India, Pakistan, Salman Khan, and a talented and adorable child actor. Bajrangi Bhaijaan was always going to be a hit, irrespective of how good a film it was. It already had all the ingredients for success, even before a centimetre of the film was actually shot. In fact, any story with India-Pakistan rhetoric immediately demands attention because of the weight of history associated with it.
Indian and Pakistani women’s teams do not carry the same weight though. Having played only six T20Is games between them — India having won five of them — fierce competition and fiery rivalry that the men’s sides share, is absent.
But that did not prevent the women’s team from bearing the brunt of security concerns surrounding the men. They say when elephants fight, the grass suffers. So it is when politician play their own games, the players suffer. When Pakistan’s participation in the WT20 was put into jeopardy by the Himachal Pradesh government’s sudden inability to provide security, it is easy to forget that the decision affected the women as well. Both men’s and women’s teams were held back in Pakistan, despite the fact that the Pakistani women were not playing in Himachal Pradesh at all.
As a result, they did not have time to play any warm up games. Despite that, Pakistan women almost pulled off a win against the higher-ranked West Indies. In the process, they lost a player but won the crowd. In another showing of how sports transcends boundaries of geography and the heart, the crowd in Chennai vociferously got behind Pakistan in their failed attempt to chase the Windies total of 103.
As Shahid Afridi pointed out, there is no shortage of fans for Pakistan cricketers in India. But the women are no strangers to the ire of Indian fanatics either. In the 2013 women’s World Cup that Mumbai hosted, Pakistan’s games had to be shifted out of the city after threats from the Shiv Sena. They subsequently shifted base to Cuttack, and every team that played against them had to fly there for their games. Not the best treatment a host should give to a team that had won their first ever T20I against India six months earlier.
“I believe this win is one of the high points in our careers. It will be a good advertisement for the sport back in Pakistan”, skipper Sana Mir had said at the time of their solitary win. It is unlikely that they will be able to pull off another victory in this edition though. In Delhi on Saturday, they will come up against an Indian team who are playing the most aggressive cricket they have ever played.
“When you have self-belief and rhythm, it’s just a matter of momentum and how you take it forward on a particular day,” said captain Mithali Raj, after India posted their highest T20I score against Bangladesh. The top order is in the form of their lives, and the Indian batters will now look to test their skills against the talented Pakistani spinners. With the Ferozshah Kotla track historically having favoured spinners, leg-spinner Poonam Yadav and left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad will be looking forward to the encounter as well.
Pakistan, meanwhile, will miss the services of Javeria Khan, who was hit on the jaw by a bouncer from West Indies fast bowler Shamilia Connell.
Javeria had collapsed and had to be stretchered off the ground and there were moments of concern. Fortunately, hospital reports indicated it was just a bruised jaw after the ball ricocheted off her right thumb. Her thumb though, was fractured, and she has been ruled out of the tournament. Her experience (she has played in all of Pakistan’s WT20 matches till date) at the top of the order will be sorely missed. That means that Bismah Mahroof (highest T20I run-scorer for Pakistan) will have even more responsibility on her shoulders, as well as skipper Sana Mir.
Pakistani spinners though will be looking forward to exploit any spin on offer at the Kotla, and strangle India the way they did the West Indies. Left-arm spinner Anam Amin took four wickets and the player of the match trophy in the last game, while opening the bowling. Though her effort was not enough to secure Pakistan a victory, she will be the key to the team’s fortunes against India.
The fact that the game is televised, and comes before the mouth-watering India versus Pakistan men’s game in Kolkata, will add both interest and context. The 19th of March, 2016, is not just a Saturday, it is not just any other holiday. It is India vs Pakistan day, and the Bajrangi Bhaijaan recipe is likely to work wonders again.