Monday, 15 February 2016

A first look at Tamanna

Back in 2012, I first met the man who would eventually become my husband. After a month or so of chatting on the phone and Skype, I flew over to Indore meet him. My family had already arrived there that morning. It was a typical arranged marriage setting,except for one thing: I was carrying my cricket kit bag along. I had arrived directly after leading the Board President’s XI in a tour match against the visiting Australian women’s cricket team. Even though we lost the match, I was given the warmest welcome at the airport. My prospective in-laws were quite proud of the fact that their could-be daughter-in-law was an international cricketer.

Star Plus’s new show Tamanna took off on Monday with a similar story, but some fundamental differences: there was the typical arranged marriage setting, but with a kit bag being packed away. A match was in progress, but the key player was missing. A conservative grandmother threatened the girl to not mention cricket. A doting, supportive father melted and fulfilled his daughter’s request. A young girl was about to be introduced to her prospective in-laws, but with her cricketing skills being hushed up, not celebrated.

Tamanna has some familiar faces, but an unfamiliar storyline. We have seen plenty of cricket on both the small and big screen, and some hockey as well. But for the first time, here’s a show about cricket, with a female protagonist. The show – being promoted by the hashtag #HerDreamsDontDie – tells the story of Dharaa Solanki, a talented young cricketer from an orthodox family in Jamnagar.

When I heard about the show, I was thrilled that women’s cricket was chosen as the vehicle to send across a social message. It shows that the women’s game is making bigger ripples in our consciousness. Perhaps the producers hope that the recent series win by the Indian women’s cricket team in Australia will boost interest in the show. And I, in turn, will be hoping that the presence of a female cricketer on the small screen will send the message that women can and do play cricket, a fact that is still lost on far too many people in our country.

The show starts with Dharaa (played by Anuja Sathe) being given clear instructions by her grandmother that cricket is not to be mentioned in front of her prospective in-laws, or their son Mihir. Instead, she is taught a special Jamnagar recipe! But when Dharaa hears that a selector (played by Harsh Chhaya) has come all the way from Pune just to see her bat, she is caught between two worlds. On one hand, she had agreed to skip that game so that this meeting could take place. On the other, it might be her only chance to break into the state team. Having agreed to not play cricket after marriage, her dream of calling herself a state player is in jeopardy. Finally, she tries having her cake and eating it too, by sneaking out for the match as soon as her meeting with Mihir concludes. Her sympathetic father covers up for her as she gets to the ground in time to strap on the leg guards and walk out to bat. It reminded me of my own struggles to balance cricket with different aspects of my life, particularly college.

Dharaa’s story is likely to take a different path however, judging by the promos. My guess is, she will be pressured to fit into the Indian stereotype of the ideal bahu, who must sacrifice her dreams at the sacrosanct altar of marriage and children. Luckily, the breadcrumbs left to us by the show’s trailer point to a second coming, after childbirth.

While Anuja Sathe’s portrayal of Dharaa in the first two episodes is heartfelt, her obvious awkwardness with the bat made me cringe (producer Ajinkya Deo actually said that this was a major challenge while casting). Another point that rankled was that a show trying to break stereotypes is sponsored by a fairness cream.

Some of the scenes in the first episode are far-fetched (such as batting in a match after the playing XI has already been decided, and walking out to bat in slippers). But Tamanna looks to address a tricky issue that exists quietly, but undeniably, like a green snake in the grass: Should a woman’s dreams have an expiry date? Or can she pursue them at any point in life? Can a woman have a second innings?

In an interview on YouTube, director Abhinay Deo (who also directed 24, and Delhi Belly) said, “I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to live their second innings. There are very few blessed people who have managed it. But is it impossible? No.”

There are instances of women who have hit such questions for a six, even in a career like cricket, which is bound by the same chains that bind the human body. For women in careers heavily dependent on physical fitness, childbirth understandably necessitates a break. But it need not be the end. Last month, I profiled Delhi cricketer Neha Tanwar. Having represented India, Neha quit cricket in 2014 to start a family, only to return six months after the birth of her son. She just might set a trend in women’s cricket; one that already exists in some other sports. Remember Mary Kom?

All walks of life throw up examples such as these. And some of them even existed two generations ago. My own grandmother completed her MSc only after her marriage. She submitted her thesis while eight months pregnant with my father, and gave her vivas when he was just a month old. It should be no surprise then that my grandmother was the one who gave me my first push into cricket, and has been my biggest support in my own career. Now, my mother-in-law has been a huge pillar of support for me, encouraging me to pursue my interests even after my retirement from competitive cricket.

While more such examples can be found, there are countless more young girls for whom this is not the case, particularly (but not exclusively) in rural India. After marriage, they are discouraged, and often forcibly stopped from doing something that doesn’t fit into the scheme of things at the sasuraal. The young married girls of these families may never reach the cricket grounds, the offices or the schools that they visit in their daydreams. This may be the reason I have never met a girl in cricket who does not have family backing.

With the wide penetration that soaps have, I hope that Tamanna will send a message that will make some cracks in more pernicious traditional mindsets. I hope it will nudge a few girls towards less monochromatic futures. I, for one, will eagerly be following the direction of the story.

This article was first published on The Ladies Finger

A Women's IPL? Not so fast...


Ironic as it is, that word best describes the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League, in that it will strongly influence later developments. The WBBL’s groundbreaking debut is another feather in the cap for Cricket Australia (CA) as far as women’s cricket is concerned. With crowds in excess of 10,000 for some games, and viewership ratings that were the highest in their brackets, CA have proved that there is an appetite for high-quality women’s cricket among both television and family audiences.

The WBBL has made its mark on the Indian female cricketers too. Even though Mithali Raj could not be a part of the tournament due to domestic commitments, she was looking ahead. “The T20 World Cup will be important in popularising the game. If we do well in it, it will definitely give birth to the women’s IPL,” she said.

The world of women’s cricket is hopeful that a women’s IPL will become a reality. As am I. But you can’t do a handstand on shaky elbows. If a women’s IPL is to take root and take off in our country, I believe some serious groundwork needs to be done first.

1. An under-16 tournament

Who doesn’t love a teenage wonderkid? However, since the BCCI took over, women’s cricket has been played only in the Under-19 and open-age groups, with an Under-23 tournament added this year.

The U-16 tournament, which used to be conducted by the previous setup, was discontinued. Despite the lack of a feeder line that nurtures teenage talent, India has produced precociously talented players like Smriti Mandhana and Deepti Sharma, mostly courtesy the School Games Federation, which organises women’s cricket matches as well. But to ensure that such players continue to emerge, and that they are exposed to match situations from a tender age, an U-16 tournament is necessary. The current administration has made noises about starting one, and it is imperative that they set it up in the next domestic season.

2. Inter school cricket in big cities

For the future of women’s cricket to be made secure, a concerted effort to increase the number of girls playing cricket at the grassroots level is required. Most young girls don’t play club cricket as the boys do, instead generally turning out for their state U-19 teams directly, if they are talented enough. Thus, a number of girls are lost in the churn, and don’t get the platform to develop their potential over a consistent period. By organising inter-school tennis-ball tournaments, at least in big urban centres to start with, state associations can access a demographic that may otherwise never play cricket, and schoolgirls will have a chance to play competitive cricket below the U-19 age group. The Mumbai Cricket Association have been conducting such a tournament for the last seven years, and are now reaping the benefits, with a some talented teenagers in the squad that won this year’s Plate Group T20 title.

3. Visibility of Role Models

Back in 2002, I watched Jhulan Goswami tear into the England batting line up in her debut series. The sight had me charging up and down our house, bowling at the wall with a rubber ball, dreaming that I would one day open the bowling with her. It didn’t matter that the pictures on the DD sports channel were so grainy, it looked like there was a sandstorm at the venue. The dream sustained me until my debut, six years later. Such is the power of a visible role model. There are thousands of young girls all across the country, who have never seen Goswami bowl or Harmanpreet Kaur bat. The recent initiatives by the BCCI and Star Sports to broadcast the domestic T20 finals and the India-Australia T20Is, with the right publicity, will go a long way in kindling the dreams of the next generation of players.

4. Retention of domestic talent

In the IPL, if international stars are the match winners, its often domestic players who are the show stoppers. Just ask Sarfaraz Khan or Hardik Pandya. Indeed, the quality of the domestic talent in a team is a reflection of the standard of cricket in the country. In the women’s domestic T20s, champions Railways were almost upset by Goa in the T20 Super Leagues. While this augurs well for domestic cricket, for a women’s IPL to be successful, the standard of domestic cricket must rise further. For this to happen, the BCCI must consider starting a corporate trophy for women, similar to the one that is played by men. This will give companies (besides the Railways) reasons to offer jobs to talented players, and make cricket a more viable career option in the long run. It will also increase the number of matches played by women in the season.

5. Vision

Without a doubt, this is the most important ingredient required for the fruition of a women’s IPL. The success of the WBBL is the culmination of a number of progressive moves by CA, in order to achieve their vision of “making cricket the number one sport for girls and women in Australia”. If a women’s IPL is seen as a means to inspire young girls to play, and not as an end in itself, it is not impossible to rival even the success of the WBBL.

When Clare Connor, chair of the ICC’s women’s cricket committee was asked about equal prize money for men and women, she said that if she had a choice, she would use the money elsewhere. “I’d suggest that some of it could pay the amazingly committed female players who aren’t paid to play for their countries. Some could go on further expansion of the international schedule so that teams play more, performance standards rise and the best players become more visible.

Some would undoubtedly go on devising innovative marketing projects to sell an irresistible product to potential sponsors, broadcasters and audiences”. A similar ‘bottom up’ approach must be taken to women’s cricket in India. It needs to start with getting more young girls into cricket, and end with the Indian women’s team becoming world champions. Do that, and a women’s IPL will happen along the way.

With England set to launch their own Women’s Cricket Super League this summer, the question of a women’s IPL is likely to arise again soon. If it were up to me, I’d focus my immediate resources on strengthening the bases of women’s cricket in the country, so the launch pad is firm. After all, women’s cricket in the country would needs a women’s IPL to run as long as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge has, and not be forgotten soon after release.

This article first appeared in 'Seamtress', my column for Wisden India.

Ambidexterity: Cricket's next evolution

Kamindu Mendis in action(s).

I like the idea of evolution. The Charles Xavier type more than Charles Darwin's. The first X-Men movie starts with a narration by Patrick Stewart that goes something like this: “Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.”

Cricket finds itself in one such phase, caught in the middle of a jump in evolution. It has changed more in the last 10 years than in the last 100. The tipping point, without a doubt, was the birth of the T20 format. It precipitated bigger bats, longer hits, slower 
bouncers, frequent yorkers, umpires with helmets.

And switch-hits.

Kevin Pietersen’s switch-hit inspired mixed reaction and fierce debate on the legalities, yet everybody agreed on one thing: it was spectacular. Ambidextrous cricketers suddenly became the new buzzword, and ambidexterity is the new cool.

It is no surprise, therefore, that now we have bowlers who can use both arms. Tuesday’s semi-final against India featured Sri Lanka’s batting all-rounder Kamindu Mendis who can bowl both off-spin and left-arm spin.

He prefers to take the ball away from a batter. Mendis bowls right-arm off-spin to left-handers and left-arm tweakers to right-handers, negating the advantage of having a left-right batting combination at the crease. The youngster didn’t get a load of wickets but has certainly cornered a lot of attention. Could he be the product of a generation who grew up watching guys like Pietersen play switch hits? After all, Mendis was only 10 in 2008 when Pietersen first unleashed the shot.

One gentleman who most likely won’t be surprised by Mendis’s ability is John Buchanan, coach of Australia when they were at their most dominant. I remember reading his predictions about ambidextrous cricketers in his aptly named book, ‘If better were possible’. Back in 2003, Buchanan had said: “We’ll have players, hopefully by the next World Cup (2007), who can use both sides of their bodies. I don’t think we will be at the stage when players bowl with both hands in four years’ time — but maybe in eight.”
Buchanan’s timelines may be a bit off but he was certainly on the right track. The number of batters proficient at switch-hitting is on the rise. And ambidextrous bowlers are cropping up too. Take Vidharbha’s Akshay Karnewar, for instance.

With truly ambidextrous players appearing at the U19 and List A level, it is a matter of time before we see these skills on the international stage. While a number of cricketers bat with one hand and bowl with the other, they cannot be called truly ambidextrous.

In one of my earliest blogs, I had argued that it was only common sense for a player who bowls right handed to bat left-handed. This is because a batter’s top hand is his/her dominant hand. Thus it is only natural for people who are naturally right-handed to be taught to bat left-handed, as this ensures that their strong hand becomes their top hand. However, a player can only be called truly ambidextrous if he/she can perform the same skill equally adroitly with both hands.

There can be no doubt that ambidextrous cricketers add variety and excitement to the game. But at what cost? Commentator Harsha Bhogle, back in 2012, labelled switch-hit as ‘unfair’. He said, “(It) strikes at the sanctity of our sport, which must seek to maintain a balance between bat and ball.”

A bowler is required to declare to the umpire (and thus the batter) which side of the wicket he will bowl from, and using which arm. However, when a batter performs a switch, he gives the bowler no such intimation and thus gains an unfair advantage. That the ICC ratified switch-hit despite this anomaly is further proof of the ‘batter’s game mindset’ that dogs cricket.

Baseball, which has encountered both switch-hitters and switch-pitchers, recently introduced the ‘Pat Venditte rule', after an ambidextrous pitcher of the same name came up against a switch-hitting batter. The pitcher must first indicate to the plate umpire with which hand he intends to throw, and then the batter decides from which box he intends to hit. Neither can change their chosen hand during that ball. Safe to say that baseball has more respect for pitchers than cricket has for bowlers?

The trump card of ambidextrous cricketers, batters or bowlers, is the options they create. It is the surprise element. People often speak of a bowler getting inside a batter’s head, and anticipating where he will play. This becomes exponentially more difficult if the batter switches sides and opens up more scoring areas.
Such is the advantage that switch-hitters possess. But the laws give no such advantage to the bowlers. Why not give them the same choice? Imagine if a bowler had the option to bowl over or round the wicket, and with left or right hand, without informing the batter or the umpire? Just as a switch-hitter challenges the bowler to think on his feet, such a situation would keep the better guessing till the last minute. As a bowler, I know I would have loved to have these options while I was playing.

I am glad the switch-hit is legal, make no mistake. Cricket would be poorer without its athleticism and innovation. But just as the game appreciates, authorises and embraces batters who can bath on both sides, so too must it pay attention to the other side of the story. A pugilist who  only strengthens his dominant hand will surely regret it in a fight. 

This article first appeared on

Mankad? Yes please!

42.15 Law 42.15 – Bowler attempting to run out non-striker before delivery : Law 42.15 shall be replaced by the following: The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to deliberately attempt to run out the non-striker. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal Dead ball as soon possible.
- ICC playing conditions 2015

This should be the end of this discussion.

Nevertheless, the furore over Keemo Paul’s alleged chicanery in running out Zimbabwe U19’s Richard Ngarava refuses to die down. A number of players, current and past, called it ‘unsporting behaviour’. Some have said that 'mankad'ing a batter without a warning is not cool. And the spirit of cricket has been invoked as well. Let’s think about all this for a moment.

Firstly, the unsporting behaviour charge. Running between the wickets is fundamentally the skill of covering a fixed distance in the least possible time. Is it sporting for a batter to be allowed to get a head start on a run, thus reducing the distance he or she has to cover, and therefore gaining an unfair advantage, with no fear of losing his or her wicket?

Then there is this business about the warnings. The anachronistic suggestion sounds congruous with the mental image of cricket being “pastoral, staid and moral” as Christian Drury puts it in his excellent blog post. Why would a batter ever leave his crease early? After all, this is the gentleman’s game, and he’s gentleman. And if by chance he did, it is surely an innocent mistake and a gentle reminder shall suffice. And as for today’s well paid professionals? Certainly, let’s give them reminders as well. Would you like some earl grey with that, sir? Milk or cream?

And finally the much bandied about spirit of cricket argument. The 
spirit of cricket, as put down by the MCC, states that:

5. It is against the Spirit of the Game:
To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture
To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire
To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance:
(a) to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out
(b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
(c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one's own side

Since what Paul did was within the laws of the game, it is asinine to call him a cheat. And whatever their actions and the reactions, Keemo Paul and the West Indies U-19 team certainly did not act against the spirit of cricket as described above.

A lot has been said and written about this spirit of cricket over the many years that cricket has existed. The fact is that the ‘spirit of cricket’ was only enshrined in the laws of the game in the year 2000 in the hope that it would “remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in a truly sportsmanlike manner”.

For me, two words ring out most clearly from that sentence. ‘Truly’ and ‘sportsmanlike’. They tell me that the spirit of cricket is primarily a call for players, umpires, and yes, administrators, to be honest, and fair, above all else. 'Mankad'ing, then does not violate the spirit of cricket. I’ll tell you what I think does:

• That the 2019 cricket World Cup will feature less teams than the 2015 edition, not more.
• That South Africa U19 and New Zealand U19 will qualify directly for the next U19 World Cup by virtue of being full members despite not qualifying for the Super League. Nepal and Namibia though must play a qualifier despite making the Super League, being associate teams.
• That abusive send-offs and verbal volleys are still met with the feeblest of punishments.

These are the issues that threaten the essence of the spirit of cricket, not 'mankad'ing.

The reason Paul’s actions have infuriated a section of the cricketing world are three fold:

Firstly, our default setting while viewing the game tends to find us in what I call the ‘batter’s game mindset’. Suppose Paul had bowled that ball, and the batters ran the three required to win. Suppose there was a run out chance on the third run, and the batter was home by the very margin that Ngarava was dismissed by. Would that be fair to the West Indies?

Secondly, because of the timing, and the context of the match, with a quarterfinal berth at stake and the match poised on a knife’s edge. Paul is being criticised attempting a ‘mankad’ only when the possibility of a loss loomed large, and the odds were against the West Indies. If this is true- and I believe it is- it is only because of the history of shame and stigma we have attached to a perfectly legitimate form of dismissal. Had ‘mankad’ not been demonised as much as it has, fielding sides would use it more often, and batters would be more wary, and there would be fewer outcries.

Thirdly, because it is a ‘man bites dog’ moment. The last instance of a ‘mankad’ in the international game was back in 2014, when Jos Butler was run out by Senanayake. The sheer rarity of its occurrence has also contributed to the controversy that has engulfed it.

The solution to 'mankad'ing is straightforward: To have more of it. Let’s admit that truth that we all know, but few accept: that if cricket ever was the gentleman’s game, now it is the batter’s game. Today’s bowlers have to invent new ways to counter flat tracks, bigger bats, impossible field restrictions, and innovative batters. Let’s give them another weapon in their armoury. Let’s stop frowning on the ‘mankad’, and challenge bowlers to be aware of the non-strikers position as they run in. Let’s put a healthy fear of losing their wicket in the batter’s minds, and keep them honest. Let’s stop looking at this issue from the ‘batter’s game mindset’ and be fair to all involved.

This article first appeared on

Interview with Anjum Chopra

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.

Favourite co-commentator?

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.

This interview first appeared on

Use your head. Wear a helmet. Always.

It’s been a little over a year since the cricket world was shaken by the death of Phil Hughes. At the time, his death seemed like an anomaly. The binary system of cricket, which so far only dealt in the results ‘win’ or ‘lose’, threw up a chilling third one: ‘death’. Hughes’ passing threw into focus something that most within the game already knew. That cricket, and in fact all sport, has underlying dangers. His death was like the one solar flare that caused us to take a closer look at the sun, only to realise it wasn’t the first, and hasn’t been the last.

Since November 2014, at least four more cricketers have died on the field. Two of these deaths (the Israeli umpire Hilel Awasker and English club cricketer Bavalan Pathmanathan) were triggered by the impact of a cricket ball.

Cricket, stripped down to its most visceral, is an activity in which a projectile is hurled in the direction of the batter for him/her to manipulate. The necessity of taking the very basic precautions while attempting something like that cannot be overstated. Saba Karim and Mark Boucher’s careers could have been much longer had they been wearing a helmet. But even with a helmet, the cricket ball can do serious damage. Stuart Broad had his nose broken by a Varun Aaron bouncer, which sneaked through his helmet grille. And Craig Keiswetter suffered an even more unfortunate fate, when a similar injury permanently hampered his vision, and forced him into early retirement, despite having his helmet on.

Cricket can hurt, make no mistake. Ask Richard Kettleborough’s shins. Ask Ajinkya Rahane’s fingers. Ask anyone standing south of David Warner. But the reason I write this piece, is an incident involving a young cricketer who I have shared a dressing room with. Last month, Humaira Kazi was hit on her head while batting by a misdirected throw that left her unconscious for a few minutes, and with a hairline fracture of the skull. She was lucky that that was all. She would have been safer had she been wearing a helmet, but she considered it unnecessary since she was batting against spin.

Humaira Kazi, who escaped with a fractured skull after beinghit in the head. 

Unfortunately, unless facing a threatening fast bowler, many players prefer not to wear a lid while batting. Is it hubris? Or just poor role models? After all, MS Dhoni does it. But this leaves players like Kazi susceptible to injuries through freak accidents. But a closer look shows us that there is nothing ‘freak’ about them.

The internet tells us that a freak accident is, “an incident, especially one that is harmful, occurring under highly unusual and unlikely circumstances.” It is the type of thing that is seen to be so improbable, it’s not worth the effort of taking protection against. “No need to wear armour on my heel, I’ll never get hurt there”, Achilles probably though. But this excellent story by Andy Bull in the Guardian points out to the public something that my own experience in cricket has already taught me. These freak accidents aren’t as uncommon as you would think.

In my own fifteen years as a cricketer, I have been struck on the head twice. The first time, while batting, a full toss slid off the back of my bat and onto my helmet. The second, a stray ball from the opposition nets hit me on the back of my head. Luckily, I walked away with just a headache. I myself have hit quite a few players on the head with my bowling. In the first of these, the batter wasn’t wearing a helmet. It is a memory that I would rather forget.
My Western Railway teammate and Delhi cricketer Lalita Sharma recalled a rather more painful incident. The full toss she missed nicked the back of her bat and shattered her unprotected nose. She had to be airlifted from Surat to Delhi for reconstructive surgery. Although she was almost miraculously back in action in a week, the doctor said a few centimetres here and there and she could have lost her eyesight.

Considering that women’s cricket is only a small piece in the big Indian cricket pie, even the most conservative extrapolation of my experience with head injuries gives us an idea of the number of these ‘freak accidents’ that must be occurring in India alone. Sceptical? Visit Azad maidan or Oval maidan in Mumbai. At first, the wonder of seeing so many matches being played simultaneously in such a small area will hit you. Once it wears off, it is likely that a cricket ball will. Mumbai’s maidans are a melting pot with all the ingredients to concoct a ‘freak accident’.

The cricket world is not totally unaware of the existing dangers. All test playing nations have agreed to adopt the 2013 British safety standards as stipulated by the ICC, but implementation of these guidelines is the prerogative of each individual board. Some have been more diligent about this than others. Noticed the colourful honeycomb patterned neck protection that all players in the BBL now sport on their helmets? They are a result of a Cricket Australia policy change requiring all national and state contracted players to adhere to updated safety standards. The ECB have already made helmets mandatory for all batters -irrespective of the speed of the bowler- as well as close in fielders and wicketkeepers standing up to the stumps. They are also exploring protective equipment for umpires.

Which raises the question of why the BCCI haven’t yet adopted safer practices. When asked about the ICC directive, a senior BCCI official told Firstpost, “We have issued advisories to all state associations, regarding the new safety standards that have been decided upon with regards to helmets.” However, unlike the ECB and CA, the BCCI have not yet made helmets mandatory. “It is a positive step that they (the other boards) have taken. However, enforcing something like across the country length and breadth of our country is not that straightforward. We have provided clear guidelines about safety precautions that should be taken.”

“Just as we want better phones which have latest technology, players should also keep upgrading their safety equipment. The extra protection post Phil Hughes incident for back side of the skull is the reference point.” Sanjay Bangar, the Indian team batting coach, told Firstpost. But in India, the cricketing fraternity has had to take individual decisions with regards to safety. While whether to wear a helmet or not is a choice left to the player, most coaches agreed that it’s just common sense. Niranjan Godbole, former Maharashtra Ranji trophy cricketer who still plays club cricket in England said, “I always instruct my wards to wear a helmet, even if they are facing a spinner. The risk of a ball hitting the face is always around, especially while playing horizontal bat shots like the sweep and pull.”

Umpire John Ward couldbe the first of many to wear a helmet. He certainly should.

In a Vijay Hazare trophy match last month, umpire Paschim Pathak officiated wearing a helmet. He had watched Aussie umpire John Ward get hit in a Ranji game, and rightly decided to take no chances. And John Ward should be saluted for calling for a helmet in Canberra on Wednesday during the fourth ODI between India and Australia. Once hit, always shy - and right so. Umpire Ward might just set the trend in international cricket.

While the boards of other countries are engaged in collaborative research into the hunt for the perfect helmet, in India a helmet is still an option. This article is an appeal from a former player to the BCCI : make helmets mandatory for all batters at all times. At least for minors under -18, who aren’t considered old enough to make important decisions themselves, there should be no two ways about it. 

That being said, former India cricketer Amey Khurasia, now chief coach with the MPCA added this, “If it should be mandatory for juniors, it should apply to the seniors as well. This isn’t a question of maturity, it’s a question of protecting a player’s life. In such cases, the rules should be same for all age groups.”

Should the BCCI go ahead and make the use of helmets mandatory, many are likely to find such a move a nuisance, just like so many in our country oppose helmets on motorcycles. But in this case, as the caretaker of cricket in this country, the BCCI must make decisions that might upset some, for the good of the many.
It might save the next Humaira Kazi from a fractured skull. It might even save the life of the next Raman Lamba. Surely, that is reason enough.

This article first appeared on

If you want to contribute to making cricket safer, sign my petition to make helmets mandatory.