A career spanning 17 years, and having made her debut at an early age of 17 against New Zealand in 1995, Anjum Chopra has seen it all. A Padma Shri recipient, she has represented the country in six World Cups.

Her list of achievements in India’s favourite sport makes her one of the greatest cricketers the country has ever seen.

As India braces itself for the cricket’s biggest spectacle, the T-20 World Cup in Australia, the former skipper talks about the state of women cricket in India and what she feels about the current crop of youngsters in the team.

Excerpts:

Q. Your views on the rise of women cricket in India…

A. Women cricket has been on the rise for a long time now. It’s rising every day, every year. There has never been a saturation point in the last decade or so. 2017 World Cup was a catalyst in terms of awareness and popularity of the game. The game was always growing.

Q. Do you think it’s necessary to either win a World Cup or secure a gold medal to popularise a sport in India?

A. There are no prices for second place. We are more than a billion people. Nobody cares if you come second or third. Second always get consolation prize. Victory gets rewarded.

Q. Do you see any change in women cricket now?

A. During my playing days and when I see the players now, there is not much difference in 50-overs cricket. Standards in T-20 format have improved. I think we started playing the shorter format in 2006, 2007, and it has changed a lot since then. It has a lot to do with the power and physicality of the players…how hard you are able to hit. In my opinion, T-20 has changed a lot whereas 50-overs game remains the same.

Q. India’s coach W.V. Raman had said that Indian players should not be compared with their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia as they rely more on technique than physicality. Your views…

A. There is no defined method of playing T-20. People are still figuring out what’s the best way to play the shortest format of the game. Yes, you have to score more runs because you have only 20 overs. You obviously need to score at a rapid pace to get ahead of the opposition, which is fair enough. It’s is also the case in ODI cricket. But in T-20, one has to accelerate faster and quicker. Everybody is still figuring out. Teams like Australia, England and New Zealand have good physical strength and that is the reason why they are able to excel faster than India and other Asian countries. But India has a lot of skill. You can’t compare it. Whatever succeeds in that game is the eventual winner. There is not one formula of playing the game. You just need a combination of a few things.

Q. Indian players were stuck in West Indies without allowance. Wasn’t this a case of mismanagement? It’s something that is unheard of in men’s cricket.

A. I have read it in newspapers. It would be wrong to say that mismanagement happens in women cricket. It basically happened in cricket.

Q. Let’s talk about the Indian team. What do you think about Shafali Verma. She recently became the youngest Indian cricketer to score a half century in international cricket.

A. It is a great thing that such young players are coming and performing. It is not only about breaking records, it’s more about performing each day. Shafali has scored back to back half centuries in T-20s. As a youngster she is playing up in the order. There are very few who gets such chances. It’s very good that she is making it count.

Q. Does this have to do with the improvement in infrastructure?

A. Infrastructure had changed long back when BCCI took over in 2006.

Q. India’s chances in the World Cup…

A. It’s a tough pool but we have to win. There is no option.

Q. Virat Kohli’s recent support to Glenn Maxwell, where he said that mental health breaks are necessary. Do you think the establishment has ignored this aspect of the sport?

A. In sports and cricket, it’s not ignored. Previously, people never wrote about such things. Now they are happy to write, come out and share. That’s the only change I see. Pressure is in every field. Although, there is always a chance that someone might replace you in the team. We have to make sure that we are on the ground. That is why players, sometimes, also play with injuries.

Q. What do you think about wage gap in cricket?

A. We have managed to reach 50 lakh from 0. We started off with 0, reached 5 lakh…10, 25 and now we are earning 50 lakh. Suppose we win the title, you might even witness uplift in the pay grade. We have to win the title and prove ourselves. It might be unfair but I don’t see it like that. I prefer to work hard. Men’s team are ranked first and second in Tests and ODIs respectively. They are consistently winning. In my view, if women’s team start winning consistently, you will surely witness a change in figures.

Q. How is life after retirement for a women cricketer?

A. Nothing is easy. You have to give effort. The positive part is that you have options. You can take up coaching, become match referee, video analysts…lots of academies have opened up to work with various teams. There are opportunities, which is a very big positive sign.

Q. Sourav Ganguly as the BCCI chief…

A. Excellent. He is a legend. I haven’t met him yet but I would like to congratulate him.

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