Schoolgirl goes from tears of hurt to creating one of UAE cricket's greatest ever moments

Vaishnave Mahesh enjoys thrilling turnaround as architect of victory over Zimbabwe at T20 World Cup Qualifier

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If ever anyone needed proof that cricket is a great leveller, then consider the case of Vaishnave Mahesh.

On Monday night, the spin-bowler had been sobbing inconsolably to her parents after UAE’s dream of playing at the T20 World Cup had been extinguished.

The 15-year-old’s leg-spin had met with an onslaught from Papua New Guinea’s batters, in a loss that pushed a chance of reaching the semi-finals of the Qualifier in Abu Dhabi beyond the home team’s reach.

A day later, she had been working out on the treadmill in the gym of the team hotel on Yas Island, when the runner next to her dispensed some wisdom.

Given that the words of encouragement were being offered by Mignon du Preez, who has played more than 260 times for South Africa, it meant a lot.

“I was crying after that game, in tears, but I had a lot of people who came up to me,” Vaishnave said.

“Theertha [Satish], my captain [Chaya Mughal], and even Mignon du Preez came up to me and said, ‘One bad game doesn’t define a bowler.’

“That really picked me up. Even after that, we went to the gym and she was talking to me. All three of my coaches, Murali [Sockalingham, at her academy in Dubai], GS Mukund in India, and my dad, they all gave me good encouragement.

“They just said, ‘One game doesn’t matter, you always have the next game.’ That is how I picked up confidence.”

UAE bowler Vaishnave Mahesh in action. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Her response was immaculate. Two nights after the heartbreak against PNG, UAE were back in action.

Their task was a daunting one, against a Test-playing nation – Zimbabwe – who had beaten the national team in a T20I a week earlier in Dubai.

Despite the odds, UAE were fearless. Vaishnave was the standout as they restricted their higher-ranked opposition to 120 for seven from their 20 overs.

Her contribution with the ball was three for 15 from four overs – and that, too, takes into account going for seven off her final three deliveries.

UAE’s chase was a plucky one, built on two pillars of their batting line up, Esha Oza and Kavisha Kumari.

Kumari was at the crease in the final over when, between her and Vaishnave, the host nation required 14 to win.

Hope seemed to have vanished when they were left with 10 required from the final two balls, only for Zimbabwe to botch their lines in extraordinary fashion.

Nomvelo Sibanda fired a wide down the leg-side. Wicketkeeper Modester Mupachikwa let the ball past her. Vaishnave and Kavisha ran two – then were donated one more via a wild overthrow.

UAE batter Kavisha Kumari Edodage plays a shot. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

It left Vaishnave on strike with six to get, still with two remaining. She eked out another two from the penultimate ball, then struck the final one past the fine leg fielder and to the boundary rope.

Vaishave deemed it the “most nail-biting game” she has ever been involved in. Given she is just 15, that is only a small sample size, but even seasoned veterans would have said the same.

“That is cricket,” she said. “It is a very unpredictable game. It is a funny game, and you don’t know what is going to happen in the next match.

“It was always in my mind to try to come back stronger and be a match-winner for the team.”

Kavisha was named player of the match for her innings of 41 not out, but thought nothing of entrusting her young colleague to take strike at the end.

“I don’t think either of us thought about much except winning,” Vaishnave said.

“That was what was in our mind. It was pretty much, whatever happens, just whack the ball.

“At no point of time did I think the game had gone. I am an MS Dhoni fan, being from Chennai.

“You always take the game to the last over. Kavisha really helped me a lot from the other end, saying ‘Come on, Vaish, you can do this.’ Everything motivated me.”

Updated: September 22, 2022, 2:55 AM
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