Diana Fond of Juggling Cricket and Football
CHENNAI: One can imagine it to be a familiar routine in the Baig household. Daughter Diana calls up and says she has been selected for the Pakistan national team. The voice at the other end asks ‘which one?’
To pull on your national team’s jersey is an achievement. To do that in two disciplines is all the more impressive. And to do all that before you hit 20 is nothing short of amazing. That is exactly what Diana Baig has done.
The girl from the mountainous northern outpost of Gilgit is already a fixture in the Pakistan women’s football team, making her debut in the 2014 SAFF Women’s Championships. Her international cricket career has so far been limited to an ODI appearance and a T20I, but she is hoping that the T20 Women’s World Cup, which starts on Tuesday, changes all that.
The start of Diana’s fairy-tale journey is as curious as the rest of it. “Gilgit is not known for cricket,” Diana says. “We don’t even have a cricket pitch there. Even men’s matches are rarely held.” Her induction into the game was the result of a resourceful coach looking to bolster his fast-bowling options. “I was a shot put athlete in school. My coach came up one day and asked me to try bowl with a cricket ball. He was impressed with my action,” she chuckles.
That was five years ago. Then, as she toiled day and night, perfecting yorkers and bouncers, Gilgit’s football team came calling. They needed a defender. “I got the chance to play for the Gilgit women’s football team. My performances there got me a Pakistan call-up as well,” she says.
The 20-year-old almost did not make the trip to Chennai, after being named standby when the squad was announced. But as luck would have it, Sania Iqbal fractured her thumb in training and Diana was called in as replacement. In many ways, her call-up was poetic justice. She had already missed out on an India trip after Pakistan failed to send its women’s football team to the recently-concluded SAG Games. “I felt bad for her. But the way I was bowling in practice, I was confident of stepping up.”
Australia’s Ellyse Perry — another cricketer who has also played for her country’s football team — has often spoken of it being a delicate balancing act. Diana though has no such problems. “I spend four hours a day on cricket and an hour or two on football,” she says. “At first, my parents were telling me to focus on one. Especially when I was called up to the national cricket team, they were asking me to focus on cricket. But I told them I loved both football and cricket. They understand now.”
But what happens if a day comes when she has to choose one? “Choose wala scene hi nahi hoga na? Mein dono khel loongi (I won’t have to choose. I will play both.).”
Published in The New Indian Express on March 15, 2016.