I am one of those people who believes strongly in vibes. If you do too, you will know what I am going to tell you about. A woman cricketer walks into a room full of techies and such is her aura that even before she says a word, she’s cast a spell on every single person in the room. The woman I am talking about is none other than Arjuna Awardee and one of India’s most celebrated sportswomen – former Indian cricket captain Anjum Chopra.
She made her debut in one-day Internationals when she was only 17, at Christchurch in New Zealand. She made her debut in Test cricket a few months later against England at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. She won the PadmaShri in 2014, the Arjuna Award (the country’s highest honor for a sportsperson) in 2007, The Rajiv Gandhi Delhi State Award in 2004, and ICC Player of the Match in 2000, 2005, 2009…the list just goes on and on. Today, she is a professional commentator. Her journey has indeed come a full circle.
“Cricketer or commentator, I have been on both sides of the microphone,” she says.
In a country where choosing sports as a career is challenging to say the least, how was Anjum’s journey?
“I come from a family of sportspeople. I owe a lot to my parents and grandparents; if not for them, I wouldn’t have taken to the sport,” she says. However, while taking up the sport was easy, making a mark was an uphill task. Anjum did not have a dream run. Having studied in the country’s best institutions, she was always a last bencher. Juggling sports with academics was difficult, especially in a place where 85 per cent of the students were ‘nerds’. ” I was always among the 15 per cent who sat on the back benches and my teachers thought we would never even make it to college,” she says jokingly. However, as things got serious, problems grew bigger. Dreams do come true when you work hard, but how do you deal with failure? Especially when it happens in the public glare, like in Anjum’s case.
Talking of that difficult time, when she was taken down from captaincy, she confesses it was one her most testing times. But as they say, the true test of a champion is during these tough times, when most falter and give up.
“I had two options, to get into a shell or face it. I was undeterred and only wanted to contribute to my team. I took it up as a challenge and wanted to prove I was capable. It worked, I soon became vice captain.” she says with conviction.
She believes talent goes to waste if there’s no hard work.
Cricket and women
How can we not talk about this? There have always been debates around how the men get all the endorsements and of course the attention! What does Anjum think about this?
“Women still haven’t won a World Cup. The day we do, there will be a change. There will be money, there will be endorsements, and everything else,” she says adding “Until a year ago, there was no finance involved, women in cricket were not paid, but we still played, for the love of the game. Today, times have changed and there’s money.”
What if I was?
There is a little bit of sport in everything we do. All of us want to be someone we are not; however, what would be the fun in life if all of us could do everything?
But look at it closely, and you will realise how we are all fighting the same battles. Like Anjum puts it,
“At the end of the day, when we are all given a task, it’s about how we perform with the given resources. No matter where we are. You need to keep creating. For a global market and to be judged at a global level. Just because you are behind the scenes doesn’t mean you are not doing anything.”
” When I had an India blazer, and 14 people behind me, I felt I was on top of the world. I got the same feeling when I stood to receive my Arjuna Award. Those 45 seconds when I could hear the citation – it was a culmination of all my efforts.” But as effortless as Anjum makes it look, she does not shy away from talking about the tough times.
“I was challenged to the max, I spent nights crying thinking where I went wrong. The next morning, I walked to the park with a smile. No one likes sob stories. The world celebrates performers, be one.”
With all the laurels, love, popularity, accolades, and awards, isn’t it easy to get carried away? Anjum signs off like a true champion, with these golden words,
“The sport doesn’t stop for anyone. We just play it, it goes on. So it’s best to stay grounded. All I wanted was to become a good cricketer and be remembered as someone who left behind a legacy. It’s just about raising the bar and knowing where you want to end. Set milestones for yourself and people will help you.”
(Anjum was speaking at Microsoft India’s Confluence in Hyderabad. ‘Confluence’ is an annual conference that encourages ideas around Diversity & Inclusion in three major areas – Gender, Generational and Ability.)