BRINGING SEXY (& SENSE) BACK TO CRICKET
For starters, why did you decide to quit so early and that too at the peak of your career? You missed out on so many more achievements.
Well, it was always going to be a tough decision, with cricket being such a huge part of my life for 18 years. I guess I was quite fortunate to have achieved a lot with the team, and on a personal level, so all I could do was develop more as a player and have a hand in making us a more consistent force of dominance. Yes, you always want to achieve more, but there comes a point where you need to weigh your priorities. Tackling a bad back alongside the demands of training was manageable, but that became even more of a commitment, especially under a semi-professional status. Moreover, we had just whitewashed New Zealand and there were lots of talented youngsters coming through, so it was good to end on a positive note. It certainly wasn’t an overnight decision and there were many contributing factors, but it all made sense.
You’ve played for 18 years, but you only seem to be in the media focus in the last few years. Do you hold the media responsible for women’s cricket’s limited popularity? Is the trend changing?
In England, things began to change after the 2012 Olympics. The media made a conscious effort to show more women’s sport on television and therefore, the commercial interest improved. The government backing has been the most influential factor in making this happen and their stance has persuaded various committees to increase their support to the female stars. However, there is still more to be done, but it’s definitely moving in the right direction.
What about India?
I definitely think that India is one country that could improve in the way women’s cricket is covered and marketed. You look at the men, they are celebrated throughout the country—on billboards, in magazines and commercials, and so on. Imagine if the girls start getting the same sort of reverence, I’m sure it would go a long way in changing the way women are perceived in the country, in general.
How should India go about it?
India is the only country in the top eight women’s teams at the moment whose players are not on central contracts. If the BCCI is serious about performing at the biggest stage, then overall improvements are necessary, and that doesn’t just mean player remuneration. They need to address rounded infrastructure support with regards to coaching, medical and physio accessibility, and schedule competitive fixtures. For example, one format that requires immediate attention is T20 cricket, because Indians, quite simply, do not play enough of it. And that’s why their recent performances at global T20 tournaments have been under the scanner.
Do you think all this will encourage younger talents to take up this sport?
Definitely. Once improvements are seen at the highest level, then the effect will rub off on the younger generation too. All this needs to coincide with greater support in the media and the relevant infrastructure in place at the grassroots level. The viewing figures for the World T20 women’s semi-finals and finals were higher than the Barclays Premiership in India, so the interest is certainly there. Perhaps, bigger names talking about women’s cricket in social media will also help—Shane Warne, Saurav Ganguly, Wasim Akram and Shaun Pollock have all commentated on Women’s World Cup games and
when England won the Ashes last year, Stephen Fry tweeted about it. That kind of support is gold dust.
You’ve been an IPL presenter as well. How has the experience been?
Well, ITV4 approached me on Twitter to work on the IPL four years ago. They required an Asian female with solid cricket knowledge. Though I was pretty apprehensive as I had no prior training, I decided to embrace the opportunity. I’m fortunate to have many opportunities on the back of it, including Sony Max Extraaa Innings and presenting for Ten Sports, alongside regular appearances for the BBC, Sky and now Star Sports. The IPL is pure entertainment and generally a lot of fun! There is nowhere like India to watch and be a part of the sport. Though I’ve played a national team, I must say, the atmosphere that grips India is indescribable and can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. I tried to learn some Hindi for the show last year and it was great to test it out in front of a big audience (laughs)!
Now, the IPL format is a huge success. Do you think there should be such events for women too?
Oh absolutely. Having been involved with the tournament over the last few years, I definitely think it would be a brilliant idea to have a women’s IPL and it feels like the most natural progression for women’s cricket. Furthermore, it would be relatively easy to organise as both the franchise model and logistical framework are in place already. I feel we can start with lesser number of teams to retain the quality, but it would be great to have matches on the same day as men, just as in global tournaments. The spectators would effectively get to watch two matches for the price of one. Imagine the type of exposure the girls would receive! So, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
We’ve seen male cricketers pick up sports commentary or coaching after retirement. Do you think women have similar scope?
For sure. Just because we are women that does not mean we shouldn’t have the same opportunities. Okay, there are much
“YOU LOOK AT THE MEN, THEY ARE CELEBRATED THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY— ON BILLBOARDS, IN MAGAZINES AND COMMERCIALS, AND SO ON. IMAGINE IF THE GIRLS START GETTING THE SAME SORT OF REVERENCE”
fewer women compared to men in cricket broadcasting, but if anything, it’s a great time now to get involved because there is a real need for it.
Moving on from cricket, tell us, are you still pursuing a master’s degree?
Ah yes, the never ending thesis! I have been doing it part time for the last five years now and I hope to finish it this year, although I’ve been saying that for the last two years! To be honest, I’m so busy with work that whenever I get spare time, I like to spend it with my partner, closest friends and family. I always make time for a gig though—music inspires me.
And, what about your charities?
That too. A recent project that I was made aware of was the Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka, run by Muttiah Muralitharan’s manager. It has been running since 1999, but really kicked into gear after the Tsunami in 2004. The work that was done to repair the devastation has been incredible and the attention has now turned to bringing the Sinhalese and Tamil communities together after nearly 30 years of civil war. The aim is to do this through the power of cricket, and the Murali Harmony Cup, which brings the schools from both communities together, is at the forefront of it all. With the help of some Sri Lankan cricketing legends (Murali, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Russel Arnold), and international support from Sir Ian Botham (who raised money through walking 125 gruelling miles around the whole of Sri Lanka), Michael Vaughan and Shane Warne, it has evolved into a real centre of hope for the Sri Lankan people.
So, what else beyond this?
Well, I’m starting to branch out into hosting events and I love the idea of doing features on anything that inspires me, not just sport. I am genuinely interested in so many things and I cannot think of a better way to explore those impulses than through the media.
“IT WOULD BE A BRILLIANT IDEA TO HAVE A WOMEN’S IPL AND IT FEELS LIKE THE MOST NATURAL PROGRESSION FOR WOMEN’S CRICKET”
PHOTOGRAPHS: MOHIT BHATIA STYLING: SHWETA NAVANDAR; MAKE-UP: CHETAN KARKHANIS ASSISTED BY: CHETANA DHARMASI; HAIR: SIDDHESH SHINDE LOCATION: THE DRAWING ROOM, SMOKE HOUSE DELI, BANDRA, MUMBAI