Interview with Zainab Abbas — Award-winning Sports Journalist

For many Pakistanis, growing up with the ultimate dream of playing and watching cricket has been an integral part of their lives. One such crazy cricket fan we have come to know and adore is Zainab Abbas. She has recently paved her way as a cricket commentator and sports journalist in Pakistan, inspiring many young girls to take up this occupation as a career. She graduated with a degree in Marketing and Strategy from Warwick University, England and is living her dream as a sports commentator. She has hosted the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2018, was an anchor at Dunya News, Ten Sports and also hosted for Shahid Afridi Foundation.
Hilal for Her recently had a chance to get up close and personal with this cricket sensation.
Who is Zainab Abbas?
I am somebody who is extremely passionate about sports and more importantly cricket — my passion. Most of my coverage has been on cricket. I remember I used to play in the driveway of my house with all my family when I was young. I grew up in a family which was sports-obsessed; actually, cricket-obsessed. I am somebody who is first and foremost a passionate cricket follower. I read a lot about the game and I study the game thoroughly. It has been 5 years since I have been in this field. I have had my fair share of challenges but I have stuck through it. Recently, I won Sports TV Host of the Year award; that was an amazing feeling. It was almost surreal since it’s a male-dominated field. So, if you have to describe Zainab Abbas, then Zainab Abbas is somebody who is very passionate about what she does and she wants to leave a legacy behind so young women can take up this field. 
There are not many female sports commentators and presenters in Pakistan; what made you enter the field and what challenges (if any) did you face?
It was my passion for the game and never a case of me wanting to get screen space or become famous. I got offers from dramas as well but my aim was to contribute in sports; I never really wanted to be part of the entertainment industry. Perhaps becoming a public figure was a by-product of what I was doing.
When I got a call and got interviewed for the opportunity to appear as a guest on a show for the cricket World Cup 2015. That was the start of my journey in its true sense. It was a World Cup gig, which then turned into a full time contract. Those who know me very well, know for a fact that I’ve worked really hard and I’ve always been into the sport. The biggest challenge for me was trying to make my name in this particular field because it is male-dominated. Every time you talk about a woman being involved in sports, there is a perception that women don’t know much about sports. I’ve had to prove them wrong and work really hard to make my mark in this field. 
But one thing that keeps me going and makes me stand apart is that my work speaks for itself. I’m not saying that I am absolutely amazing at what I do. I do feel that I have my share of flaws but it has been a journey where I have learned on the field and I feel that I have become better with time. There’s always going to be room for improvement but at the same time I feel that I have achieved a lot in a very short period of time. Being the PSL presenter opened greater opportunities for me. I’ve represented Pakistan on all the international tours which Pakistan has played in England, Australia, South Africa and I have an opportunity to work for the International Cricket Council.
How do you stay well-informed about cricket, the teams, their play and the players?
I work with these guys on regular basis; they are my colleagues. I am on tour with them most of the time. I feel it’s just a very good professional relationship where I get to know them and I share a great rapport with some of them. 
As far as information and being well-informed is concerned, again it’s my interest in the game. I spend hours watching cricket and expanding my knowledge about different teams. I’m not saying I’m an expert but I do follow the game very closely and that’s how I keep myself up to date with whatever is happening and whatever the individual performances have been.
It’s just a natural thing that I keep myself up to date about cricket. I also love having cricket discussions; you learn so much from having discussions. It’s like a regular way of my life and that’s how I keep myself educated about the game.
As a sports analyst you have a unique perspective of cricket matches; what surprises you most about the up-close views about cricket?
Cricket is a very fascinating game but the one thing which surprises me, which is now very obvious, and I always struggle to understand, is the internal politics of the cricket team. There are always so many different characters in a team and it’s always interesting to know that people are not always what they seem to be. When you see them from afar, they seem different but when you really get to know the inside story; every player has their own presence in the team and their own contributions.
It’s always interesting to see different teams and when you really get to know the nitty-gritties of whatever is happening inside, you realise that a layman might not know the harsh realities. 
Do you think there are any advantages or disadvantages of being a female in your line of work?
I don’t work in my field thinking that I’m a female; it’s one of the things that’s highlighted to me personally, but I don’t want to be one of those people who feel victimised due to gender discrimination. I would say that mentalities and perceptions out there are different to what normal people would see. You would think that cricket is a male-dominated and more than once I’m the only female around.
The most important thing in the field is the kind of professional that you are and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a female. I feel in terms of advantage or disadvantage, the challenge I had to initially face was breaking barriers that women have to face. But otherwise I’m blessed to be with the people who have encouraged me and supported me through out. The disadvantage is mostly the social media trolls; as soon as they see a woman who has got a certain amount of following, talking about the finer points of the game, they’re just like who is she, what does she know about the game. I feel that this perception has now slightly started to change.
Who is your all-time favourite cricketer and why?
My all-time favourite cricketer is Waseem Akram and the reason is that not only Pakistan but the world will never see a greater left-arm fast bowler; somebody who had the ability to swing the ball both ways and won countless matches for Pakistan. I think there is no better cricketer that Pakistan has produced. He’s also blessed with a great sense of humour. I have had the privilege to work with him and honestly he’s one of the greatest people that I’ve worked with.
Any hidden talents?
My hidden talent would be that I make amazing dark chocolate cake that I learned from my father. I know for a fact that it’s totally unique because everyone who has tried it has absolutely loved it. I have a passion for cooking but it has a limited space in my life because of the time factor. I’m also a makeup artist so all my friends till date come to me to get their makeup done. HH

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