 2008.

An accomplished allrounder, Mir was fortunate to have the full support of her family as she got hooked on to the game very early in life.

"I would join my 9-year-old elder brother and his friends when they played street cricket since I was 4-5 years old. We didn't have any coaches but it was all fun," says Mir.

That fun turned into electrifying passion for the game as she enrolled at the Zaheer Abbas academy four years ago to hone her skills. It is the only academy in Karachi that trains girls from their teenage years well into their twenties alongside their school and university education.?

"My father and my brother wanted me to play cricket; my mother was also supportive. In that sense I am very lucky," admits Mir, aware of the obstacles other members in the team have to deal with.

In a country where cricket binds a nation together, conservative and cultural elements have frowned at the idea of women playing any sports. Only a few years ago men were banned from stadium that was the venue for an international women's match.

"(But) things started to change when the Pakistan Cricket Board took over the reigns of the women's cricket in 2005. Parents are more forthcoming now after we qualified for the 2007 World Cup. They can see that their daughters are safe and permit them to attend the month- or two-month long camps. They can see the results for themselves?"

Mir also wants the International Cricket Council to wade in and promote the women's version of the game in her country.

"The ICC can help. We need more television coverage of women's matches. Once people see and realize that we can do better, things will slowly fall into place."

But without administrative support and sponsors all this is bound to fail, says Ayesha Qureshi, who is the representative of the women's wing of the Pakistan Cricket Board and a Level 1 coach herself.?

"There is no support at all. Most of the players are students. We have a dentist, a Masters graduate, a taekwondo representative, an economics major? They are all in the early 20s. By the time they are 24-25, they are under pressure to get married. And we lose them for good."

In fact, with the average age of squad being 23-24 years, it is often a youth side that takes on established players like Australia and England.

"Give them some money to take home," says Qureshi, labeling the 10,000 Pakistani rupees (US$120) - that is paid for by a local bank - as peanuts. "We don't get any support, we don't get any sponsors. These girls have the talent to go far. They can achieve success. They have some exposure, and most importantly, they have the education behind them."


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