'You have to keep setting goals': Diana Baig talks about making it from Gilgit to the women's cricket squad
This 22-year-old medium pacer, Diana Baig, burst into prominence in the Women’s World Cup (WWC) 2017.
The young athlete from Gilgit is one of the most animated players on the field. She dives, runs and chases with a palpable energy, bringing the field to life.
Diana was effective with her pace in the recent ICC Championship series against New Zealand in November 2017 and Sri Lanka in March 2018, fielded with characteristic enthusiasm and was handy with the bat in some key moments.
One of the emerging stars on the women’s team, I spoke to Diana on the phone about her childhood and how she made it from Gilgit to the national squad.
The interview below is translated from Urdu and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
This is the second of a four-part series of interviews with two seniors and two newcomers to the women’s squad, which is currently playing the Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup in Malaysia from June 3-10, 2018. Read part 1 here.
How old were you when you first developed an interest in cricket?
I think I was around six or seven when we would play cricket at home. We wouldn't play football that much; we mostly played cricket.
We used to stuff old socks with shoppers (plastic bags) to make balls. We couldn't even afford to buy balls at the time. And for a bat, we would use our own wood or sometimes a spade with the handle removed.
We made our own cricket equipment because we were very young and we couldn’t afford to buy it.
Our parents were very keen that we study. My father had not been to school, so he really wanted us to study. He sent us to good schools, even though he couldn’t really afford it.
My father was very keen that the girls in the family study well. I have two elder sisters and an elder brother and my father never compromised on my sisters’ education; he sent them to good schools and universities
How did you go from there to being on the national team?
I wasn't very interested in studies but I was very interested in sports.
I played any sport; whatever was available or being played, I would play that. I didn't exclusively play cricket, though it was what we played more often.
But when I was a child, I once watched a women's cricket game between India and Pakistan on TV and that got me very interested because it showed me the possibility that girls can also play for a national team.
So after I saw that match, I would visualise myself opening the bowling attack for Pakistan. Before going to sleep, I would often imagine myself playing cricket for the team.
I used to play with my elder brother and I really liked his bowling. Whenever we played cricket with other boys, I really liked the way my brother played. I followed him. My cousins would also play with us.
There was some space in our house where we would play. We would be five or six cousins and we would bat and bowl by turns. Often my brother won because he would bowl us out quickly and he himself would bat for long.
Can you talk about some of the biggest hurdles you faced, and how you overcame them?
First of all, the problem in our area is that a girl cannot play in an open ground. She can only play in her own chaar diwari. If you do go out and play in a public or open ground, then people talk about you.
There is more support in my community because the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board would arrange sporting events for us, so then it was okay if we played in public grounds. But for girls from other communities, it is much more difficult.
When I was little, we would mostly play in our home compound but sometimes when we played on the street, people would say to my father your daughter is playing on the street; it was not considered appropriate.
But my father never said anything to me. He would say she's my daughter; he was very supportive. My mother, however, would be a little affected and would say don't play on the streets.
When my mother realised that I'm doing something serious with cricket, she became more supportive.
So one problem is not being able to play in open grounds and the other problem is that travelling from Gilgit to Islamabad is a long way and if you are taking a team of girls then security is a big issue.
Parents are reluctant to send their daughters with other young girls and just a couple of coaches such a long way.
So how did you get to be included in the national team?
I played at the regional level and Madam Ayesha Ashhar (formerly the manager and now the general manager of PCB women’s wing) liked my bowling. She had her eyes on me for the future. Then I also played two under-19 tournaments. At that level my batting was also good, so I was an all-rounder.
Then I got selected for the Pakistan team in 2013. At that time I was 17 years old. But it was a bit strange; I was not settled. I got into the team quickly, but then I was out just as quickly. Then I was out for two years until 2015, when I got on the team for the Bangladesh series.
What did you do in those two years?
During that time, I was mostly in Gilgit, so there was very little practice. When there was a tournament, I would come play for the region and then go back. If I performed, I performed; if I didn’t, I didn’t.
After that, I shifted to Lahore for studies and joined the Lahore College for Women. There we had grounds and practice and coaches. They provided everything and that's how I got into regular practice, which improved my game.
Though I was on the team, I didn't get to play in the 2013 Women’s T20 World Cup, which was held in India. I debuted in 2015 against Bangladesh in Karachi, but it was not very good.
I was on the team for the West Indies series in 2015 and for the New Zealand series in 2016, but I only really got a chance to play back-to-back matches in the WWC 2017.
What would you like to tell young people who are aspiring to excel in the field of their choice? What are some of the key things that helped you to get here?
You have to keep setting goals — you start with small goals and once you meet them, you set bigger goals and keep moving forward. So every time I achieved one goal, I would set a higher goal and try to achieve that.
I was also motivated because I knew that other girls from my area were following me. If I failed to achieve anything, then people would say to other aspiring girls, “What did she (Diana) achieve that you will now go achieve?”
I thought that since I have stepped out from my area then I must do something and not waste the opportunity.
I would also say that if you like something then pursue it and work hard at it. In life, I have never searched for shortcuts because when you work hard, you learn something from it and you become stronger at it.
If you get something very easily, you can lose it very easily too, which is something I learned early on when I was selected quickly, but then dropped just as quickly.
Progressing slowly towards your goals is not a bad thing, as long as you are growing and moving forward. When you learn as you progress, even if you lose the game, you still have your learning with you, you still have your growth with you, so you are not as disheartened.
That's why it's important not to look for a shortcut, but to work hard and learn as you go forward.
I also tell parents that it's very important for them to support their children. The rest of the world doesn’t matter as long as you have your parents’ support.
Do you have a sense of responsibility to your area like you do towards the other aspiring young athletes as you mentioned?
Yes, I do. I want to be a torchbearer, which means that I have to stick to my values.
Being away from family can be difficult, so we need guidance. I get guidance from my seniors. We spend a lot of time together in camps; they are like our elder sisters.
When your parents support you and trust you then you have to use your independence and freedom properly to honour their trust and support.
So there's a good message for elders too — that if we trust and support our children, they will not use their freedom inappropriately. Anything you’d like to say to the fans or general public?
As for the fans and the public… You know we work hard. No one plays to lose, but we don't always win. It’s okay.
I take the public's reaction in my stride.