LAHORE: Diana Baig, the talented 20-year-old girl plays for Pakistan´s national team in both cricket and football. She represented the country as one of the “Girls in Green” at the recent World Twenty20 tournament in India, in between practicing her penalty shoot-out skills.
She grew up playing street cricket and football with other children in the magnificent Hunza Valley, their makeshift arenas ringed by some of the world´s tallest mountains in northern Gilgit-Baltistan.
Baig belongs to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam, which largely freed her from the restrictions placed on other more conservative women in the Muslim country, where her gender is battling for greater freedom.
From the streets, Baig began playing in community events and for local teams, and by 2010 she was leading the newly-formed Gilgit-Baltistan women´s team.
Two years later, she was selected for Pakistan´s A side, and then as a reserve player for the 2013 World Cup. In 2015, she finally won her first international cap, playing for Pakistan against Bangladesh.
Her journey to the forefront of Pakistani women´s football was even more dramatic.
While playing cricket in Islamabad in 2010, Baig tried out for the Gilgit-Baltistan football team on a whim after friends told her they needed players.
She made the team and, to her disbelief, in 2014 was selected to play for Pakistan at the SAFF Championships in Bahrain.
She has been a member of the starting 11 as a defender ever since, she says, unable to hide her excitement.
Baig has had to fight harder for her cricket career.
Unlike in men´s cricket, Pakistan´s women´s players are not contracted and are selected on a match by match basis from lower-ranked teams, such as the several hundred playing at the provincial level.
That means that there were times when Baig was in — and times when she was out.
Now Baig is fighting to maintain a crucial balance between her sporting dreams and education.
“It becomes very hard,” she says. “I try to start from football… I play football in the morning, then our cricket training starts around 11 or 12 noon and continues until 3:00 pm or 4:00 pm.”
After that, she says, she heads to her university hostel for food and drink. “I start studying during the night, continuing until late.”
With cricket taking up more and more time, her studies — she is on a full scholarship at the university, where she is in her first semester of a health and physical education degree — are suffering, Baig admits. “But one has to manage it.”
Though determined, she knows that one day she will have to choose. When asked which path she will take, she laughed.
“You know, in Asia, there is more charm in cricket,” she says, acknowledging her playing for the football team is the harder road.
She adds: “I see my future better in cricket.”