Certain dates are so deeply connected to the ethos of sports that we may never forget them regardless of how occupied we are with whatever it is we do. There’s great relevance to March 21 and one reckons, there’ll always be.
It was March 21 when arguably the greatest-ever Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna was born. March 21, 1947 also marks the cricketing debut of Bert Sutcliffe, one of the finest to have ever wielded the willow for New Zealand in Test cricket.
It is also the birth anniversary of the destroyer of South Africa’s hopes in the ICC 2015 World Cup semi-finals, Grant Elliott.
But for generations hence, March 21 of 2022 will be remembered- and fondly so- by the fan of the women’s game. It will signal, specifically for Pakistani cricket fans, the date where their beloved team ended what was a miserable 18-match losing streak in the ODI world cup contests.
But to the purist, i.e., a dying breed to which cricket’s appeal is universal and cannot be confined in gender compartments, March 21 will always be connected to a certain Nida Dar.
That Nida Dar who symbolizes many lives in one; the destroyer of batters’ confidence, the partnership breaker, the jolter of neatly-constructed stands, the giver of hope to her team and ultimately, the unifier of Pakistan women’s cricket.
And it is what Nida Dar did on March 21, 2022 that will forever be enshrined in record books with pomp and style.
The last that Pakistan ever won an ODI in Women’s world cups was back in 2009, which was against Sri Lanka. A cricketing event so far back in time that it helps to just think that back then Sachin and Dravid were active cricketers, T20Is had only been born, the IPL was in just its second season, Sana Mir, still very much a legend in the making with there being nothing called the PSL.
But it took Nida Dar a single, backbreaking spell against the dangerous West Indies women at Hamilton to turn what had, thus far, been a massive cricketing anomaly into a record-breaking performance.
In claiming a match-winning, confidence-boosting 4 for 10 off just four overs, Nida Dar revived Pakistan, jolted the West Indies and became the reason of the biggest smile for fans back home in a tournament where her team was bereft of any.
In so doing, she also claimed the best-bowling performance for a Pakistani bowler in a Women’s World cup.
But central to the Gujranwala-born’s success in the contest against the Windies women was that it took her merely four overs to change the complexion of a game that could have gone simply anyone’s way.
Implicit in her big-match success was the key wicket of Dottin. You don’t get to send back legends of the game that early.
An excellent return catch that left the dashing right-hander stumped about whether to lean forwards or attempt a stroke off the back-foot underpinned the way the West Indians crumbled.
Next big claim was the fairly dependable Shemaine Campbelle, who prior to her lowly outing versus Pakistan, had hit two fifties in a space of four innings but the damage had been done a bit earlier with Dottin, the top scorer, returning for 27.
That Nida Dar claimed the most prized, arguably the most dangerous of all Caribbean wickets off her first ball of the night was reason enough to bet big on her.
Those who’d have, from the dark underbelly of punting tables in Asia to the more organised set ups in a plush London bar or even in New York’s soho would’ve earned a sterling return on the moolah invested.
So utterly hapless did the Windies scorecard become in the end, the team toppling for 89 for 7 in the rain-hit 20 overs that Dar wasn’t even needed to bat.
Her team perhaps thanking their stars and the brightest in their line-up, the fun-loving 35-year-old that they didn’t have that many to chase at the back of Dar’s great spell.
In the aftermath of a contest, which wasn’t one but a one-sided affair saw Dar take to the mic to explain what spurred her.
Typical of the responsible, forward-looking member in a team functioning on a fine balance of youth and experience, Dar exclaimed, “I figured someone senior in the team had to step forward and contribute; so I did.”
What adds a tinge of excitement to Nida Dar’s craft, built diligently on bowling tight spells, is the not-in-your-face or pronounced celebrations.
Once she’s hunted a prey, she stands there still, almost motionless with nothing but her arms stretched out. There’s contentment on the face that offers little, if not a vague, smile. Others rush to her but the central tenet that’s just worked a wonder for Pakistan just stands there perhaps bathing in the comfort of contributing to her team’s cause.
It’s a restrained celebration but one that mirrors the exploits of Nida Dar’s favourite cricketer- Shahid Afridi, one who inspired her to take to Cricket.
Fact is, had the Tom Cruise of Pakistan cricket watched the Nida-powered game live or if not, then the highlights, even he’d stand in admiration and who knows- would’ve even been compelled to celebrate just like how Nida Dar does.
What lies ahead is a cracker of a contest against New Zealand. Both teams must win to keep their hopes alive. Realistically, with several lost chances, Pakistan would contest for salvaging something in a tournament where very little has gone their way. But in order to excel and give themselves a real chance up against a line-up that has Sciver, Brunt, Wyatt, Beaumont and Cross, to name a few- they’d look toward the one whose body language is that of a winner and whose cricket reaffirms the notion that never say never, when it’s Pakistan in the picture.