Captain Sana and the Quest for a Hero Saga

Captain Sana and the Quest for a Hero Saga

By Zarrar Said

When news of a gold medal-winning women’s cricket team surfaced, my imagination went to work.  How’s it possible to achieve so much with so little, I thought.  Then I watch them and things get better.  Because they play with an unapologetic pride; a mystical reckoning blankets pretexts like experience, ability, and infrastructure.  Some girls are barely old enough to vote, and some are from towns so remote only imaginations can cover the journey overnight, yet they play for a larger purpose.  This unity, I realize, stems from their captain, Sana Mir.  I’m certain there’s a hero saga beneath it all.  So I speak with Captain Sana and try to script it.  Allow me…

Image Credit | The Cricket Monthly by ESPN

Once, long ago, in a town near her nation’s capital, a little girl’s smile is illuminated by fireworks.  It’s 1992 and everyone’s celebrating.

“The world cup victory brought unity and happiness to everyone,” Sana Mir says, “and that feeling attracted me to the game of cricket.”

Wait.  We must set the scene first…

From an aerial view, the town of Taxila resembles an hourglass, the two spheres, the archaeological ruins of Sirkap and the fortresses of the army complex are connected through a slim road.  This is where our story begins and where the legend of the fast bowling girl starts to swell.  The girl, Sana Mir, is rumoured to have an endless run up like that of her hero, Waqar Younis, and a headband to go with it.  In the cantonment, behind her house, a paved road is where she begins her cricket.

“If there weren’t enough kids to make teams, we played baariyan, individuals, drew lines in the dirt and got on with it.”

It can be said that this pastime fills the intervals between school, homework, and meals, and the desire to play transcends practicality.  “There was only one street lamp.  It got dark so we shortened our run-ups at night and played ‘spin only’.  Sometimes I’d study under that light also, waiting for my turn to bat.” 

From the start, she has had what she can only describe as an infection.  “I played day and night and didn’t even know of a women’s cricket team, but I knew that I was going to be a cricketer.”  So, at fourteen, she attends trials, and a few weeks later, a letter arrives, inviting her to a women’s cricket camp.

“They asked that I bring a pillow, a blanket, and plates!” she says with vivid enthusiasm, “My father flat out refused!  He wasn’t sending me to place without basic facilities.”  And thus, she swallows, with burning humility, her father’s pronouncement; the dream evaporates.  Just like that, young Captain Sana dims the lantern of her desire and devotes her life to academia.

I’m stuck now; don’t know where to go with this story.  Why did she accept this verdict so suddenly?

“My faith was strong.  I knew if I dreamt of something it will come true.  I felt there was something right about my father’s decision.  That something good would come out of it.”

Very well.  We must have similar faith in this narrative and visualize those student years, and picture her trying to ignore what she loves only for it to follow her everywhere.  Let’s just say cricket poured into the margins of her notebook in the form of a pitch, an inner circle, and around it, a boundary rope.  Then there’s her periodic table, to the order of Calcium, Carbon… mid-off, cover.

Chemistry assignments mutate into field settings; undefined voices occupy her mind.  What’s the ideal field for an off-spinner: long-off up, or near the boundary?  Define potassium permanganate: two slips and a gully.

Four years elapse until finally, that moment arrives.  Captain Sana is now eighteen.  Her bedroom is lit by the screams of the early summer sun, leaves of paper are sprinkled over textbooks, pencils, once neatly shaven, are now down to blunted nubs, and there at her desk, she sits soundlessly organizing this chaos.  Her final exams have concluded and relief has softened her face.  She’s also been accepted into university.  The real world calls out from the other side of summer.  Doctor, engineer, or even perhaps, housewife, it says.  But wait, hold on, here comes her mother.  In her hand is a newspaper clipping.  Is this a sign from the heavens?  Has her conviction finally pulled her stars in line?  Her mind races with excitement.  Words arrive in bursts over and over again: Women’s, Cricket, Trials, Women’s, Cricket, and so on.

“I just believed one day the dream I had as a child would come true!  There was never any doubt.” 

Image credit | Pakistan Cricket Board

What happens next?  Achievements.  Many of them: Mir makes the Pakistan national team, Player of the Tournament at the 2008 World Cup Qualifiers, elected captain in 2009, gold at the Asian Games in 2010, makes the world’s top 10 bowlers list, gold again in 2014, and finally, the Pakistan team qualifies for subsequent world cups through her unrelenting leadership.

But… there’s something missing.  Even Captain Sana’s not buying this hero saga of mine.  I can almost hear her eyes roll when we speak.

All right then.  Let’s wipe the drawing board clean, review the notes again, and pay attention, mostly, to her voice.  Why?  It’s different, much simpler than others, humble, and rhetoric-free.  Where does this all come from?  I’m taking a walk when it all comes tumbling back: the fireworks, the astonished child, ‘unity and happiness’, the hourglass-shaped town and the children of the military for whom sacrifice is a family affair, an everyday thing.  The missing piece in this puzzle, it has to reside there, surely.  So, I ask her to take me back, once more, to Taxila.

“The best part of my childhood,” she begins, “was that on the field we all came together. Like me, there were officers’ children but there were others, too, from the Sipahi quarters.  I loved that about the game, the universality of it.”

As she talks, untimely pauses arrive.  “Once, this Aunty told my mother it was unbecoming of a teenage girl to be playing with the soldiers’ kids and that she should fix me before I became kharaab, spoilt!”  She hesitates again and I visualize her bowling hand crushing an imaginary ball.

“That made me very upset.  These were my friends, my teammates.  And she reduced them to nothing.” 

“What did you do?” I ask.

“I went right up to that auntie’s house and gave her a piece of my mind!  I don’t like fighting, but she deserved it.”

And now an image burns behind my eyes: a girl of fourteen, wagging her finger at the colonel’s wife, the old lady’s cheeks reddening with shame.  How’s she going to explain this one at the Officers’ Wives Luncheon?

Nathan Stirk | Getty Images
Captain Sana tells me another story.  When she stood up to a bully who ended a game prematurely, took the equipment hostage.  I picture a hefty boy now, thick forearms, returning a cricket bat back to her, shivering at the thought of having his ass handed to him by a girl.  Because he’s heard what they say about her, that she’s earned her stripes at the local karate gym.

It occurs to me then: I’ve been chasing the wrong story all along.  The Sana Mir saga isn’t about cricket, it’s about principles.  You know, that stuff that makes NFL players kneel before the flag.  I then realize that Captain Sana never complains about the vacuity of infrastructure or the lack of women’s rights, nor does she damn the authorities who think that red-haired pop stars make great cricket ambassadors, and she never bemoans the lingering incompetency of her country.  That zealous humility, in whose fathom she swam as a child, has taught her better: ‘unity and happiness’; nation above all.  Yes, that’s the mysticism that binds her team.  It’s much larger than the hero saga I’ve been chasing.

But, before I can complete this story, I am saddened by the news: Mir has been axed as captain.  What’s her crime, you ask?  Not compromising on principles, I assume.  Sometimes, in a world like this, that’s all it takes.

So, I don’t know how this story ends, but I sure know how it begins…

Once, long ago, in a town shaped like an hourglass, there lived a girl so powerful she made miracles happen by simply dreaming.

1 Comment

  1. Loved the piece and thank you for penning it with a heart and a mind .. it will go places .. Sana will go places.. many love her to bits! .. this is only but a short pause in her determined life.. .thank you

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