Interview of Cricket Fans – 175

@unikurvi

J- Thank you for your participation in this interview, firstly tell us a bit about yourself as a cricket fan and your early memories of the game. 

Thank You Jay for giving me the space to talk about myself as a cricket fan. To everyone reading this: 

Hello! I am Urvi Shah and some of you may have read my previous interview with Jay on Mental health. I am from Mumbai and have completed my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I am currently working on my sports blog website- Beyond the Matches- Where Cricket meets Life (IG/FB: @beyondthematches|Twitter: @beyondmatches / beyondthematches.com) and Mental Health awareness initiative: Calm in the Chaos – Being Vulnerably Honest (you can find out more about it on Instagram and Facebook: @calminthechaos_citc). 

Read about the mental health interview here – MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS!

To start with, I have always been active in sports. From a very young age, I used to train/play table tennis, lawn tennis, badminton, gymnastics, cricket etc on and off. I was also training in Indian classical dance and then shifted to western dance training, learnt it professionally, pursued a career in it, choreographed events and all so sports took a backseat from professional levels. 

My cricketing journey as a fan goes back to when I was playing the game. Cricket for me started at an early age, was lost in between and now I am rediscovering myself in this field. But I have interesting stories to share as a fan. 

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My cricket journey did not start by watching the game early in 2000s or so because we did not have a television set at home. Yes, as surprising as it sounds, for the longest time, I did not watch the sport but you would have found me playing the game in building or in a ground with my friends for sure. I was more of fan of the game because I loved to play it physically. I did not watch all games but would hear people around me talk about it. 

Also, in gully cricket Sachin, Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan and everyone were the names which were commonly heard. So, I knew them by the names and was aware of how they would be playing. If a match was going on, I would sit at my friend’s place and watch the game for a while. But back then watching the game was not as appealing to me as it was to go out and play. 

It was during the IPL times when my mom would find out different streaming link for us to watch the game online before that it wasn’t much of watching a game live. If we were lucky, we would find the game stream or just have to listen to scores on radio or wait for the newspaper the next day. It used to be a fun exercise to hunt for live streaming links, sit and wait for the buffering to stop and actually watch a game. 

My dad is a big-time cricket fan. He used to play and watch cricket since a young age. In fact, lately I discovered that my mom also used to follow cricket back then and she knows so many players, men and women from the earlier times. They tell me stories about them and how they played. I have been more of a fan who has heard stories, read scores in papers or heard the radio commentary of a match and tried to make sense of everything. However now me, my dad, my mom and my elder sister, all of us follow the games and watch it with equal enthusiasm, thanks to digital platforms who stream it so people like us with no T.V. set at home can also enjoy the game!! 

Did not regret not having a T.V. back then and not regretting it now either. It has in fact helped me know the game in a different way and shaped me as a fan.

For me cricket goes beyond numbers. It is their stories, their preparations and process that I look up to i.e., how they think, handle pressure, prepare for competitive game, what is it that they do different and how I can adapt those qualities in myself. 

So, when it comes to calling myself a cricket fan, I feel I am as unorthodox as Malinga’s bowling action. I love the game immensely like every other fan, it’s just that I connect to the game in a different way and after joining twitter and interacting with cricket fans I learnt how fans talk and how people analyse the game. Some fans are welcoming to different perspective while some are not but I guess that’s okay. 

I am still a fan and my journey with the game is different so I am happy the way I connect to the game irrespective of what people say. There is no manual to read to be a fan, is there? 

Apart from just being a fan, you also blog about cricket, tell us your experience covering matches and how long have you been writing about this sport?

Writing about cricket is a very beautiful feeling. You get to re-live the game again while you write about it and come back to it and see it the same way n-number of times! It just stays there and I find it to be something very beautiful! I write not just about the game but what we can learn from it and adapt in our individual lives. 

For me, cricket is something that has taught me more about life than what school/college did. It is where I learnt- how to take failures, how to be humble in wins, how we have the potential to bounce back after a defeat, self-belief, role of confidence and it also gave me a sense of hope – that you have a second chance and every game is a new one just like how every day is a new one. 

“Beyond the Matches- Where cricket meets life” (website: beyondthematches.com) is a very special space where we talk about cricket with a different perspective. I will tell you in brief as to why this particular name and how it feels like to cover games in a different manner. 

BeyondTheMatches.com

Beyond the Matches was coined as the name because there is always more to the game and there is so much that we can learn about life from the game itself. It just doesn’t end at the stumps or at the result. There is always something that you can take away which is beyond that game/innings. It is a space where cricket meets life. We believe that each game has something to teach us about life because every sport has similarity to life and I feel that cricket and life are very much connected.

Beyond the Matches started as a personal blog in October 2020 (mid IPL) where me and my friend, Ekantika Iyer collaborated on an idea of bringing our daily conversations to people out there who follow the game. 

We always used to discuss cricket and since we come from Psychology background, we would discuss about the games we watch, talk about different possible reasons behind someone’s good performance/why they may not have performed so well and see what we learn from the game or a particular knock in a particular game. The discussions were for fun and we were in same college so we would meet up and talk about this every now and then. So, we thought why not bring that to the table for discussion and help fans explore a different perspective while watching a game.

The response and support from the readers has been amazing. It is genuinely a good feeling to see people connect with the page, with the content and are welcoming to a new perspective on daily basis. Slowly the space is turning into a professional one talking more about the game and life lessons from the game. We are now a team of passionate writers, stats analysts and team members. 

Covering games is not an easy task around here to be honest with you all. While writing a match summary is comparatively easy to do as you watched the game and you know it happened in a certain way, but deriving life lessons from it, understanding what the game is talking about, reading and thinking about different things that played a role in how someone performed, what can we learn from it and use in our daily lives, explain in a relatable manner and also sign off with how they can work towards adapting the positives to their own life is challenging. 

While it may not be easy but it’s fun, it’s a learning process and it has been very fulfilling to contribute to the game from the other side. 

Which is your favourite website when it comes to reading about this sport and who is your favourite writer? 

I honestly don’t have one favourite website. If I come across cricket blog/articles I read them. I stay away from critic ones because I have seen that it is mostly towards just criticizing the player and not having a conversation or giving out constructive criticism. It becomes more of click bait and trying to give certain angle (which may not be true too). I can understand it’s part of their job and everything but for me personally, it’s not helpful to learn or understand anything meaningful about the game/the players. 

Some of the websites that I read news/articles/blogs on are Cricbuzz, ESPN CricInfo, Female cricket and Women’s CricZone which are also widely known cricket websites. But some of the other sites that have my interest are CricBlog and CricXtasy. I also love reading blogs/articles on people’s personal blog websites. There is so much that people write and talk about cricket. Different perspectives always interest me till the time it’s not about shaming, criticizing the player just because you don’t like them or you want views on it, trolling/abusing a player or something like that. 

So far, I don’t have a favourite writer. Sorry I don’t have an answer for that too. But there are so many budding and established writers out here in the field. Everyone has their own uniqueness to bring in when they cover a story/write a blog/summary. There is a sense of individuality in everyone’s writing and it’s good to read it in that way. Simple, organic and passionately written article always have my attention. 

J- Who is your favourite cricketer – men’s and women’s? And why? 

Yay! I would love to answer this question! But before I do that, let me clear this thing that I admire all players. Not being diplomatic but honestly, everyone’s journey and contribution to Indian cricket has been phenomenal in its own way. Just because I named a few does not mean I hate others or dislike them. I respect each of them who play this game because they bring so much to the game with their talent, skill and stories. 

But a men’s cricketer who I connect to personally and has had an influence on me is Rohit Sharma. I admire and love him immensely. Not because he is from Mumbai but it’s a lot more personal connect and I will probably fail miserably at putting it all together. 

I am not just a fan of how elegantly he bats or let’s say how everyone puts it – the Lazy elegance he has when he bats but also how he carries himself when in a losing position. When he is on the field, it often feels like you have a person you can relate to. 

Interestingly, there are a lot of things common between us, be it forgetting things or just having our own style of working. Not everyone understands or likes it but you are still you and you keep growing. It feels like I have someone like me who has made it big in their field and I can do that too. 

My whole family knows how much I like him and every time I forget something, my mom tells me that me and the person I admire are the same only on that one. It’s quite a fun scene and a good banter that we share at home on that. If he is on crease, I won’t move even an inch no matter how he is performing.

I am learning a lot from his journey as a player and as a captain. The ups and downs, the efforts, the planning, the dedication, basically a lot of things. People always think I like him because of that 264 against SL or for the reason that MI has 5 trophies but none of them are right. 

My connect with him as a player/leader grew even more in 2015 IPL when it was like MI hitting the rock bottom and rising from it. His post-match interview after a game against RPS where he mentioned something like: It’s just the start of the tournament and we don’t want to panic so early on in the league. It’s important to take it one game at a time. Think about what we can do better as a team and come back with a positive mindset. At that point something clicked for me and I started adapting the same analogy of ‘it is important to take it one game (day) at a time’ in life and it helped me. There are many such instances where he says something which I resonate with, learn from and adapt in my life. So, it’s like you are growing along with him in this journey. 

There are so many moments for which I admire him and those are not just numbers, those are not just his best days but his journey that I feel connected to and no matter what people say, how harsh they get on him, I believe in him and I always will. 

Coming to Women’s cricketer. It’s tough to name just one because all of them have had such an inspiring journey, contributed so much to the game and I have a special space for them in my life now. I feel sad that I did not know of them before 2017. 

A player that I really admire, more often silently is Punam Raut along with Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami, Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and the whole squad. There is just something about her (Punam) and the way she plays that I want to watch her bat more, do well and keep growing. I am aware that she is having a rough patch these days but I know she will come back stronger. Jemimah would be someone I really connect to too. Her energy is infectious. 

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There have been lot of talks on women’s cricket and how much focus the board is putting on it, especially for the past couple of weeks, what are your thoughts on it? 

My thoughts on administration side won’t be very insightful because I am starting to learn about it recently. I am still learning and understanding more.

But from the limited understanding that I have, I would say lot more games, opportunities to fail and learn from should be given because that is the only way to have experience under your wings and grow as players. If there are limited opportunities and unrealistic expectations, there is no positive result or growth coming to the sport. If you won’t fail enough, you won’t have an experience to learn from and grow. I feel more games, investment of time and resources is the way towards nurturing their talents and helping them become better cricketers. 

I am really happy with the opportunities they have been given now and I hope it is a step towards growing their game. I really hope it doesn’t stop because they failed at winning a trophy or a series. See how far they have reached and now it’s time to help them cross the line. The off-season training, more domestic games and all need to be conducted constantly and not in breaks because that’s the process of growth as cricketers, you cannot just expect them to flourish out of nowhere.

Understandably, the pandemic had put a halt to it but I really hope the domestic schedule which was out recently happens without any issues and the girls get good game time to brush up their skills. Their recent Test match which ended in a draw against England Women is a perfect example of the depth and talent we have, it’s time to nurture it and let them flourish in their own way. 

There is a lot that administration has to do but there is a lot that we, as fans need to do. We are also a part of their journey as cricketers. We have a lot of unlearning and learning to do about the team and their journey. 

We all need to realise that without enough practise it is not possible to give your best consistently. They are bound to lose games. Also, if we don’t give them the space to lose and learn from it and only appreciate if they win, we would be doing everything wrong as a fan I feel.

They need to give them space, time, opportunities and we have to be patient with their journey because it is very different from what we see.

Tell us about the importance of a sports psychologist in today’s time. 

Disclaimer: I am not a sports psychologist but from the understanding that I have I will try to answer this. 

There is so much that goes around in the training that actually shapes the player. There are a lot of factors that contribute to a player’s performance on field. 

Some of the areas that may be of concern for players are: 

  • Working through the phase of pressure while regulating their own thoughts and feelings in that moment.
  • Also, some players may have trouble communicating their feelings/thoughts with their team-mates or have trouble motivating themselves to build/complete their exercise routine
  • They may have other stressors in personal life which is affecting their professional performance 
  • They might feel under pressure at key moments and like we say in cricket, choke towards the end or at a crucial point in the game.

In such scenarios, a professional sports psychologist can be a great support to the player in their process and preparation for the game. 

Some of the areas that a sports psychologist can help in are:

  • Help a player to enhance their performance
  • Provide support during their recovery phase after an injury/illness i.e., help them understand what lies next for them and how to get back to training mentally and emotionally (because a player is bound to have a lot of thoughts, questions and fears on how the comeback journey would be like). 
  • Coping with stressful moments in the competition
  • Maintaining and following a set exercise program
  • Support and help them to work through their anxieties and fears so that they can perform better on field, etc. 

We often, while watching from outside, say – he/she doesn’t know how to perform, cannot perform under pressure and pass out harsh judgements. What we don’t understand and see is that they might be silently working on it, we never know. We haven’t created that space as fans for them to talk about it openly. There is a backlash, trolling for being vulnerable or passing hateful comment from some of the fans that somewhere stops them from opening up about it and adds more pressure and fear in them.

While we also have very understanding fans, the ones who support them in the journey, empathise with them but we all know it’s not easy to just shut the noise like that. It takes time. Some are able to do it easily, some learn over a period of time and some find it difficult to block that noise. 

In current situation, it is more needed than ever. With everything happening outside, games going on, it is difficult for them too to work through those thoughts, the feeling of anxiousness that what if they contract the virus, and so on. It is more needed for the athletes who have contracted the virus and are recovering/have recovered. They may need that support, a preparation and understanding as to what lies next, what happens next in their recovery journey and so on. 

Thoughts on Men’s WTC final?

Heart-breaking to see that loss after how their WTC journey has been but NZ were well deserving of that win. They earned it. They were in it to win it from the start and you could sense it in their body language and the way they were setting the field. India did put them under pressure time to time and upped their game but it just did not seem enough in front of what they were doing. 

I was really hoping for Team India to hold those nerves and put the pressure back on them. Really proud of our team because they kept playing and trying their best till the last ball of the day/game which is a big thing. Shoulders were slightly drooping but they were not giving up. Sad to see the result not in our favour but I cannot takeaway anything from NZ who played their best across all the days.  

We will learn, understand and come back stronger. We are known for that and our team knows how to bounce back. Yes, yet another ICC event lost but it’s okay I guess, we will get there soon! I believe in my team.

Finally Indian Women were able to play a test match after a long time, your thoughts on #ENGvIND?

Historic. Unbelievable and a gritty one. Playing a test match after 7 years, I wasn’t expecting anything from them to be honest. Just the fact that they were playing a test match was something I was looking forward to. A win/loss/draw whatever the result would have been I was happy about the fact that I will be witnessing a historic game in women’s cricket. We had experience and new faces both in the line-up and to see them play their best and enjoy the game across all 4 days was a different experience to witness as a fan. I would love to watch them play more test matches! A lot of potential and grit have been shown by these girls, it’s time to back them and give them more opportunities. 

I can’t wait to see the day when Team India will be a top test team (both Men and Women). Totally looking forward to see them reach that level.


Thank you for reading. Please share the article if you liked it. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to make sure you don’t miss out on any cricket related interviews.

Twitter – @bhavsarJ2_0
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