This season’s edition of the women’s Super League T20 matches (Elite Group) were historic in the Indian context. There had been a buzz around the ground over the couple of days preceding the tournament, as for the first time, four of the six matches were being televised live on Star Sports. After the fourth game, veteran commentator and former India captain Anjum Chopra, who has played in four World Cups, sat down for an exclusive interview with Firstpost.
With the lush outfield of Indore’s Holkar stadium in the backdrop, she shared her insights into both the commentary box and the dressing room in her forthright chat.
Snehal Pradhan: This is the first time a women’s cricket domestic match is telecast on TV. What are the likely effects for the women’s cricket scene in India?
Anjum Chopra: Look I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for women’s cricket in India to take a leap forward and make rapid strides in improvement. With the televised games, I think obviously a lot of people get to see the women play. Obviously a lot of interest is from the immediate family and friends but people who’ve not seen a lot of girls play cricket, for them it’s a great opportunity.
On the professional front I think as I said earlier, it’s great if the girls can really take up this opportunity and really showcase the high standards of the game that can be displayed or should be displayed. It’s a positive move forward for the women's team.
Star Sports and BCCI have taken up a little bit more interest in broadcasting women's cricket matches over the last few months. First the India-New Zealand series and now these domestic matches. We were also lucky enough to win that ODI series and in these matches too we have seen some really good batting displays by the likes of Mithali Raj and Smriti Mandhana. Do you think Indian women cricket the standard is improving overall? Can you judge by the few games that we have seen?
The initiative taken by the BCCI to showcase matches with the host broadcaster Star Sports, I think that a brilliant initiative and credit must go to the people who are making decisions in favour of the women’s sport, so that I think is a great opportunity. In terms of the talent being displayed, undoubtedly, Mithali Raj, we all know is a world-class player. She has got phenomenal talent, she doesn't need to prove all this to anybody because she's already a world acclaimed player worldwide. But, as I said it's a great opportunity for youngsters to showcase their talent.
But when I say that, I also say in the same breath that the players need to work extremely hard. A game being televised shows more than it hides. When the game is not being televised you can hide a lot of things but when it is being televised it showcases more and exposes more as well. So when you do that, I do feel that the players have a brilliant opportunity of gaining a lot from this but it’s up to them as well how they ‘Make It or Break It’ because at the end of the day the hard work has to be done by the players to improve in all departments and showcase their talent to the world.
So what you are saying is this (more televised games) will basically increase the accountability for players, coaches and selectors?
No, see when game is televised and a player is batting or bowling, it is the player batting or bowling. If they do well a lot of people get counted for. If they don't do well lot of flak comes to the player’s perspective, so that cannot be hidden. I think a televised game is the best opportunity a player can ever ask for in their playing days. Televised games will always be showcasing what is happening on the ground not the people who are behind the scenes. So it works both ways good/bad. I'm not saying ,I am not even talking about the selectors. I'm talking about the standard and improvements that a player can do in taking an opportunity- that ok, you’re being shown to the world. When you dress up- you’re going to a party- you don't dress shabbily, you always dress up well to showcase yourself when you’re going to a gathering. Similarly when you come and play a tournament it's not about how you dress up but it's about how you play, how you present yourself, physically, skill wise in every manner, that’s also an opportunity. You can't take the stage lightly. I think it’s for the players to take it up more and for the authorities to handle it better and probably take it to the next level.
Talking about your own experience as a commentator you have been a familiar face on Doordarshan for a while but is it accurate to say that a lot more people know about you after your IPL stint, and what your experiences have been there?
As long as people know me for good reasons I'm happy with it whether through Doordarshan or IPL. I am very happy to be given an opportunity but as I said at the end of the day (in) any work for me I think sky's the limit for improvement. It’s a job that has to be done well, there is no second opinion to it. You can't have half measures. It’s up to me how much I can improve as a broadcaster and that's my job so that's how I look at it.
You have become a role model and provided a clear pathway for a lot of young girls who might never have thought that women can also be commentators, presenters, broadcasters. When you were growing up did you ever have any role models in the commentary box?
Well, I've always heard a lot of commentators, because I watched a lot of cricket as well. My growing up years have been around cricket and other sports as well. I wouldn’t say I’ve had any ‘idols’ but I've always enjoyed a lot of commentary coming in from Australia. Bill Lawry has been my all time favourite. But as I said in commentary you can't follow a pattern, you can't be another copy cat or a prototype of something else. Everybody has to find their own individual approach. But yes I've always enjoyed the commentary that comes in during the Ashes. It’s just so interesting; it just makes the match even better with the commentary. The standard of play is good, the commentary makes it even better, it’s just a completely different package.
For young girls now, who want to get into commentary, what would you say is the pathway?
(Laughs) I don’t know what the pathway is, I’m really not the best person to design a pathway, I’ve just taken the next level or the next step forward, whatever opportunity comes my way. I tried to do the best and become better each day. So if the opportunity comes, only thing I can do is better than my best. I really don't know what the pathway is.
Besides cricket you also been involved with broadcasting and presenting kabaddi. Do you think the trend is shifting now towards presenters and broadcasters who can present over various sports not just their core competency?
There is no harm being multidimensional. I played kabaddi as well. I’ve played a lot of sports in school, so that helps me. I’ve played sports at national level apart from cricket, so that helps me. So as I said, if you are a multidimensional person and (an) opportunity is presented to you and you can deliver in the manner in which is supposed to be delivered then that is the job at hand. That is what you are there for. I enjoyed my stint with kabaddi. I think it gave me a lot of exposure and experience. Covering cricket is one thing. It is as when you play a sport, everyday you get to the ground and you’re learning something new; even in broadcasting and presenting, everyday you come to the studio or the ground, everyday I learn something new. That's the beauty of it and I love my job.
Everybody I worked with especially doing commentary for the women’s matches - I’ve worked with everybody for the first time. Covering the IPL, everybody was a first so I don't have an example to say that I worked with the same person twice or thrice, covering events.
For me it's obviously doing the same and learning to become better at it.
Talking about cricket how much has changed at the International and Domestic level from your playing days?
Well, the standard has gone down from my playing days-which were not so far in the past–well- that's my personal view. I said- the standard has gone down, I don't mean the talent has gone down - the talent is there but the standard has gone down and the results show it as well. It's not a very healthy sign and it’s not good news because you are supposed to be progressing but you can't be taking steps back. But unfortunately we have been taking steps back or we have been saturated as Indian women's cricket so that is what is changed.
Your best and worst memories from your playing days?
If it has to be one then it has to be the (2005) World Cup final. The best memory is playing the World Cup final and the worst memory is losing the World Cup final. In the final we were chasing 215 runs which is not even a par score in today's time, probably it wasn't even that difficult. But I guess as a team at that point of time if we just think back and if you talk to other players also they will all say that we prepared play the World Cup finals. We never prepared to win the World Cup finals. We achieved what we went out for so we can't have a hard time saying that we didn't achieve the target.
But yes winning a world cup is completely different and I'm so sure we missed an opportunity to raise the level of the sport for people in India by a great extent. Because if we had won in 2005 maybe women’s cricket would have been on a different pedestal 10 years down the line, and maybe the situation would have been a lot healthier than what it is today.
So I do feel it was an opportunity let go from all of us who were a part of that team; that we had an opportunity to change careers and futures of many youngsters who were just coming in and wanting to play the sport but, as I said learn from the mistakes and move forward. That’s what I'm hoping for Indian cricket in the future.
Tips for the girls going to Australia? You have a lot of experience there.
(Laughs) They don't need my tips they only need their own performances to help them in Australia. But yes I do wish them all the best because they will be faced with stiff opposition. They will (need to ) be able to practice or rather implement whatever they have been learning individually - because few of them have travelled to Australia very many number of times now, they’ve played the opposition a few times. Results, well, we all know Australia is a much stronger opposition than what India will be but how the results come out will show the development of Indian cricket from the last time they played Australia. Everything is not about the result is also about the process so I'll be eagerly looking at what the processes are and that's going to be the big positive coming out.
The author, Snehal Pradhan, is a former women's international cricketer and represented India in 6 ODIs and 4 T20Is. Follow her on Twitter here.