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Pakistan find their 'fighting spirit'

Pakistan lost their World Cup opener with one over and three wickets to spare. As far as contests go, for most of the time, it was like an angry male silverback gorilla fighting a coy mouse. But to look at this as a loss or just a disappointing moment would be wrong. Pakistan showed what captain Sana Mir called "the fighting spirit".

Against what is probably the quickest attack in women's cricket, with Shabnim Ismail steaming in, trying to prove she's the fastest in the world, it could have been horrible. Ismail and the rest of her quartet could have ripped through Pakistan with pace. Instead her first ball was quick but short and wide and it was smashed away to the backward-point boundary.

Forget being blown away, after eight overs they had seen off Ismail and Marizanne Kapp; they were 43 for 1. Had it not been for the sublime swing bowling of Moseline Daniels, they might taken flight. Instead they weren't blown away, they just stood still. How still, pretty damn still, stiller than teams usually get in ODIs. Pakistan women scored only five runs off the bat in a five-over period. They twice played out two consecutive maidens, including the 40th and 41st overs. But despite the six maidens and periods of statue-like batting, they kept fighting.

South Africa bowled wide to a Pakistan side filled with bottom-hand dominant batsmen. According to CricViz, they scored 27% of their runs between the keeper and point. Part of that was them adjusting to the extra pace, or just trying to reach it. The bigger problem was how many times they hit the ball straight to point, like it was some elaborate fielding drill.

It was only Nahida Khan who looked completely top class. She hit balls through the packed off-side field with such ease they seemed on rails. When she needed a boundary, she would clear her front leg and try a controlled swing. One she smashed so well it cleared long-on for six. This combination of perfect timing and calculated chances made for a quality innings. The only problem was the end.

Nahida cleared her front leg and tried to smash the ball over the leg side. Instead, she skied a ball over mid-on's head. Even with the smaller boundaries, accounting for Daniels' incredible athleticism and the lucky bounce she received, you'd have to be almost actively not wanting to run to only get a single. But that is what Nahida ventured after she was slow to react, and then was sent back by Kainat Imtiaz. It was terrible running and was made worse next ball when Imtiaz slapped a ball straight to Ismail at deep cover. They were trying to make up for the lack of two off the last ball and decided to turn an easy single into a non-existent two. Nahadia turned blind, and she ended up one metre and 21 runs short of a hundred.

It wasn't even the saddest mistake of the day. Nain Abidi's wicket deserves to be put into the hall of shame for worst shots played when well set in the middle overs of an ODI. She raced down at a legbreak from Suné Luus even before the ball was bowled, allowing Luus to drop it shorter and give it a rip. Abidi never got within metres of the the ball, in length, line, or pitch and then while still on the run tried to play an off-balance slog-sweep. Even if she wasn't given out stumped, she might have given out stupid. And it was these sorts of errors from set Pakistan batsmen that left them 30 short of a defendable total on 206.

South Africa did the opposite: they made 113 before losing their first wicket. Pakistan's bowlers beat the bat once or twice, there was one pretty ordinary drop, but for most of the time they were watching the game and not actually participating in it. Lizelle Lee blasted a six 30 metres beyond the boundary, and on her own outscored Pakistan's six tally. That should have been it, but then Pakistan found "the fighting spirit".

It was as if a completely new team came out to take over. The coy mouse became a screaming tiger, and the silverback gorilla became a chimpanzee on a unicycle. Pakistan fielders were swarming as one, like this green alien invasion, no matter where the ball went, it seemed like every player was making her way over. When the ball was dropped on the off side they had about 35 fielders in the ring. Their spinners became harder to hit, as if the ball had become a shuttlecock. And South Africa completely panicked. They had two batsmen at the same end once. And they ran off a fumble when the ball only went two metres from the fielder and the stumps.

Sidra Nawaz missed a stumping when Pakistan were appealing for a caught behind. And yes, they were unlucky when Luus was hit plumb in front and not given. But this was now their game, forget the fading batting performance and the snoozy start to their bowling, South Africa had lost seven wickets and were pouring gasoline on themselves every time they set off for a run.

With 12 balls remaining, South Africa needed 16 runs. Considering how the game, and most importantly, the last bit of the chase, had gone, it seemed a monumental task. But Mir used Imtiaz who at that stage had gone for more runs per over than anyone else in the game, and her last three overs cost 33 runs. The problem was that Mir had run out of her other front-line bowlers. She had bowled the 48th over over, so couldn't bowl until the last over. She could have thrown the ball back to Bismah Maroof, who had 1 for 7 from two overs. But Mir was afraid of full tosses from the spinner, so she backed her seamer.

Javera Wadood dived as far as she could fling herself, and ended up face down in the dirt as the ball went to the boundary. Ayesha Zafar ran as fast as she could but only got fingers on a ball that wasn't slowed down enough not to make the rope. And then Imtiaz's sixth ball was thumped down the ground by Ismail who passed 20 runs for the fifth time in her 71 ODIs. South Africa scored all 16 runs in the 49th, the most productive over in a low-scoring game, and finally defeated Pakistan.

But Pakistan didn't look, or act like a losing team at the end. And they shouldn't have.

On Sunday, Nahida scored more than any Pakistan women ever has in a World Cup innings.They took on a seam-bowling attack in England and almost beat it. They scored their highest ever total in a World Cup, and Mir said, "I'm a happy captain". Pakistan lost the game, but not their fighting spirit.