Want to understand just how vital a cricketer is to her team? Simply see the results the team gathers in her absence. Or see, the contributions toward the team’s cause. The last that anyone saw Bismah Maroof wield the bat on the crease was 18 months back in ODIs and 16 months ago in T20Is.
In December 2019, before Bismah Maroof stepped back from the game, she was leading Pakistan on their tour to Malaysia, against an opponent beating whom is akin to being asked to turn a raging bull upside down whilst using bare hands.
Your chances of conquest are about as slim as making a trip down to the bottom of the ocean sans any diving equipment.
In that series, the Pakistani captain was in menacing form. Barring the only low-outing with the bat, Third ODI, her scores read- 69 off 94 (1st game) and 64 off 65 (2nd game).
Shrubsole, Brunt, Ecclestone all tried their best to keep the captain quiet, but runs continued to flow from a bat that knows little about being quiet.
Though, one thing was clear.
Top scoring for her team found little value or place in Bismah Maroof’s heart whose team was dismantled by the English on each occasion.
In 2019, the only T20 high the team experienced was when Pakistan beat Bangladesh in a series-clinching performance that yielded 70 unbeaten runs (2nd T20).
Since then, Pakistan have gone on to play ODIs against South Africa, which they lost producing underwhelming results. They’ve also played West Indies in ODIs, where they were hammered on every single occasion barring the fourth ODI. What didn’t help was being white-washed by Taylor’s girls in the three T20Is.
On every possible occasion, where a team led by an able mind and calm leader in Javeria Khan struggled, you wouldn’t be wrong in presuming Bismah Maroof would’ve watched the proceedings in pure dismay.
Perhaps padded up, with the bat in hand.
Not because she’d have dreaded only the sight of an ailing Pakistan, but more importantly, she’d have felt helpless having not been there to rescue a team her heart beats for, serving which gives her the true fulfilment of life.
Cricket, after all, is a sport the former captain got into at an early age, with single-minded focus, without deviating even barely for a second in her mind about doing something else.
Quite like India’s doyen of batting, Mithali Raj who got into the sport aged just fifteen, Bismah Maroof was barely in her mid-teens when she got into the professional sport, having never looked back since 2005.
What she’s garnered ever since are runs painfully shy of the 5,000 mark in international cricket, which includes 2,600 in ODIs alone.
What makes Bismah a leader incarnate is her willingness to step up when her team’s faced with duress.
Half a decade back, in Sharjah, the smiling leader produced what can be called Pakistan women’s desert storm, carving 99 runs off just 119 deliveries, whilst tackling a dangerous quintuplet including Ismail, Klaas, Kaap, Luus and van Niekerk.
Back then, she’d arrived at the crease when her team were 1 down for just 15 on the board. By the time she departed, Pakistan had put 216 on the board, which proved enough to dent the Proteas women.
If you make runs against a side like Ireland and Scotland, with all due respect, they’d say you had it easy.
However, if you defy an attacking as dazzling as South Africa, you’ll be addressed as something special. There’s little doubt where to place Maroof, who’s produced 25 fifties from 207 outings with the bat, which means a half-century in every eighth inning or so.
But what makes Bismah a tireless athlete is her dismay at knowing not what to do during idle time. What is it about, after all, she’s quipped.
In an interview to Pakistan’s Saleem Khaliq, in 2019, Bismah admitted, “I find it strange to rest at home, particularly when there’s no game on and I don’t particularly enjoy rest days.”
Though even if it’d have come down to a full-scale war, hypothetically speaking, the chances of Bismah returning with the bat in hand anytime soon would be remote for there’s nothing you can do whilst serving a maternity leave.
Except all one can do is to strengthen the resolve to return, whenever that is, with a sole ambition: to resuscitate a team that can do a lot better than it currently is.
The common narrative, if you speak of the men’s game, is that world cricket needs a strong West Indies. Though, in the women’s sphere, truth is, unless you are living under a rock- that world cricket needs a stronger Pakistan women’s side.
A team that has it all- raw talent, flashes of brilliance and vital experience to mount a staunch challenge to the big three- Australia, England, and India.
You cannot be under-performing when you have two amazing all rounders in Aliya Riaz and Nida Dar in the side. When you have someone like Diana Baig leading the pace attack, you have both swing and speed. Moreover, when you have a studious and patient batter in Javeria Khan, you cannot not outperform opponents.
Though the missing piece in the puzzle is Bismah and the moment she returns, which could well be a little over another year’s time, one would hope Pakistan to take top flight.
But in order to achieve that, it wouldn’t require flamboyant batting or slaying of bowlers with flair alone. The left-handers, they say, bring a sense of attractiveness to batting, which can often seem a dreary exercise of accumulating runs.
It’s not style that she lends to the game. What Bismah Maroof brings is a sense of reassurance to a team that can often seem vulnerable without her.
The calmness that can battle the storms, an early indication of which was evident in 2009, wherein she was part of the gold-medal winning team that defeated Bangladesh in the Asian Games, China.
It was under her captaincy, in October 2017, wherein Pakistan defeated the White Ferns for the very first time (3rd ODI).
More champagne-opening moments would soon follow. In March 2018, Bismah Maroof, not Sana Mir, led Pakistan to their first-and only- 3-nil clean sweep over Sri Lanka, the only second occasion where the team has enjoyed a clean sweep (featuring as many wins).
But the journey to the top can never be minus heartaches and setbacks. In the pinnacle of the T20 contests, the World T20, 2020, she broke her right thumb whilst competing against England, in Australia.
In the subsequent months, the careful grafter of runs underwent a sinus surgery that kept her away from the action.
And now as she watches an out of sorts team battle it hard without its giver of strength, there’s just one hope and one alone- an early return of a woman who’s achieved a lot at 30, not to forget 80 useful wickets through her tricky leg-breaks.
But the question with Bismah is this-
“If you are always in the spotlight, how do you make room for someone else?”
It’s when you refuse to hog the centre-stage, preferring instead to bring to focus the others without whom you’d never have a team but a cluster of individuals.
It’s under Bismah Maroof that the likes of Omaima Sohail, Muneeba Ali and Fatima Sana have prospered.
With some much more left to achieve, including the massive task of rebuilding a Pakistan that can make winning a habit, it’s hardly a doubt who’ll be the most important talent in one of sub-continental cricket’s forces to watch out for. The answer to the likes of a Stafanie Taylor, Meg Lanning, Mithali Raj, Suzie Bates and Heather Knight; the keeper of Pakistan’s flame, the holder of its bastion.