FPJ Exclusive: Anjum Chopra: 'We Never Had The Easy Popularity Scope Like The Female Cricketers Have Today'

FPJ Exclusive: Anjum Chopra: 'We Never Had The Easy Popularity Scope Like The Female Cricketers Have Today'

In conversation with former captain of women's cricket team Anjum Chopra on how the sport has evolved over the years, equal pay, and how her team in 2005 was better than the present team

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Tuesday, October 24, 2023, 06:06 PM IST
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Anjum Chopra |

There's a certain quietude about India's star cricketer Anjum Chopra. Being the former captain of the national women's cricket team, Chopra has seen women's cricket grow leaps and bounds from close quarters. A stylish and fearless left-hander, she represented India in 157 matches (12 Tests, 127 ODIs, and 18 T20Is), 41 of those as captain. When talking to her, you know she is soft, but firm and doesn't mince her words. A realist and a dreamer at the same time, Chopra has many firsts to her name making her an icon for women's cricket in India. However, there's no strain from the years of hard work, instead lots of energy and positivity to work harder to live her dream. She is a commentator, and now an author of a coffee table book Women's Cricket World – A Journey from 1745-2013. A cricketer par excellence, she chatted with The Free Press Journal and rekindled her journey so far. 

It's been about two decades of international cricket and you are still going strong off the field playing many roles.

It is because I am so passionate about the game. I feel fortunate to have played for India and captained the team. It is a blessing. And now, It is because of the sport and the matches I played that I can stand in the middle of the ground, where only players and people closest to the game are allowed. This is what keeps me going. 

There's so much awareness today about women's cricket. When you started, there was no professional structure, exposure, and recognition. So, your struggles must be very different. 

Things were not smooth for female cricketers in the past. They are still not easy except in some cases. But when the game is evolving and more people are playing it, things tend to become better. When I started playing, the women's cricket team was not under BCCI, it became part of the board in 2007. I have played under and before the team India merged into the BCCI. Things were not the same as they are today. There was no competition like today. But there were challenges like uniforms for the female players. Long skirts were a challenge. A lot of things have changed. I feel women of that generation were very strong-willed, wanting to perform and not take a step back. Women continued to sustain the sport and play before men did. Cricket was never a men's game. It was played by women initially, till men started playing in the early 19th century. I have immense respect for those women who played cricket even before the sport became famous without any expectations. 

BCCI recently announced equal pay for ICC winners. How do you see this step?

This step is a testament to the growing popularity of the sport, especially women's cricket. From women players paying from their own pockets to play to getting equal pay at ICC events, things have come a long way.

Do you think things would have been different if you had similar exposure when you were playing? Do you miss that opportunity?

Playing for India and captaining the team is the biggest opportunity. To date when I see my India T-shirt I feel proud to own it. I still have those memories when I received an India cap and a bag for the first time. I still remember the cheer of the audience on the ground. Lifting a trophy as Indian captain gives you a different high irrespective of the era. I am happy the sport is evolving, especially because I am a former captain for team India and because the sport has evolved I still have a presence in the game and some role to play. 

But do you think women cricketers have more fame today than before? 

Yes, we never had the easy popularity scope that the cricketers have today. If we were playing today, we would have been stars and would have been dominating the game. Today, whatever the game is, if we were playing, we would have scored more runs, we would have played more games and would have never lost in the finals at least. There's a generational difference. The team in 2005, which I was part of, was better than the team in 2017. We knew about our training, strengths, weaknesses, and discipline. We used to prepare when no one was seeing us but today, a player steps out of the house, you have a wicket and coaches ready. Today, players have so much popularity beyond their games, so if we were there, we would have done much better. 

Do you think the women's team is also missing strong and skilled coaching?

Coaching doesn't happen at this level where our women players are today. Coaching is a direction which you start taking from the time you start playing the sport. It's like teaching a MasterChef candidate to cut an onion. This is something you learned in the beginning. A coach can always help you hone your skills but can't teach you from the beginning. No one is going to teach you how to catch a ball, you are supposed to know that. You learn on the way and with each game. You start understanding the game. It's about what you have learned at the basic level and not always the coach at fault, you may have not learned right. Maybe you have not practiced and refined the game enough.

Anjum Chopra

Anjum Chopra |

Lately, sports personnel have not been treated fairly, especially the much talked about wrestler's protest. They are left to fend for themselves. Moreover, women being taken advantage of by committee members is not new in sports. What do you have to say?

It's not about a sport, it's about people of that mindset being present around the sports profession. The field has nothing to do with exploitation but about an individual and the mindset of the person. 

But the fraternity is not coming out to support?

It's not only about the sports profession. Harassment against women is in every field but not many choose to speak about it. People know the repercussions of speaking out so not many would choose to speak. I appreciate the wrestlers who are putting in relentless efforts to speak about it. The damage is huge for speaking out. 

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