Coming Dutch……… Going Dutch!

By Afia Salam

That is in effect what the Pakistan Women's Cricket Control Association cricketers ended up doing during the recently concluded One Day International series against the Dutch team, which they won comprehensively. They had invited the Netherlands cricket team, and now that the Dutch women were coming, they had to go Dutch to play host to them.

As far as cricketing prowess was concerned, , they were not playing and winning against the strongest team in the world, but a team that is about at par with them…… though why the chauvinists/skeptics want to judge them on that basis is beyond comprehension…… look what happened to the Pak. team at the Lord's!. However, these lines are not just about the cricketing exploits of the women in flannels during the series against the Dutch………… those can be briefly described as under:

7 One day Internationals played. Pakistan won the first 4, Netherlands the last three. Captain of the Pakistan side, Shaiza Khan emerged as the best player of the series, having captured 22 wickets at 12.90 apiece. The Small Wonder" of the team, 13 year old Sajjida Shah topped the batting average by scoring 134 runs. Rival skipper, Pauline Te Beest was by far the best player from the opposition camp.

It was the manner in which this series finally materialized that makes for more interesting reading. From the time the Pakistani women cricketers have donned the flannels, they have had to face a variety of opposition……….. from the mullahs (as expected), from chauvinistic males who simply cannot figure out how and why a woman can do what a man does, and from rival factions trying to wrest control of the running of the game in the country…………. leading to court battles etc.

Not to be deterred, the group that had taken upon itself to fly the country's standard high kept working on its efforts to gain national and international recognition, and was rewarded for its dedication by gaining life affiliation with the governing body of the game, IWCC. Credentials in place, these ladies proceeded to build an infrastructure, and accumulate experience by calling teams to Pakistan and undertaking tours abroad.

Now, for better or for worse, it has to be admitted that money is the name of the game….. and somehow, this element they were not able to inject into their game plan. They were stuck in a chicken and egg situation wherein they had to ensure success in order to get the sponsors nodding, but success without the support of sponsorship was a difficult thing to come by.
This meant that for each venture, they had to dig into their own, personal pool of resources, which meant that they could not organize tour on a scale that would generate enough interest and success so as to attract potential players, audience and sponsors. Hats off to the girls who still kept on trying to raise the profile of the game though the holding of camps, establishment of ground and publication of a dedicated magazine, along side their cricketing activity, which was acknowledged at he highest level, bringing for three of their senior-most members, Shaiza, Sharmeen and Kiran, the membership of the prestigious MCC, and a chance to play in the first ever match.

For all the opposition and difficulties they have had to face, they could simply have latched on to this international affiliation…. but they were not about to abandon the cause of Pakistan women's cricket, and redoubled their efforts to promote the game in Pakistan, and planned to generate interest by holding a series of One Day Internationals and invited the Dutch team to visit.

Here, it must be acknowledged, that the PCB decided to remove the hurdles that it had put in their in the past, and agreed to offer them the National Stadium for the series….. which included two day/night matches. In Karachi, the media has always been supportive, guidance of former players like Hanif Mohammad, Waqar Hasan. This time, they were further helped through the assistance of Sikander Bakht, who urged, egged, coached the girls to victory in the series.

At the official level too, support and acknowledged was forthcoming, courtesy the enlightened Sindh Minister for Education, Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, and both the teams were even invited by the Governor, Mohammad Mian Soomro as a token of recognition of their efforts to promote the game. By and large, however, the series passed away placidly, especially as the promise from the official quarters about television coverage did not materialize.

Seemed that is what the entire sponsorship package hinged on, as the corporate bodies would have consented to dishing out money even if there was not a single soul inside the stadium, as long as they could get the TV camera to home in on their logo………. advertising hoardings etc….. after all that is what has been happening as far as 'men's' cricket is concerned… advertising revenues keep pouring in despite pathetic play and empty stadia.

However, even after having all this support in place, they were faced with the million dollar question…. how to cope with the expenses of the series. Hence began a round of frenetic activity wherein they not only had to put all the cricketing arrangements in place, they also had to run after sponsors convincing them not only of their credentials, their intent, but also the fact that it made good business sense to support them, and take them to the stage of critical mass after which they would be able to generate positive response. On the merit of their own performance.

Many promises later, just on the eve of the tour, they literally had to go Dutch to see that the series takes place, as it was a matter of the country's prestige. Except for the fact that the Sheraton Hotel made it possible for them to take care of the guest team in a proper manner, and their clothing and kit was taken care of, the rest of the expenses were, like so many times in the past, borne by the United Carpets Group of Companies, to which two of the team members, Shaiza and Sharmeen belong……. the reason why I call it going Dutch!


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