By Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
ISLAMABAD: Many of us dream about representing our country in one sport or the other, but very few are lucky and talented enough to be able to do it. Diana Baig is one of those few, but she stands apart even from those select few for one reason; she has represented Pakistan in both cricket and football, and is still in her teens.
The 19-year-old first wore Pakistan colours at the ICC Women’s cricket World Cup last year, and was then part of the football team at the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women Championship in Islamabad.
Hailing from Gilgit-Baltitstan (G-B), Diana began her career as a cricketer, playing as a right-handed batsman and a medium-pacer and was one of the reserve players for the 2013 World Cup in India.
After the World Cup, she managed to impress coach Tariq Lutfi enough to warrant a call-up to the national football camp, with Lutfi terming her inclusion as ‘inevitable’.
Torn between the two
Brimming with talent and youthful exuberance, Diana is now struggling to choose between the two sports. She never saw herself as a footballer and therefore could not have envisaged a career in it a few months ago, but now she has a newfound appreciation for the beautiful game. However, she has not left her cricketing past behind her.
“No, I haven’t left cricket, it’s just that now I’m also a footballer,” Diana told The Express Tribune. “It’s something I love but I’m also a cricketer. So for me it is not a matter of choosing, or leaving one sport for another. In fact I start my cricket camp soon.”
Football may have started as just a hobby for Diana, but that changed when the G-B team needed female athletes to compete at the National Women Football Championship and she and her friend decided to attend the trials. From kicking the ball on the streets with her friends to representing Pakistan at the Saff Championship just a few months later, it has been a meteoric rise for Diana, but she believes it is as much down to luck as to talent.
“I got lucky. My friend came to me and told me that the football trials for the G-B team were taking place, and they need athletes so it was a matter of chance,” said Diana.
Diana said that being a key defender in the side has been a new experience for her, and she has learnt a lot in the two months at the national camp.
But despite her rise in footballing circles, she refuses to quit cricket and at least for the time being, believes that she can juggle the two sports.
“Our cricket season for U19s and U22s takes place from November to January, so I wasn’t doing anything else,” she explained. “Football is not new to me. I’ve always played cricket and football. In fact, now I feel these two sports are a part of me, and I play football during fitness training for the cricket tournament.”
Her father, however, is not convinced that she can play both sports simultaneously. “My father was really concerned. He asked me if I was making the correct decision,” she said. “He told me that this may mean that my cricket career is at an end, but I assured him that it’s not.”
Diana will begin her university soon, pursuing a degree in Health and Physical sciences in Government College and University, Lahore.
Lutfi believes that Diana has a bright future ahead of her if she does decide to stay in football. “She is a very talented defender,” said Lutfi. “We picked her because there is a dearth of good defenders in the country. She can be very useful for Pakistan and she has proved as much in just two months. She is already better than many seasoned internationals.”