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MBRB Conversations: Talking Cricket With Anjum Chopra

The Arjuna Award winner on life, women and cricket

A remarkable ambassador for the game and a fantastic role model

For the last seventeen years, Anjum Chopra has been one of the stalwarts of the Indian Women’s Cricket Team. Cricinfo compares the lazy elegance of her batting with that of David Gower, and she’s represented the country  in all formats – Tests,  One Day Internationals and T20’s.

Her achievements are exemplary, but what’s particularly noteworthy is what a remarkable ambassador of the game she’s been. She has led the Indian women’s cricket team, written a book about the history of the game, done a documentary on womens cricket, won both the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri for her contribution to the sport, and continues to enjoy a fulfilling career both on and off the field. If young girls and young feminists are looking for a champion to emulate and learn from, they need to look no further than this inspirational woman!

We were fortunate to speak with her earlier this month, where she spoke to us about cricket, and women, and how she’s managed to make the twain meet so successfully.

The Beginning

Anjum comes from a family of sportspersons. Her grandfather was a cricketer and noted commentator, her mother is a car rallyist, her father is a golfer, her brother is a state level cricketer and an uncle is also a cricketer of renown. It was her mother who first introduced her to the game of cricket, and led Anjum to her first formal formal coaching at the age of 9.

Soon, she was a regular of the Junior’s game,  playing for both the Delhi U-15 and U-19 team in due course (in fact she led the Under 19 when she was barely 15 herself).

At this stage, cricket was not the only sport she played. Anjum was an accomplished athlete, loved swimming and also played basketball at the state level. But she always knew that she wanted to compete at the highest level in whichever sport she ended up choosing.

When Anjum first made it to the state team, she realized that there was still a huge gap between her and the best players. This inspired her to work on her game and become an even better player,  till she was soon a member of the Indian cricket team and eventually its captain.

Anjum admits that she is fortunate to come from a family that encouraged sports unquestioningly. She was always encouraged to do her best and in all likelihood that is what led to her becoming the consummate sportsperson she is today.

On the Facilities Available for The Women’s Sports

Anjum fondly recalls her youth cricketing days when she trained with the boys’ team, usually learning from the same coaches (some of her earlier training partners went on to play for the Men’s Cricketing Team! ). She believes that this was one of the factors that contributed to the technical excellence of her game.

She was fortunate enough to train with some of the best coaches but  tells us  that that a separate infrastructure for women’s cricket is absent. Even today – with the BCCI having taken over the sport –  there is only one National Cricket Academy where both the men and women players train. During her school days, her school didn’t have a separate women’s cricket team, but she is also quick to point out that some of the larger women colleges have their own teams as well as exclusive training grounds for their practice.

The Biggest Issue Ailing Women’s Cricket

In Anjum’s opinion, the biggest impediment to the success of the Indian women’s cricket team is the absence of good coaches at the junior and amateur levels. To compete at the highest level, it is essential that you develop the right technique, skill and temperament at a young age. But an absence of right coaching input  at that stage leads to the creation of “unformed” players, even if they start with an abundance of natural talent.

She laments that the gap is getting bigger, as countries such as Australia and New Zealand invest in the right coaching infrastructure for their women’s teams.

Anjum ChopraOn Amelie Mauresmo becoming coach to Andy Murray, and if she sees herself doing something similar one day

Why not? Anjum believes that the men’s and women’s sport are sufficiently different that it may not be possible for women to coach the men full time. Unlike mixed doubles in tennis, the two sexes also never really compete or play with each other.

But they can definitely be a part of the management team, and coach in areas such as mental training, fitness and certain skill-based aspects of the game. Especially women who have international and touring experience can bring in a wealth of experience to the training room!

How to increase the popularity of women’s cricket in India

People need champions, to idolize and to venerate. Anjum believes that the best way to popularize the sport is for the team to perform well over a long sustained period of time. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s the only way to really make the sport a part of the conversation.

On the sportspersons she admires

One of the things that Anjum has noticed when she’s reading biographies of some of her favourite sports persons is that whatever the sport may be, a champions’ attitude and mindset remains the same.

Anjum learns keenly from tennis players, be it  the generation of Edberg and Becker to Nadal and Federer. She especially admires Nadal for his mental fortitude and relentless energy.

She is also a fan of Messi and Ronaldo for their ability to perform at the highest level with the weight of so much adulation and expectations.

What’s next for her

As always, Anjum remains a tireless champion of the sport. At this moment she is in the early stages of planning a film about women’s cricket – she hopes to introduce the audience to its challenges in an accessible and interesting manner.  She is also deeply involved in projects to develop an overall infrastructure for women’s sports in the country at the grassroot level.

We can’t wait to find out what she does next and wish her all the best for all her remarkable endeavours!

PS: We highly recommend following Anjum on Twitter for some interesting insights into women’s sports, and sports on the whole!

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Featured Image from Wikimedia Commons, Anjum’s Press Kit

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