Magnificent Muneeba century, Sandhu four-for crush Ireland

Monitoring Desk

CAPE TOWN: Bespectacled players have taken quite the centre stage in the last few months. After memorable Test debuts in the men’s arena for Pakistan’s Abrar Ahmed and Australia’s Todd Murphy, Pakistan’s Muneeba Ali made a splash at the Women’s T20 World Cup in Cape Town.

Muneeba became the first woman to score a T20I hundred for Pakistan and only the sixth to score one in a T20 World Cup as Pakistan crushed Ireland in their Group 2 clash. She added 101 for the third wicket with all-rounder Nida Dar as Pakistan posted 165 for 5, their highest at the T20 World Cup. That proved 70 too many for Ireland, who were stymied by spin to be bowled out for 95.

Fluent Muneeba puts on a show

Muneeba was hailed as a prodigy ever since her T20I bow in 2016 but only showed glimpses of her talent for long. Ireland, and much of those who watched her on Wednesday, saw the best of the Pakistan opener as she pummelled the bowlers around. Her intent – be it in finding boundaries or even in running between the wickets – was there for everyone to see.

Muneeba got off the blocks quickly, hitting a four in each of the first five overs. Pakistan had raced to 41 for none at that point with the southpaw on 30 off 19. A brilliant direct hit from Ireland wicketkeeper Mary Waldron saw Javeria Khan run out in the last over of the powerplay. Soon Bismah Maroof was ruled out caught tamely at mid-on, even though replays were not fully conclusive of the ball was grassed.

Those dismissals had scant effect on Muneeba, who took particular liking to Leah Paul’s left-arm spin. In all, she scored 23 off the 15 balls she faced from Paul, using her feet to make room and go over the off side when four fielders were stationed deep on the on side. She brought up her fifty off 40 balls and took a further 26 balls only to bring up the triple figures. She only fell in the last ball of the penultimate over but not before making 102 off 68 balls.

Dar makes her presence felt

For a change, Dar had a different role to play with the bat. Often walking out as Pakistan’s rescuer with the bat, she found herself in the middle in the eighth over when Pakistan were 55 for 2. But an on-song Muneeba made her task easy and, for a change, she could take a back seat.

Dar got off the mark with a sweep through backward square leg and hit one more through cow corner off her 12th ball. But largely, she rotated the strike, ran well between the wicket and fed strike back to Muneeba. In the interim she danced down the track to legspinner Cara Murray to hit it for a six over wide long-on. In her 28-ball 33, she struck just the three boundaries but helped add Pakistan’s first hundred-run partnership in a T20 World Cup and only the fourth overall.

Ireland stifled with turn

Ireland’s hopes of an unlikely chase hinged on at least two of the top three. Gaby Lewis struck left-arm spinner Sadia Iqbal for a crisp drive over mid-off but was undone by Dar’s smarts with the ball. After firing four deliveries through, Dar slowed one and dragged slightly length back, and that saw Lewis reaching out for the drive and inside edging it to the wicketkeeper.

Orla Prendergast then struck some crisp boundaries, including one off Fatima Sana where she danced down the track to smoke it over wide long-on for a six. She scored 31 off just 21 balls hitting four fours and a six but became the first of left-arm spinner Nashra Sandhu’s four wickets.

Sandhu then ran through the middle order, staving off and dismissing Eimear Richardson who had raced to 28 off 17, to finish with her career-best 4 for 18. In all, Pakistan bowlers picked nine of the ten wickets with spin to bundle out Ireland to open their account in the tournament.