Diana's 'Baig' full of tricks holds Pakistan in good stead

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Diana's 'Baig' full of tricks holds Pakistan in good stead

Diana Baig celebrates picking up a wicket. © Getty Images

Diana Baig has not played in South Africa before. The last time Pakistan toured South Africa in 2019, she was not a part of the squad. The ongoing series is her first in the Rainbow Nation. But that did not affect her by any means when she opened the bowling in the first ODI in Durban on Wednesday (January 20).

Right from the very first delivery, she was making the ball move around. With Lizelle Lee on strike, the first delivery pitched outside leg-stump and swung back towards it. It was a wide. The second was on a similar length, pitched on the fifth stump line, shaping away from the right-hander. Lee was quick on her feet with a forward stride and defended it towards the cover fielder. The third was on the middle and leg-stump line, and Lee defended again.

To take Lee's front-foot stride out of the equation, Baig shortened the length by a yard or two and pitched it on the middle and leg-stump line. And this time she successfully deceived Lee and hit her on the knee roll. It could have gone over the stumps with the stride forward as Lee was batting outside the crease. But it did not matter. Baig had done enough in the over to convince the umpire that the batter could be out. Lee had to take the long walk back.

When the stand-in skipper Sune Luus came in at number three, the line and length did not change. In her next over, Baig bowled the first couple of deliveries on the good-length and kept it in the outside off-stump channel. Whenever she got closer to the stumps, Luus and Laura Wolvaardt were happy to take singles.

Luus clipped Baig for four through the leg side in the fifth over and followed it with a gorgeous cover drive off the next delivery when the pacer overcompensated with the length. She flicked the next for a couple. Baig had gone for ten runs already in the over, but she was not done yet.

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After trying to move the ball away in her first sixteen deliveries, Baig pitched the ball just on the off-stump line, on the good-length and brought it back into the South African skipper. It breached Luus' defence and hit the off bail. If the first wicket was her arrival, Baig was now stamping her authority over a strong South African batting line-up. Lee and Luus were back in the pavilion.

She tested the next batter, Lara Goodall, with her tight lines outside the off-stump angling away from the left-hander. In fact, Baig almost had her when she squared-up Goodall and made her edge one to Sidra Nawaz behind the stumps. Except that, Nawaz could not hold on to it.

Baig had done her job with the new ball. It was time for the spinners to take over, and they did. When Baig came back for the third time to complete her quota of overs, South Africa were struggling at 161 for five after 42 overs.

In her last over, Baig could have dismissed Trisha Chetty, when the wicketkeeper batter miscued a slog towards long-on. But Nashra Sandhu dropped it. However, that did not stop Baig. She took it upon herself to dive and catch one in her follow-through when Nadine de Klerk drove a back of the length delivery towards her in the air.

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Understandably, Baig was elated. She could have had four, but three wickets on her first match in South Africa is not too bad a performance. A direct-hit run out to dismiss the well-set Wolvaardt was the icing on the cake.

Baig has played 24 matches has taken 25 wickets since her debut in 2015. It is only half the matches Pakistan have played in this period. No pacer from Pakistan has taken more wickets than her in the last five years. Only Sana Mir and Sandhu have taken more wickets in ODIs. And here she was troubling South African batters on her first match in their home.

Returning to international cricket for the first time after the T20 World Cup in March last year, Pakistan could not have asked for a better start from their lead pacer. Her performance resulting in a win could not be a certainty. However, it would be fair to say that without Baig's wickets, it would be improbable for Pakistan to come close to a series victory in South Africa.