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Pakistan women have come a long way from death threats

Pakistani cricketers celebrate the dismissal of India's Harmanpreet Kaur during the ICC Women's World Cup.
Pakistani cricketers celebrate the dismissal of India's Harmanpreet Kaur during the ICC Women's World Cup. Rui Vieira

TWENTY years ago, Pakistan made its debut in women's one-day international cricket and just more than six months later played in its first World Cup.

Players risked their lives to be there.

The Pakistani team, and the women's game itself, has come a long way since sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan introduced the concept of females playing the game to the country.

Back then, in 1996, the two women received death threats and faced court cases for what they were trying to do.

But the sisters succeeded and at the start of 1997, Pakistan women played their first match against New Zealand. In February of that year, they took on Australia.

Pakistan made just 23 while chasing 398 in Melbourne that day - the highest Pakistani scorer made just six.

Their next meeting, in the 1997 World Cup, Australia took 48 minutes to bowl them out for 27, then reached the 28 runs required in 20 minutes.

The scores may not have been a shining advertisement for women's cricket, but the Australians were amazed they were even there at all.

"When I think back to Pakistan: they had trials on their oval and they would have 400 women there and they would have police because they'd had death threats for playing cricket," said former Australian cricketer Joanne Broadbent, who played in both those 1997 matches.

"That to my knowledge doesn't happen now for them but ... we couldn't believe that those girls had gone through that. Trialled knowing someone could pop them off because they're playing cricket."

Two decades after the Khan sisters took a stand to stand at the crease, they come up against Australia again, the best nation in women's cricket and the team to beat this World Cup.

Pakistan's results so far haven't sent the cricket community into a spin, but they've improved since those first days.

India bowled them out for 74 on Sunday, but needed 38.1 overs to do so and in their opening match they set a reasonable total of 206 against South Africa. During a warm-up match against Australia, they reached 157.

Again nothing that captures the world's attention, but they're big steps from where they began and only a short time into their development as a nation.

This story, though, gives perspective when Waqar Younis, Pakistan coach and cricketing great, tweets a suggestion that 50 overs may be too many for women's cricket.

It received its share of backlash and players themselves are struggling to understand his point.

"It is a little bit offensive, I guess. What's T20 cricket for then?" said Australian all-rounder Jess Jonassen.

"It's quite interesting he said it the day after our match against Sri Lanka, that was one of the highest scoring games I guess of the World Cup so far. Five hundred-odd runs scored and two of the best innings of the women's game ever."

This World Cup has had totals of 377, 257, 262 and 281 posted. There have been some at the opposite end, but some of the lowest scores in the men's World Cup came in 2011, Bangladesh and Kenya posting 58 and 69 respectively.

The women's international championship, which serves as entry to the World Cup, began just three years ago and though women have been playing cricket in Australia for nearly 125 years, other nations are very new to the scene.

On Wednesday we see those two different journeys come up against each other. And though it's highly unlikely Pakistan are going to earn their first win over Australia, this is more about how they have come to be there, and where they still have to go.

Topics:  icc women's world cup sportfeature women's cricket

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