ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (WOMENSENEWS)--At 5, Leena Moin sat watching cricket matches with her father. At 8, she saw her first live match: Pakistan versus its long-time rival, India. A year later the willful Pakistani insisted--successfully--that her primary school introduce cricket into the sports curriculum. Now she has taken her passion for the game to the nation, becoming Pakistan's first-ever female sports commentator.
"For six years I wrote freelance articles and did post-game analysis, but always in the back of my mind the dream I was pursuing was to one day commentate on an international match," says the affable jeans-and-sneaker-clad 32-year-old. "All I have ever wanted was to be involved in the game."
And, in this overwhelmingly male-dominated society, Moin has taken Pakistani cricket by storm, commenting live on a Sri Lanka-Pakistan two-match series in October for the traditionally conservative Pakistan National Television.
"Her knowledge is quite up to mark and it is a matter of pride for Pakistan that women are trying to move into traditionally male occupations, trying to change opinions," says Mansoor Ali Mohammad, a business student at Islamabad's Preston University.
"My friends and I all admire her courage to stand out from the rest," he adds.
Cricket Is Like a Religion in Pakistan
As a teen-ager, Moin earned the nickname "the Captain"--a moniker she carries to this day--for taking charge of cricket games with the boys in her Islamabad neighborhood.
After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism and a Master's in English literature from the University of the Punjab, Moin stayed in touch with the game by writing for local publications, including national English dailies The Nation and The News. Watching up to four matches a day on satellite television over the last decade, Moin developed a reputation for exceptional cricket knowledge and was ecstatic when the sports department of Pakistan television agreed to give her a shot.
"I observed her commentaries for a long time in the papers and on the occasional post-match talk show as a guest and was impressed with her knowledge," says Janghir Raza, the network's sports controller.
"Knowing her work, there was no reason to deny her a shot when the opportunity came along, and she may not be 100 percent, but she's 90 and that's a great start," he added. The network contracts commentators on a match-series basis, and Moin is hoping for another shot with upcoming matches against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.
"I kept asking people to pinch me just to make sure I was not dreaming it all," Moin recalls, smiling as she remembers of her first foray into the commentator's box. "I had been writing letters for years, stating my credentials, trying to convince them I could do it."
"Cricket is like a religion in Pakistan and it is quite hard for men to admit that a woman might actually know more than they do," she adds.
Most Women in Pakistan Are Desperate
Moin's dream opportunity came at a time when Pakistan and its human rights record have come under intense international scrutiny as a frontline state in the war on terror. With a local council-ordered gang rape in Pakistan's tribal-dominated social strata and inordinate levels of reported honor killings making headlines in the international media, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has been working hard to point out the positive moves his administration has made for women.
The military leader introduced reserved seats for women in local, provincial and national governments last year, giving women greater representation in the corridors of power than ever in Pakistan's turbulent 57-year history. Musharraf has also repeatedly responded to public outcry over cases of violence against women, dispatching money and members of his cabinet to ensure support.
But for most Pakistani women, the situation remains desperate.
According to the International Labor Organization, 43 million people in Pakistan currently live below the poverty line. Women and girls, particularly in the tribal-dominated areas, often are expected to sacrifice eating meals for the men of their family.
Of 21.6 million working-age women, only 16 percent are in the workforce. Just 8 percent of those hold administrative or managerial positions, while the majority are left to work in domestic service or manual labor jobs such as forging in brick factories.
Generally speaking, international cricket is traditionally a male-dominated sport. But in early January the Pakistan Cricket Board officially decided to create a national female cricket team to participate in international competitions.
"We have more women ministers, businesswomen, and those like Moin out there doing men's jobs. Things are changing," says 17-year old Parveen Khan, who indulges her wild side with weekly games of cricket with her brothers and a few other adventurous girlfriends in the nearby city of Rawalpindi.
"I'll never be good enough to play professionally, I can't seem to hold the bat correctly," she says a bit sheepishly, "but it's nice to know I could try."
As Moin pursues her ultimate goal, to commentate on an international match for ESPN or Star network, she hopes others will follow.
"If I can do this, any woman with patience, courage and a willingness for very hard work can do anything she dreams of as well," she says.
While she no longer plays street cricket with the neighborhood gang of her youth, Moin does still occasionally indulge in a quick match with her 5-year-old son, Nausherwan, and his friends in the hopes that her progeny will grow up to be a world-class cricketer.
"Nausherwan is my inspiration," she confides, "and I hope I will be his."
Juliette Terzieff is a freelance journalist currently based in Pakistan who has worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, CNN International and the London Sunday Times.
For more information:
Institute of Policy Studies Islamabad--
"Pakistani Women 2001: An overview"
(Adobe pdf format):
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs--
"The World's Women 2000: Trends and Statistics":
Your Advert-Free Guide to International Women's Cricket: