Asia

Women's World Cup 2017: Pakistan's Nahida Khan says 'it's down to dad'

This picture taken on February 27, 2009 shows Pakistani women's cricketer Nahida Khan playing a shot during a practice match in Karachi Image copyright ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Nahida Khan has been an international since 2009

Pakistani cricketer Nahida Khan is her country's highest scorer in a Women's World Cup match and says she owes it all to her dad.

"My father backed me despite all the opposition from my family and tribe," she said.

The 30-year-old is from Pakistan's restive Balochistan province where women are expected to stay at home.

But her father, a liberal man who also managed to get an education, always backed her.

"He would say to people that Nahida is my daughter, I'm proud of her passion," says Nahida, a university graduate.

"He appreciated my struggle and that gave me all the confidence I needed as budding cricketer."

Image caption Nahida Khan's father gave her the confidence to play cricket in a conservative society

Nahida Khan's father died a few months ago and she feels his loss deeply but she is also on top form during the Women's World Cup in England.

"My strategy going in to bat is always quite simple: score maximum runs and attack the opposition."

In their first game against South Africa, Pakistan's batting line-up started to crumble early.

But Nahida Khan opened the innings and went on to make a blistering 76 from 101 balls, including nine fours and a six.

Though the Proteas won by three wickets, Khan gave then a run for their money.

"Nahida is a true fighter and she showed that on the field today," said Pakistan team captain Sana Mir.

"It would have been a one-sided affair without her contribution with bat and ball."

Pakistan's first female international cricket team was founded in 1997, a full 21 years after India's female cricketers formed a team.

Image caption Nahida's coach Ayesha Ashar says she is "reliable" and "dependable"

They faced court cases and even death threats and the government banned them from playing in public for religious reasons.

Despite all that, the team did play in the 1997 Women's World Cup. Early encounters were characterised by heavy losses - including a last place finish in that tournament and a humiliating world record of 27 all out against Australia.

But Nahida Khan is one of a group of sportswomen from middle class families who have been improving the side's fortunes.

The Quetta-born player made her international cricket debut in 2009 in a match against Sri Lanka at Bogra, Bangladesh.

She was also a member of the team who took part in the 2010 Asian Games and won a gold medal.

Khan was initially brought into the team as a middle-order batter who could bowl on the side.

"I felt I couldn't perform to the best of my ability when I was being sent in at number eight or nine," she said.

"I continued to work hard on my batting. I'd analyse the other batters such as former England captain Charlotte Edwards, whose technique I have always admired."

After half a decade of struggle, Nahida Khan is not only a dependable opener but shoulders the responsibility for any role assigned to her.

"She's one of those players you can depend on in any given situation," said Pakistan's national team coach Ayesha Ashar.

Image caption Nahida, seen with Iram Abbasi, ignored those who said she'd ruin her marriage prospects

Nahida Khan still remembers how she rushed to her school cricket trial in 2007.

Her selection was a dream come true, especially given the challenges she faced every day - playing alongside men where everyone disapproved of her.

"Even today, women cricketers have to practice in the same grounds as men due to a lack of facilities," she said.

"In a society where any intermingling of the sexes is frowned upon, you can imagine the stigma that follows."

Nahida Khan knows how lucky she is to fulfil her dreams in a conservative society where women have few choices.

"Once on my way back from practice, the rickshaw driver asked if I played cricket because he knew of a girl named Nahida - of questionable morals - who also played cricket with boys," she said.

"I lied but every day I am more conscious of the fact that my success would not have been possible without my father's support.

"He would shut everyone up who tried to warn him of some impending moral disaster or trouble in finding a marriage partner because I played cricket."

She has lost her father but he was alive long enough to make sure the rest of her family did not clip her wings.

"My family used to say no one is going to marry me because I wear boys' clothes and play cricket," she adds.

"No one wants a girl like that in their family."

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