Photo Credit: ICC
Five years away from one-day international cricket might lead many players to give up on the dream of ever playing for their country again.
Not Ghulam Fatima.
Having made just five appearances for Pakistan across ODIs and T20s in as many years, Ghulam’s most recent performance in the green of Pakistan saw her concede 17 runs for no wickets against Sri Lanka in a T20 in 2018.
The 26-year-old then endured four years in the cricketing wilderness before making her return against South Africa in the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2022.
A lot had changed since the leg-spinner’s maiden ODI against the same opposition in 2017 – five of that Pakistan team were named in the side to take on the Proteas in Tauranga, with Javeria Khan still out injured.
And while the result stayed the same, a win for South Africa, this time by six runs instead of 63, Ghulam’s wicket-taking exploits had improved.
Against South Africa back in February 2017, she produced figures of one for 53 from nine overs, today she bowled the same number of overs but took three for 52.
She may have been Pakistan’s most expensive bowler, but she dismissed three of South Africa’s most dangerous batters and did so at a crucial time in the innings.
Her long-awaited re-entry into international cricket came in the 24th over conceding only four runs to the well set Sune Luus and Laura Wolvaardt.
But Ghulam knew, as she had known for four years, that her time would come.
It did so five overs later – having just seen a full toss dispatched for four by Wolvaardt to move to 75, Ghulam took a wicket entirely of her own making.
A slower delivery got Wolvaardt’s leading edge and sent the ball low back to the bowler, who dived down just in time to take the catch, clinging onto the ball with three fingers but a beaming smile on her face.
She was mobbed by her teammates and would be for a second time in the over after dismissing Mignon du Preez for a three-ball duck.
This time it was Omaima Sohail who took the diving catch after Du Preez misread the spin – Ghulam had turned the game as South Africa were reduced to 110 for four.
And she wasn’t done yet, in her very next over she sent Marizanne Kapp back to the hutch having made only seven.
Kapp could only hold her head in her hands and sink to her knees in frustration, Pakistan could only celebrate with delight.
The whole side was aware of the work that had gone into getting Ghulam to that moment.
Captain Bismah Maroof said: “She bowled very well. She helped us take wickets in the middle and put pressure on the South African batters.
“She has improved [in recent years] and now been more confident. She wants to perform in challenging situations. I like that aspect of her, she is up for the challenge and wants to take wickets.”
There are perhaps no more challenging situations than trying to earn your spot back and regain the trust of those around you, but now that Ghulam has achieved that she is reaping the rewards.