Inter-provincial event to help softball gain foothold in Pakistan – Sport

KARACHI: In a country where cricket reigns supreme, a dedicated group of athletes gathered here at the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) Sports Complex to showcase their skills in a lesser-known but equally thrilling sport — softball.

While softball may not enjoy the same popularity as its cousin cricket, many of Pakistan’s talented cricketers have found a new outlet in this fast-paced game.

In the first PNSC Inter-Provincial Women’s Softball Championship final between Punjab and Balochistan on Saturday went head-to-head, displaying their enthusiasm and dedication. Despite lapses in fielding, Punjab managed to capitalise on one less mistake, edging out Balochistan 14-13 in a nail-biting finish.

Mehak hit a rare homerun to secure the victory for Punjab who ended their impressive campaign unbeaten in the four-team competition which also included teams from Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The players showcased their flair with passion but that did not translate into on-field performance amid several mistakes.

“The lapses in the field is an issue that

can only be solved with hard work and practice,“ Punjab coach Mohammad Aqib told Dawn. “Also the girls, generally, are less physical so we try not to put too much pressure on them.”

“When the selected players represent Pakistan the [national] coaches work primarily towards addressing the weaknesses.”

Aqib, who has been playing since 2010 and currently represents Pakistan Police, said that dearth of proper baseball grounds in Punjab made it harder for players to train.

But the coach appreciated the Softball Federation Pakistan (SFP), which he said, arranged grounds for them to train.

Punjab’s best performer in the event according to the coach was captain Iram Shehzadi, who pitched effectively to help them clinch the title.

“It’s been a positive outing for me and my team in the tournament and I’m really happy to contribute in the winning cause,” the 30-year-old Iram told Dawn.

The skipper said her team faced different problems in the lead-up to the event.

“The squad was pretty inexperienced. We had to train some girls how to put on [the] glove in the training camp,” she said.

“Also the squad was completed just before we were leaving for Karachi [to participate in the event],” Iram who also represents Pakistan and plays for Wapda at domestic level, added.

Iram herself kick-started her softball career unexpectedly, after she received a call from her friend when a camp was set up in Quetta before the team’s departure for Indonesia back in 2010.

“When I received the call I told my friend that I don’t know anything about softball. But because I used to play cricket, my friend said I would adjust,” she recalled.

“I joined the 20-day camp and was selected to the team.”

Iram, who never pitched in a tournament prior to this provincial-level contest, appealed to the government to set up more camps and organise more events in Pakistan so that aspiring players could enhance their skills.

On the other hand, Balochistan coach Mohammad Hassan, who has been coaching the side for almost five years, was very proud of the way his team performed in the tournament.

He, however, admitted that his team made one too many mistakes that caused them the match.

“I think the girls succumbed to pressure in the final phase of the game,” Hassan told Dawn. “But we will work to avoid [the] mistakes in future.”

The coach further said that it was very hard to recruit players in the Balochistan region as the sport was not that popular.

However, he added, the positive showing in the event would attract more players.

Speaking on the occasion, SFP president Asif Azeem said that they were doing their part to promote the game in the country and had started programmes to introduce the sport in school, colleges and Universities.

“Currently, this sport isn’t that popular but it is very similar to cricket which would help us engage [more] players,” Asif told Dawn. “Still we need to properly teach [them] the rules of the game, for which we have appointed coaches at different academic institutes.”

Terming provincial-level tournaments vital for promoting the sport, Asif said he was looking forward to organising more such events.

“This tournament was very important for softball as it empowers the provinces, which is also my priority,” Asif, who wants to open a softball academy in Karachi, said. “So I want to organise more events at national and provincial level so players can get ample opportunities.”

Asif believed that these women players just needed a good platform and support to compete at the highest level.

“The players playing in this hot weather is a clear sign of their dedication towards the sport.”

With the inclusion of softball in the Los Angeles Olympics 2028, Asif said that the SFP was monitoring players in the competition and would set up a national camp in the near future to identify and invest in the most promising ones to prepare them for the Olympics.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2024

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