Perhaps the number of times one may have heard there’s never a dull day with Pakistan in the field is equal to the number of drops in the Arabian ocean. There’s a sense of energy hitherto unseen about the way the Pakistanis contest in a game.
While our favourite adjective for describing them has been ‘unpredictable,’ the same cliched expression used time and again to describe the West Indians, truth is Pakistan can be capricious and volatile with both bat and ball.
They’re the antithesis of boring. Seldom holding back. Always on the frontfoot, whether in technique or in emotions.
But at the moment, the women’s team is undergoing an important period of transformation. The iconic Sana Mir is a former cricketer today, no longer around in the field.
Moreover, Asmavia Iqbal retired a while back.
Bismah Maroof has stepped back for a bit. When does she return, we don’t know.
Whether the great Nain Abidi returns to the field soon is something none can tell yet.
And conjecture will serve little.
The old guards aren’t around to navigate a team facing perhaps its toughest phase of rebuilding.
It’s a side that is yet to come into its own and rise to the heights it so seems capable of scaling.
But on Javeria Khan’s watch, Karachi’s finest export to the women’s game, the team seems safe.
It appears capable of creating magic in the field.
And well over half a decade ago, Javeria Khan served an important reminder- that just how important is an individual in a team-based sport.
Sadly, the Sri Lankans were at the receiving end of the lesson that Pakistan’s bedrock of batting served with daring and application.
It was Sharjah, January 13, 2015. Pakistan entered the game relaxed like a college-goer knowing that the university lectures had been cancelled for a whole fortnight.
They’d smashed Chamari Atapattu’s side in two consecutive games.
But something special was on offer in the final game of the series.
Batting first, the Lankans scored a competitive 242, their highest team total in the series.
In walked Marina Iqbal along with Javeria Khan, although the former scored just 22. The Mir-led side’s trump batter Bismah departed after batting for six overs.
But someone was in the middle, composed and focused akin to a tireless archer, ready for the kill.
Javeria Khan carried her bat well into the end, sticking to the crease until the 48th over.
Of the 284 deliveries that her Pakistan took to chase down what Lanka had bravely mustered, Javeria Khan faced 141 alone.
That’s nearly half the deliveries the Lankans bowled in all to disturb her Pakistan’s focus.
She fired more than half of her team’s score, striking 133 beautifully crafted runs, an inning laced with 12 boundaries.
But there was more to the occasion than many would’ve thought.
To this day, it remains Pakistan women’s highest run-chase in an ODI.
That the victory came at the behest of a fine ton wasn’t perhaps as important as noting the fact that the woman-of-the-moment had scored her maiden century.
Moreover, it wasn’t a flash in a pan occurrence from one of Pakistan’s finest willow-wielders.
Javeria Khan sticks to the crease long enough for bowlers to wane out.
To a generation that remembers Sachin’s hundred 100s, the fact that the highest-test score by an individual belongs to Brian Lara, as also the fact that it’s the Australian women who’ve overtaken even the men in creating the longest winning streak in ODI cricket, how about remembering the world record Javeria Khan has?
No other Pakistani batter- and they first played an ODI vs the White Ferns in 1997- in the two and a half decade journey has played 47 consecutive innings without getting out for naught.
Make no mistake for Pakistan have produced legendary batters.
It’s the land that produced Kiran Baluch, who to this day, holds the highest-individual Test score by a Pak woman: her 242 versus the Windies, 2003.
It’s a country where Nain Abidi lorded headlines for scoring the first-ever ODI century by a Pakistani woman.
But it’s the quiet and composed Javeria Khan, a creature that doesn’t operate in loud sound bytes who’s emerged as the Ms consistent for a side that could really apply more consistency to its white-ball exploits.
From October 4, 2015 until January 26, 2021, she went 47 innings without ever getting out for a duck.
But it’s not just the ODIs where Javeria has impressed, a dedicated contender who’s thus far represented Pakistan proudly in no fewer than 208 international appearances.
After a lowly campaign in the 2017 ODI world cup, wherein Pakistan lost each of their seven games, sadly posting a total of over 200 on just two occasions with Javeria managing just 127 runs (6 innings), she bounced back strongly in the 2018 World T20.
In the Caribbean, after two low scores against India and Australia, from which she collected just 26, Javeria Khan trounced Ireland courtesy a 74 off 52.
Walking into bat with Pakistan one down for sixteen, she’d carry her bat and would strike 11 fours as Lucy O Reilly, Laura Delany, and Clare Shillington were found staring cluelessly around.
There were hits straight back over the bowlers’ head as were pristinely timed square cuts that had Ireland running around for answers. The leg spinners weren’t spared either as Javeria Khan would dance down the track to hit over mid-off and at times, over cover with glee.
This would be the only contest Pakistan would win, having lost three in the series and could anything be better than Javeria reaching her personal best T20 score?
Every team needs a hitter, an anchor as well as a hard grafter. Maybe that’s why a Hayden will be valued just as much as a Gayle and ditto for Chanderpaul.
In an age consumed by wham-bam big hits, perhaps it’s time to redirect our focus on those who can repair an inning and deliver under pressure.
For the Proteas Women, Mignon du Preez digs in during tough times. Windies have Stafanie who can both hit and build an inning. India have Deepti Sharma while Australia have plenty such as Rachael Haynes and Beth Mooney.
But Pakistan, despite not being at their consistent best, of late, have in Javeria Khan someone who can guide them to safety when there are high tides.
The formats might have changed today and there might be more impetus than before on the entertainment-quotient, but that’s precisely also where there’s this need to focus just as hard on the painfully-correct tedium of applying oneself and backing one’s technique.
Javeria exemplifies this dutifully just like she did earlier this year, saving her team from embarrassment yet again in the 3rd and final T20, at Durban.
Opening once again, she carried her bat through to score a 56 against an Ismail, Kapp, and Klaas-led attack. The final game was won by Pakistan and the peril danger of a whitewash was avoided.
Truth be told, in talents like Aliyah Riaz, Diana Baig, Muneeba Ali and Nida Dar- the sub-continental side seem a unit you’d consider formidable without any reasonable doubt.
But the moment you put Javeria Khan at the heart of a promising line-up, there’s that added strength akin to what one finds in Gotham city with the caped crusader taking guard.
May that always be the case for a team that’s just as entertaining as it is exhilarating.
Happy 33rd to the watchful protector of Pakistan.