Hall of Fame: Anjum Chopra

Charismatic and ambitious 35 year-old Indian cricketing champion, Anjum Chopra was attending a conference in New Delhi  when I stole half an hour for a wonderful interview.

How did your parents’ encouragement and support of your profession in sports help to shape your success?

Support, help, guidance, everything is because of my parents.  I would not be where I am today if I did not have their support or without their help.

How did they help you develop your sport beyond high school or college level? For example, I’m not sporty at all, however, my sister was but she was certainly never encouraged to take it to national or international level by my family.

For me that wasn’t a problem.  I managed to graduate from the best sports institution in the country, then I went to the People’s College – one of the best in Asia and then I did my MBA so education-wise I did have to go learn, get a managerial job but at the same time my hobby or my passion was sport.

Now, to start playing cricket wasn’t difficult but not many girls played cricket and there were still comments like: girls play cricket as well?!  When you’re passionate about something you always find the time to play and practice.  What my parents brought to me was the big balance between the two.  I belong to a family of sports people and so they encouraged me in sports.  Now today we see sports differently altogether but I’m talking about sports two decades ago and at that point in time I was the talk of the town.

Your parents were brave.

Absolutely, they said it didn’t matter and they could see what the future holds for sports people and they kept pushing me.  My mother’s a sporting champion, my dad’s a golfer, my uncle used to play cricket, my grandfather was an Olympic athlete and sports commentator and my brother used to play cricket for the state.

Sport was very easy to come by me but at the same time my parents maintained there should be a balance and that I should also study at the same time.   There were times when I would have to miss a match we were playing to go sit my exams but then there were times I would miss my entire exams to play matches.

How do you motivate your team?

I don’t think you need to motivate a player when you’re playing for the nation. If that type of person needs motivation it’s better they don’t play.  Playing for the nation is the best thing that can ever happen to you.  I still feel that wearing the India colours, leading the team into the park where thousands of people are cheering for you, whether you’re playing in India or abroad, you are the chosen ones to represent your national side.  I not only play for it but I lead it and captain it so I don’t find it difficult to achieve self-motivation.

There are times when players need to be motivated, including myself, so I look for outside support and that’s when I encourage looking at the crowds and listen to them cheering you on, look at the national flag.

At other times as a skipper I need to look on a different level, if they’re performing in a certain manner I have to think why are they performing like that, such as the psychology behind a player’s lack of motivation and determine if they need support or cushioning.  Insecurity is the main reason why certain people react in a certain manner. For example, if you’re not sure of your performance, if you’re not sure of the opposition….at these times I try and come up with solutions that, at that time, the players want to hear.  That’s what I focus on and that’s what I target.

Who are your sporting heroes, past and present?

Heroes and leaders from my sport I especially admire are Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, I’m a big fan of Mark Waugh, Michael Devon from Australia, Steve Ball – one of the coolest skippers in international cricket. There are a lot of these players I have always admired and idolised.

When you started women’s cricket in India did it start simultaneously around the world, did you have teams to play against?

You know women started playing cricket first.  I’ve done a book on women’s cricket and the first coffee table book on women’s cricket in the world: Women’s Cricket the World Journey from 1745 to 2013.

That’s amazing, when did the balance change?

Cricket playing started in Hambledon in Surrey.  In the book there are over 200 photographs.  The maids used to play each other in their long skirts and they were watched upon by the men playing the sport.  Even though it was started by women, men took it over to the next level completely in the 20th Century.  The first world cup for women was held in 1917 compared to the men’s in 1975.

India didn’t participate in the first word cup, we weren’t up to that level but England, Australia had teams sent here too but yes there were international opportunities.

How do your team mates manage travel and competitions with things like marriage and family commitments which they inevitably have to juggle?

Yes it is quite a juggle, it one of the things that female athletes (even female business people and so on) have to deal with and manage. I just tell them to prioritise what they need to.

Do you find that sometimes that members of your team, potentially your best players have had to leave because of family pressure to get married?

Yes, absolutely, more in the Asian countries.  For players in Australia and England where female players get married there are examples where after having children, players have gone back to their teams and started playing again.  In England there is a player who got married and had a baby and now she’s back in the England team.  It’s excellent and she’s such a great asset to their team.  This shows great spirit not only of the players but also the country, having open arms to welcome a player back.  I’m not saying we’ve had players who are not welcome back but somewhere in our Asian countries it’s like: oh you got married? I don’t think you will play any longer.

It’s up to the individual to also make an effort and to the teams to make sure that players that leave are welcome.  When you’ve invested time and effort into a player and you make sure they’re still mature enough to come and play for your country.  It’s not about me or them but what they can bring to the team.

It’s a good example for them that there’s life after marriage and children.

Yes, there is!

What’s your motto in life?

I read a quote the other day: follow your desires but let it not become a burden which I found really stuck with me but my motto is: Be the best. This motivates me in all challenges: sporting, management projects, everything.

Which international team gives you the biggest challenge?

Every international team.  Playing all of them is a challenge.  As I said, be the best, in domestic tournaments I strive to be the best and it’s the same for international cricket.

Being the best in my field gives me a big high.

How does one become a fan of women’s cricket?  I’ve never watched a women’s cricket match but how would potential fans find out about tournaments?

It’s down to marketing.  Today everything is on the internet and in newspapers.  We do need communication help from the administration.  There is so much social media and we have millions of followers but what do they do?  We need more sponsorship and advertising to get those followers to come and support the teams.  Some fans can’t get to the actual cricket ground to cheer but they can follow on radio or follow when the next matches are.

Please tell us about some differences between women’s cricket in India and England.

I’ve been watching the development in England where they started running a separate women’s cricket board, headed by Alan Lamb, and they decided how the team would be funded, whether through lottery funding or sponsorship.

In cricket in India it’s difficult even at the highest level, they don’t offer you a sustained job.  In India if you’re working, you get time off to play your sport.  But in England or Australia you get employed to play and they give assignments such as coaching.

What are you reading?  How do you relax?

I’ve co-authored another book on the Indian world cup victory.  I worked with a documentary director to work on a sports documentary on women’s cricket.  We’re thinking about making a film on women’s cricket we’re looking for sponsors.

Like Bend it Like Beckham? You have a benchmark.

Ideally we want to make it better! But I need sponsors to help me.

I teach people how to play cricket on television and I’m also a cricket and sports analyst. I read a lot of books at the same time.  The one I’m reading just now is The Power of The Conscious Mind, it’s a bit heavy but the more I read it, it gets better.

Anjum has a sports blog on Indiansportsfan.com


3 Comments to “Hall of Fame: Anjum Chopra”

  1. I can’t believe I have never even of heard of her before – truly inspirational !

  2. Congratulations Anjum. I am in awe. Sports is not something that was openly encouraged in my family and am extremely inspired by your tenacity. Inspirational and great interview.

  3. I didn’t know women played cricket first, that is so cool!

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