The Panna Ghosh story: Juggling between cricket and volleyball

Panna Ghosh celebrates a wicket against Sri Lanka. © Getty Images

A cricketer practicing multiple disciplines is a norm these days. While we mostly get to know the stories mostly of male cricketers, similar stories of their female counterparts are not generally heard off. Take Panna Ghosh, Bangladesh women’s team pacer and one of the courageous ones who represents the national team at the same time while playing volleyball professionally. The right-arm fast bowler is also a member of Bangladesh Ansar’s volleyball team.

Cricket wasn’t Panna’s first love but fell in love with the game after she saw a group of girls playing the gentleman’s game while on a volleyball tournament. “I was playing in a volleyball tournament at the Dhanmondi Mohila Complex representing Rajshahi division. There I saw 10-12 girls playing cricket and I was intrigued. I started practising cricket under the tutelage of Mijanur Rahman (local coach of Rajshahi) and continued training for five years,” Panna was quoted as saying to The Daily Star.

Cases like Panna’s are, however, not uncommon in Bangladesh. Mashura Parvin, who now represents Bangladesh U-19 football team, has previously played age-level Kabaddi before switching to football. Mirona, now a football coach, represented the national football team while also being a long-distance runner.

What worked for Panna was her height which helped her in becoming both a fast bowler and a volleyball player. But in a country like Bangladesh when a woman playing any kind of sport is not given any priority like men, a girl often needs to show persistence and determination to pave her own path even after having natural athlete-like qualities.

“I used to play volleyball, cricket since I was seven or eight years of age. I was the tallest girl in my class and I used to play with the boys in my neighbourhood. But they usually did not want to take me,” recalled the 30-year-old. “There was an incident in 1998 when the boys declined to take me on the insistence of an elderly person of the locality. I was a bit stubborn and I decided to arrange a cricket tournament by myself. I even bought some medals for the tournament. Even in that tournament, a few boys did not want to see me participate but they could not do much as I was the one who arranged it.”

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Panna, who hails from Rajshahi, was first chosen for her school’s volleyball team for her height and played in volleyball tournaments in the early and mid-2000s. After continuing for five years under Mijanur, Panna participated in an open cricket tournament in Dhaka in 2006 – the same year when Bangladesh Cricket Board was trying to form a women’s team.

“In 2006, an open tournament was held in Dhaka where a number of teams participated. It was the year when the BCB was trying to form a women’s team. I trained under Farida Begum for six months and played for Bhola district. I was declared the player-of-the-tournament as Bhola emerged champions,” explained Panna.

She was soon called for the very first batch of women’s cricketers. “We (Bangladesh women’s team) went to Thailand to play in the Asian Games in 2007. I was adjudged player-of-the-series with Bangladesh winning that tournament,” said Panna, who made her ODI debut back in 2011 against Ireland.

Panna has been representing the Bangladesh team since 2007 and in 2008 she secured a job in the Ansar under the (volleyball) players’ quota. The 30-year-old sometimes had to make interesting decisions while balancing both cricket and volleyball.

“Even last year I fled from the Ansar camp in Gazipur and went to Rajshahi to play cricket. At that time a volleyball tournament was being held in Dhaka. However, I returned from Rajshahi later and played in the final of the volleyball tournament representing Bangladesh Ansar and became champion,” said Panna, who holds the dream of becoming a volleyball coach at the end of her career.