Anjum Chopra is now a well-known name in international cricket. She is the former captain of India’s women’s cricket team. Having made her her One Day International debut in 1995 against New Zealand at Christchurch, Chopra became an inspiration for thousands of aspiring women cricketers the world over. Talking about her career and love for cricket, the Arjuna Award winner speaks to Guardian 20 about the role of women in advancing Indian cricket.
Q. Was it easy for you to make it as a professional cricketer?
A. Yes, it was. I have a family of sportspeople. My uncle used to play cricket, my brothers used to play cricket for Delhi as well and I have a family of sportspersons — right from my maternal grandfather to my parents. So, getting into cricket was not difficult.
Q. Did you face any hindrances or challenges in pursuing your dream?
A. No, as I said, my maternal grandfather was a Commonwealth and Olympic athlete and a cricket commenter. And my family had a history of sports and cricket. Getting into sports was not a problem and getting into cricket was also not a problem as I liked sports and when my mother introduced me to sports, I took to it like a fish to water. The encouragement to continue in sports came from my family. So that was never a worry. From a very young age, I would miss out on my classes in school, but then, my school too was very supportive, as was my college later on. So it wasn’t difficult to get into sports, but the one challenge was continuing it with your studies alongside, which was not easy.
“For a woman to be a sportsperson is itself not easy. In India, too, it’s difficult mainly because we are yet not a sporting nation. We love our sporting heroes but we scarcely understand what it takes to become one. You don’t become a hero overnight.”
Q. But for a woman to be a professional sportsperson in India is still considered unusual.
A. For a woman to be a sportsperson is itself not easy. In India, too, it’s difficult mainly because we are yet not a sporting nation. We love our sporting heroes but we scarcely understand what it takes to become one. You don’t become a hero overnight. You have to burn the midnight oil and work hard for it to become what you aspire to be and it takes time. So there are challenges. But then, similar challenges are faced by men, but we never talk about the hardship men face. We only talk about the hardships women face.
Q. In India, cricket dominates when it comes to sports. But our women’s cricket team is hardly noticed or it is just ignored. How do you think can we make women’s cricket more popular?
A. To gain popularity among the youth, women’s cricket team needs to do really well and to be highlighted in the media more than it is. Also, girls need to play more cricket. But the hard work needs to be done by the national team itself, domestically and internationally.
Q. We have many women-only cricket tournaments happening, like the World T20 on now. Yet, unlike women’s tennis, there seem to be few takers for women’s cricket.
A. Yes, it doesn’t get noticed as much as it merits. This, again, should be addressed by the national media. We should be able to create an atmosphere, and generate interest in people for women’s cricket, even at the domestic level.
Q. Do you think people have unfairly brought gender-based discourse into sports? Why talk of women’s cricket and men’s cricket when it’s the same sport we’re talking about?
A. There is a women’s team that represents India on the global stage. So I think there is no harm in identifying men’s team and women’s team in this regard. I don’t say that women’s cricket is on the same platform as men’s cricket. And one should also not compare the two variants of the sport. Because one thing is for sure that the required physical strength in these two versions will not be comparable — at least by and large it is not comparable. So we don’t need comparisons. These are two different genres of the same sport. And the end of the day, anyone who wants to be a professional sportsperson needs to find the right balance in their lives. Today, the infrastructure for women’s cricket and other sports is available in our country, which can be a great help to aspiring
Q. Is there any pay discrimination between a male player and a female player in India?
A. Yes, there is. Pay discrimination is very much there. Here, I am only talking about cricket, where there’s no pay parity at all. The wages earned by men and women are not even comparable.
Q. Women cricket players are not as prominent on the global stage as the women who play tennis and badminton, like Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza, for instance, who have earned international celebrity. Why do you think that is so?
A. I think results matter a lot. Both Saina and Sania have given fantastic results and have been winning consistently. I think at the end of the day, if you are beating the world, you get noticed. Sania has got 13 world titles in the last two years or so. All this doesn’t come easy. For Saina, going through injuries and being consistent number one or number two in world badminton rankings, is not easy. Maintaining your standards, and your position among the top three players in the world in any sport is phenomenal. So, results matter a lot and since they have been giving results throughout, they are much noticed and have developed a large fan following. I am pretty hopeful that other women sports could do the same, if the teams show consistent results. If the Indian women’s cricket team starts performing well, it will also noticed on the world stage.
Q. What are your views on women empowerment?
A. Look, I always feel empowerment is more individualistic rather than anybody offering it to you. I think celebrating womanhood, too, should be done 365 days in a year. It should be celebrated throughout the year. We have been fortunate enough to have been alive in this world and to have achieved whatever we have achieved.