As the dust settled on IPL 2021 on October 15, with twists and turns, edge-of-the-seat thrillers, a few voices continued to linger. While the action was enthralling on the field, an exciting line-up of regional women cricket commentators behind the scenes added to the action played out on the field. These women anchors are delivering commentary for the ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup that will continue till November 14. We ask them what keeps them on their toes and the challenges of capturing action in vernacular languages.
Quick bio: The Chennai girl, who now lives in Mumbai and hosts corporate and entertainment events, anchored Super Singer, a music reality show on Star Vijay for seven years. In 2010, when Balakrishnan was doing corporate events such as welcome dinner for the winning cricket teams, she gave an audition for a commentator’s role in Tamil. And she cracked it. She has been hosting sports commentary since.
Homework and hard work: Started with kabaddi on Star Sports where she underwent a two-week rigorous training. IPL was, of course, a big canvas. With 10 years of experience in hosting events, she has mastered the art of talking and listening simultaneously while keeping track of second-to-second score updates, analysis, comments from cricketing legends. She says the challenge is to speak to an audience where 90 percent of them know more about cricket than she does. “Although Tamil doesn’t have any words to replace terms like fours or sixes, I ensure I impart the regional flavour to the game. A major part of the day is spent in non-live shows, promos etc and getting the right look for the day,” she adds.
Moment to remember: In 2019, Chennai Super Kings had a dream run at the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai. She got to do a victory lap with captain MS Dhoni and his team. Breaking stereotypes: Star Sports has given her a level-playing field. “Never once was I made to feel that women are just eyecandy in a professional game like this. I feel I belong here,” Balakrishnan explains.
Quick bio: The Mass Communication graduate with a theatre background from Garhwal, Uttarakhand, used to host home shopping and Bollywood shows on TV channels before she started sports commentary. “I had no clue about sports when I got the opportunity to host Caribbean Premier League along with other experts in 2020. I used to read aloud cricket news reports in Hindi newspapers to understand the terms. Later, I would read the reports like I were to do commentary.” For three months, she stopped listening to anything else besides Hindi sports commentary and that helped her crack the IPL series.
Homework and hard work: “I am just a professional and I get to directly connect with cricketing legends.” Sometimes, she even runs her questions by the experts to know if she is doing it right. A moment to remember: Interviewing Irfan Pathan, who she adored ever since she was a child, was a big moment for me. “On social media, I get messages from young girls asking me how to become a sports commentator. I feel elated that I inspire them.” Breaking stereotypes: “The sports lounge on busy days is teeming with women commentators and I love that vibe. The fact that I am a woman never really hits me.”
Quick bio: The Kasargod (Kerala) girl has been living in Mangalore for the last two years. “My experience with live events got me an opportunity to do player interactions and think of fun games with the players for the Karnataka Player League for the last four years.”
Homework and hard work: Mailankody says they get a document about the day’s game from the production team. “I then read and absorb the information about the teams, the captains, the players etc. I spend an hour watching other sports presenters, channels, reading sports columns so that I have some data handy to be able to make a comment or have it as a conversational starter. Then two hours go into makeup, styling, mic checks, small talk with the other experts on the show, and I am ready to go live.”
As a Kannada and Malayalam presenter, Mailankody says it is tough to find the right word to explain something like a googly. In that case, she prefers using the popular English word. It’s usually a mix of English and the regional language. “The trick is to keep it relatable without also trying to speak such chaste language that I throw a googly at my viewers. I love to bring in the local flavour by mouthing popular dialogues from cult Kannada movies such as KGF or Kirik Party,” she says.
A moment to remember: She once got confused between Murali Karthik and Dinesh Karthik but said something smart to cover it up when she had to invite the latter for the final ceremony. Breaking stereotypes: “Everyone who loves cricket and can speak confidently about the game is welcome here. I have never felt any disparity because of being a woman,” she says.
Vindhya Vishaka Medapati
Quick bio: The sports enthusiast from Hyderabad has been hosting primetime entertainment shows for mainstream Telugu channels since 2013. “In 2017, I auditioned for Pro Kabaddi season 5 on Star Sports. In 2018, I was also selected for IPL and I feel fortunate that I am the first Telugu female sports presenter to host IPL,” she says.
Homework and hard work: Medapati says she keeps herself updated about records, playing XI updates, end result scenarios etc. “Every match in IPL has some impact on another match that is about to happen. Also, in a language like Telugu with multiple accents and dialects, I cannot let one accent or dialect dominate my commentary,” she explains. “I get a lot of insights while I talk to the experts off-camera during the game. And also it’s important to ask the right questions to the relevant experts.” A moment to remember: Meeting cricketing legends.
Breaking stereotypes: Back in the early 2000s, women were unfairly branded as ‘dumb’ or not smart enough to understand cricket. “The wave of change started with Mandira Bedi and today we have Lisa Sthalekar and Isa Guha doing great work as commentators. The Board has initiated a few steps to make the game gender-neutral. There is no job in the world which only men can understand and not women.