The premier Indian men’s and women’s cricketers show off their new limited-overs jerseys. © Nike
Virat Kohli, who has taken the Indian Test team to new heights in a very short span in charge and has now taken over as the full-time captain of the limited-overs teams as well, was often thought of as too brash and too foul-mouthed in the early part of his career.
Even though at no stage during those over-aggressive days was his passion and hunger for success in doubt, Kohli has, over the years, married a good degree of calm and composure to his talent and dedication, making him better rounded as an individual.
On and off the field, Kohli exudes self-belief, and stressed on the importance of those qualities at the launch of the new team kit of the Indian men’s and women’s teams on Thursday (January 12). “We have always been told to treat life and sport differently, which is very wrong,” said the 28 year old. “On the field, we are encouraged to take risks but then in life you need to be safe. It’s a huge gap that needs to be bridged.
“Cricket has taught me everything I know about life. I truly believe that sport helps shape your character as an individual; all you need is to believe in yourself. The self-belief that I learnt on the field makes me believe that I can accomplish anything on or off the field.”
R Ashwin, the International Cricket Council’s Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year for 2016, was also at hand to share his thoughts, especially with regard to balancing two equally rewarding careers.
“At the age of 21, I signed my first contract in the T20 league [Indian Premier League]. My teachers, friends and family expected me to let go of my engineering dream and focus on just cricket. The last couple of years before that had been a struggle to maintain sport and studies efficiently. Cricket has given me the self-belief and confidence that I can do anything I put my head to. It would have been easy to just focus on my cricket, but then today I wouldn’t have been an engineer who plays for the Indian cricket team,” he shared.
“People didn’t want me to play cricket, they said you don’t have a future in it.” © Nike
Staying with the twin themes of confidence and self-belief, Ajinkya Rahane harked back to a particular innings in his early years that shaped the character we see today. “I was playing for the Mumbai team, the pitch was hard to bat on, and the odds were against the team and me,” he recalled. “I remember batting for hours together, building my innings ball by ball and eventually saving the game for my side. What I didn’t realise that day was that I was playing the innings of my life.”
Like it took Rahane quite a few years to make a name for himself and cement a place in the Indian team, Manish Pandey has had to wait for his chance. “I knew I was performing well in the domestic circuit; my biggest motivation was to work hard on and off the pitch to be a better version of myself each day,” said Pandey. “I just had to be patient and keep dreaming of wearing that blue jersey one day and I knew that day would come.”
If some of these men have had it tough, the women who have gone on to become stars at the highest level of the game probably had it tougher.
“I started playing cricket with the boys and I loved the sport from the first time I held a bat,” said Harmanpreet Kaur, the current India Women Twenty20 International captain. “People didn’t want me to play cricket, they said you don’t have a future in it. Surrendering under pressure, I attended a hockey camp but that just reinstated my love for cricket. I believed I could play for the Indian team one day, but first I needed to play in a women’s team to get noticed. The biggest struggle was to get 11 girls on the field to make a team; I remember even coaching the girls at every practice session.”
Along with Harmanpreet, Smriti Mandhana presents the brave new face of women’s cricket in India – the two of them, after all, are the only two Indians to be a part of the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and are regarded as among the most exciting players in the fray.
“I got picked to play for the senior state women’s team at the age of 16 against Saurashtra. The pressure was immense and it wasn’t easy but I managed to stay focused, and score 155 runs in that innings,” she said. “At the end of that game everything changed for me; as an athlete and an individual. I had a terrific season that year – I got picked for the zonal games and people even started talking about this young girl who is playing some really good cricket for Maharashtra.”