Sports

FairBreak-bound Sana Mir excited to share stage alongside ‘great group of people’

Sana Mir isn’t too sure if she still knows how to bowl a cricket ball, but the next fortnight will tell. The former Pakistan captain has come out of retirement to lead Sapphires at the FairBreak Invitational T20 competition and has temporarily swapped her commentator’s microphone for time in the middle, in the hope of inspiring a new generation of women’s players.

“From the very start, I loved the concept of FairBreak. Growing up in Pakistan, we didn’t have a lot of mentors and having mentors increases how you grow as a player. It’s been two years since I’ve played and this concept has brought me back,” Mir said at the captains’ press conference in Dubai, where she made clear her intention to offer herself as a role model to anyone who is interested.

“It’s a great satisfaction to be able to share whatever knowledge I have gained over the years, not only with players from my own country but with players from other countries. It’s great to be back but it has been tough. At one point I thought I forgot how to hold the ball but hopefully, I haven’t. The commentary was great, especially getting to spend time with people like Nasser Hussein and Lisa Sthalekar, that was amazing, but I look forward to playing again.”

Mir will lead a team that includes Australia’s, Elyse Villani, Jade Allen and Grace Harris, South Africa’s Shabnim Ismail, England’s Natasha Farrant, and Ireland’s Gaby Lewis and Kim Garth. There are also seven Associate players in her squad, as is the case with all the teams in the competition, which aims to bring together cricketers from 30 countries to increase playing opportunities across the women’s game.

It’s this unique blend that got Mir excited enough to compare her comeback to the feeling of waking up on Eid morning, with the same spirit of being part of something bigger than oneself.

“This is a great example of what sports can do. Sports can transcend boundaries and nationalities and that’s what we are seeing here,” Mir said. “We have a great mix of people from different cultures, faiths and nationalities and they are all together for one cause. It’s brilliant.”

Pakistan are well-represented at the tournament with Diana Baig, Aliya Riaz, Fatima Sana and Bismah Maroof involved. Maroof was due to lead the Spirit franchise but her stint has been delayed as she waits for a visa for her daughter, Fatima. Nicola Carey, the Australian allrounder, will lead the team instead. “I haven’t done a lot of captaincy, and I’m very aware of that. I’m happy to get as much input as I can,” Carey said.

“Today there are just one or two representatives from these Associate countries but going forward, we will have more.”

Sindhu Sriharsha

The other inexperienced skipper is USA’s Sindhu Sriharsha, who is the only captain from an Associate nation, and hopes to use the tournament for both personal and national gain.

“Having Mignon du Preez, Kathryn Bryce and Hayley Matthews in the team – there’s so much to learn for me as a leader in terms of how they approach their games,” Sriharsha said. “I am going to bring a third-person view to the game, being an outsider, or an Associate level leader who comes in and sees how they go about things. And I’ve already started to talk to them about what their domestic structure looks like, their grassroots level and what they have done over the years because in the USA we are trying to build and improve the number of players.”

Already, Sriharsha has “so many American cricketers who are writing to me saying ‘Can you please hook me up with them (Fairbreak). I want to be playing in this tournament in the next couple of years?’ And she doesn’t think it will be too long before they are.

“Today there are just one or two representatives from these Associate countries but going forward, we will have more. They will be coming over here and competing and challenging Full Member players.”

Carey, too, is in no doubt about that and believes the Full Member players have as much to gain from the experience as Associate cricketers. “It’s a really big learning curve for everyone. That’s what it’s all about, that whole education piece. I might catch up with Heather (Knight, who is in charge of the Barmy Army team) for some captaincy advice so this tournament is also good for players like us (Full Members).”

It’s not Knight with the first captaincy conundrum, though. That came from Tornadoes and West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor, who has seen the need to try and pin down a team early. “We have to use the training session to look at players and try to slot them into a side, but it’s going to be really hard to select an XI,” Taylor said.

Suzie Bates, who will lead Falcons, agrees. “Selection is the hardest thing – trying to give everyone an opportunity to perform where their strengths are and getting to know the players as quickly as possible,” she said.

Bates has already gotten to know some of her players and identified Bhutan’s Anju Gurung, a left-arm seamer, and the two Thai cricketers in her squad, Sornnarin Tippoch and Nannapat Koncharoenkai, as among those to watch, along with the team’s just-made-up celebration of crossed arms and flapping hands, to represent a Falcon salute. Taylor has a one-up on that because Baig, who is in her squad, has been practicing ‘the tornado’, a wicket-taking celebration that is certain to “bring the vibe.”

But it’s not all fun and feel-goods and the organisers expect friendships to give way to white-line fever once the tournament begins. “We understand how competitive they are. I am expecting very competitive cricket but also very skilful cricket,” Geoff Lawson, FairBreak’s director of cricket said.

“There’s a long list of players that have missed out, that we can’t fit into this tournament so the ones who are here know what they’re doing. I’m expecting some very exciting cricket.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent


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