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THE LADY AND THE WILLOW

`We're looking at active participation from typical housewives in Gully Cricket. It's about girls like me who play cricket in the building with the boys, their brothers... but never had a chance to bat or bowl.'



Mandira Bedi: `In men's cricket, a cricketer sneezes, and the whole country knows about it.' — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

THE FACE that promotes women's cricket in India is not Captain Mamta Maben's. It is a face you saw mouthing melodramatic dialogues on TV soaps and in Bollywood, and which caused quite a stir during the last World Cup. On Extraaa Innings on Sony Max, Tony Greig might have witheringly pointed to Mandira Bedi sitting alongside him: "This is getting nowhere... this one sitting on my left." But that didn't stop her from swinging back again. In the city Saturday with Gully Cricket for women, she told MetroPlus why no one can ever bowl her out.

In the Gully Cricket ads, you say you were teased by boys who said girls couldn't play cricket. Did that really happen?

That's the story of my life! My brother and I played cricket in the bedroom we shared. We used a TT racket and ball! My brother used to keep saying, "You're Chandrashekar, the greatest spinner. And I am Gavaskar. You keep bowling... " so I was constantly bowling. And if I played in the building downstairs with his friends, then I wouldn't get a chance to bowl also. I would be standing at the boundary, where no one would hit the ball, and still, there would be a person standing in front of me. Because they wouldn't trust my fielding.

Did you train or practise for Gully Cricket?

Yes. I went to nets twice. There were two chotus with me, who used to bowl to me so I could get my swing right. We did this every evening, literally in the gully outside my house. I have to practise a little bit, no? Can't embarrass myself in front of an audience.

Why should someone from the movie industry ask women to play cricket? And do you think people will take you seriously?

This is gully cricket. Cricketers have done their bit. Now the point of gully cricket is that I'm not a cricketer, and I still come out in the streets to bat and bowl with the women of the locality. They are also not cricketers. It's not serious, it's all about having fun. Even now, there were women rubbing the tennis ball on their kurta, like it was going to get a shine. Maybe they'll continue to play regularly even after I'm gone. Maybe in the next few weekends, you'll see them on the grounds over here, practising in their salwar kameez.

There are lots of games women don't play on the streets. Why did you choose to promote cricket?

Because I'm associated with cricket. If I knew anything about hockey, I would promote that. I got connected to cricket and now... I wouldn't say I'm stuck with it, but I'm happy to be with it. Ever since the World Cup, there has been no cricket series that I've been part of, but if there are cricket auctions or awards, I'm hosting them. Anything and everything to do with cricket, I find myself a part of it! I grew up watching Imran Khan and when I went to Lahore recently, he invited me to his charity. I could've danced for joy! He invited me!! Zaheer Abbas recognised me... when I meet all these cricketers, I too feel important.

Anyway, this promotion is to lead up to the Holland Cup and ICC Champion's Trophy. All those women who were part of gully cricket will watch the two series with a lot more fervour.

What about the criticism regarding your knowledge about cricket during the World Cup?

I expected flak to come my way. Because I was a woman talking about cricket. But by the end of the World Cup, many changed their minds. There are still people who think I don't belong there, but I can't please everybody. I came back to a lot of opportunities. It's a plus, plus, plus for me. If they were negatives, I was kept away from it all because I was in South Africa. When I read what people back home were saying, some things hurt me. I knew someone who constantly sent nasty SMSs. But any project will have negatives. There are very few people (like Amitabh Bachchan) whom everybody loves.

But didn't you think you needed to be better equipped with cricket info before you started presenting?

See, some people thought some of my questions were very simplistic. But only a tiny percentage of people know every technical detail about cricket. The rest of the population doesn't know a lot of the basics. For example, I asked Mark Nicholas what a reverse swing was. Oh, the papers really panned me for that. They said "Imagine! She doesn't know what is reverse swing!" But five minutes before the show came on air, Tiger Pataudi told me, "Mandira... I don't know what is reverse swing. Can you explain it to me?" Reverse swing is like the property of Pakistan and I asked that question on the day of the India-Pak match. I was representing basic questions people had in their mind. My job was not to be an analyst or an expert.

Most of the time, it wasn't about what you said, but rather, what you wore.

Ok... what I wore can only get a person to switch the TV on. It won't get them to continue watching. You've seen what I've worn, no? Now switch off the TV. But people continued to watch. I don't think what I wore could keep someone hooked to the TV for four hours. I don't think a pre-, post- and mid-innings show has ever had such sustained ratings. Newspapers were commenting on it constantly: "Oh, what she wore today was boring, but for the question she asked, she gets nine on 10!" There was someone who was probably put on the job — to comment on what I did!

ROHINI MOHAN

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