BRING­ING SEXY (& SENSE) BACK TO CRICKET

Mandate - - Contents - By Nairita Mukher­jee

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

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