Matchwinner Fatima Sana wants to stand up in crunch moments for Pakistan

Fatima Sana has been in great form for Pakistan of late. © Getty Images

Fatima Sana first played international cricket for Pakistan in May 2019. Since then, she has gone on to be the ICC’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year for 2021 and also become one of Pakistan’s biggest match winners.

Fatima’s Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in ODIs since her debut and also played her first ODI World Cup earlier this year.

The tournament was a challenging experience for Pakistan, who won only one of their seven matches. Fatima picked seven wickets but her average of 40.42 and economy rate of 5.62 were on the higher side.

Fatima, though, only chooses to look at the positives. “The World Cup experience was very good for me. It was the first time that I was playing an ICC event. I learnt a lot as I got to play against the world’s best players,” she says.

While the on field experience had its share of challenges, she picks a couple of non-match moments as the highlights from the campaign.

“When Alyssa Healy came up to me and praised me after our match against Australia, I felt really good and it motivated me a lot. That’s one of my favourite memories. Her and Anya Shrubsole had also praised me on Twitter after our match against West Indies and I remember that very fondly,” she says.

Fatima was a key contributor in Pakistan’s win against West Indies, giving away just 14 runs in her four overs in a match reduced to 20 overs and taking the crucial wicket of Hayley Matthews, West Indies’ form player in the tournament.

When Pakistan played next after the World Cup – against Sri Lanka in three T20Is and three ODIs – Fatima was back to her best, picking eight wickets in the three ODIs and topping the wicket charts for the series.

The series also marked the first occasion of Fatima playing in front of a crowd in Pakistan. The 20-year old, who hails from Karachi, said playing in her home city made the experience even more memorable.

“The experience was very special because I was playing international cricket in front of a home crowd for the first time. They were not just supporting us but also supporting Sri Lanka and applauding good cricket.

“I played in my city for the first time and that was great. It felt good to represent Pakistan and see my friends and family in the stands. Our only goal was to play as a team. We had a tough time at the World Cup and took a lot of learnings from that tournament. We decided that we want to start from scratch and do well in the new cycle,” she says.

Fatima Sana

Fatima Sana is the leading wicket-taker for Pakistan in ODIs since her debut. © Getty Images

Between the World Cup and the series against Sri Lanka, Fatima was a part of the Barmy Army team at the inaugural FairBreak Invitational T20 tournament. She says the experience of playing in the same team as England captain Heather Knight, Deandra Dottin and Laura Wolvaardt taught her a lot.

I benefited immensely from playing in the FairBreak Invitational. I observed the best players in the world and their routines closely and I tried to incorporate the same in my game. I applied those against Sri Lanka and it helped me a lot. I spoke a lot to Heather Knight, Deandra Dottin and Laura Wolvaardt and they guided me a lot. My relationship with them is really good.

The series against Sri Lanka was a part of the ICC Women’s Championship for the next World Cup cycle and Pakistan made a good start winning it 2-1. They also blanked Sri Lanka 3-0 in the T20Is to have the ideal build up to the Commonwealth Games. Fatima puts their success down to having a good mix of players.

“If a team has a lot of youngsters and a two-three experienced players, it can be a very good combination and our team has that currently,” she says.

Fatima’s new ball partnership with the fellow pacer, Diana Baig, has been crucial for Pakistan, who have traditionally been a spin heavy side. Fatima says they are very close off the field too.

“She is like an elder sister. I always go and talk to her freely because it is very important to have a good understanding with your bowling partner. Whenever I have a bad time, she comes and talks to me. We always talk to each other about our mistakes and how we can improve,” she says.

She picks the match against South Africa at the World Cup to give an insight into how they plan their spells.

“The wickets were quite pacer friendly at the World Cup in New Zealand. During the match against South Africa, both of us were on the attack. We decided to bowl a lot of dot balls. Both of us bowled a maiden over and I got a wicket to in my over. So I was telling her how her building the pressure helped me and vice versa,” she says.

Fatima picked 3-43 in that match and Diana bowled economically as well, giving away just 23 runs in her six overs as Pakistan reduced South Africa to 223, only to fall short by seven runs in the chase.

Pakistan’s performance in the last major tournament they took part in was underwhelming but they are looking to give a better account of themselves at the commonwealth Games, the next major tournament they’ll be a part of.

“We will take it one match at a time and try to win every match. Our aim is to put up a good fight,” says Fatima.

She is particularly excited about getting to show her wares against World Champions Australia again. “I want to get every batter that I play against out. Australia are the world’s best team and the world champions, so I’m very excited to play against them again after the World Cup.”

Fatima is also looking forward to the prospect of playing for the first time in England, having watched cricketing action from the country since her childhood.

“All my favourite pacers are from England. I have always watched their bowlers. I am a big fan of James Anderson and I have watched him since my childhood, so I have seen how the English pitches behave closely. I’ll try to apply those observations when I play there for the first time,” she says.

Having previously expressed the desire to be the fastest bowler in the world, Fatima has now set her sights on overtaking some of the fastest bowlers in the world on the speed charts rather than targeting a specific speed. “There are quite a few bowlers who I want to bowl faster than. I am working on increasing my pace,” she says.

The Pakistan squad for the Commonwealth Games has a younger look and feel to it, with no place for veterans Javeria Khan and Nahida Khan. At 20, Fatima is one of the youngest members of the team alongwith 21-year old Tuba Hassan, who was the ICC Player of the Month for May, an achievement Fatima terms as inspiring.

“We feel very happy whenever someone from our team gets recognised by the ICC. Tuba was the Player of the Series in her very first series and she will derive a lot of confidence from that success. Tuba Hassan and Ayesha Naseem are really exciting youngsters and I really enjoy playing with them,” she says.

She tips 17-year old Ayesha and Tuba as the Pakistan players to watch out for at the Commonwealth Games, saying, “A lot of people have not watched or played against Ayesha Naseem. She is an unknown quantity and can be a big matchwinner for us. If Tuba keeps performing the way she has so far, she will pose challenges for any team.”

When asked about her target for the upcoming year as well as the Commonwealth Games, Fatima is crystal clear, “I want to be a matchwinner for my team and want to stand up in the crunch moments. I want the team to do even better than they have so far.”

If her performances so far any indication, that graph will only trend upwards.