“Cricket’s a religion,” says Isa Guha. Of course, she’s referring to the undeniable connection many South Asian communities have with the sport. Whether you’re living in a country like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Bangladesh, or reside abroad as part of the global diaspora, you’re most likely to have had an experience with cricket in a backyard, street or stadium.
While the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have long been enshrined in the minds of many fans, the popularity of women players is on the rise. Think Harmanpreet Kaur who’s the captain of the India women's national cricket team, Lisa Sthalekar who’s former captain of the Australia women's national cricket team, and Guha herself – a former player in England’s national women’s team.
But it’s no secret that there are more South Asian men than women who have converted their childhood passion for cricket into a career. According to Guha, seeing brown female role models is imperative to encouraging more South Asian girls to take up the sport on a professional level.
“It’s that classic cliche of if you can’t see it you can’t be it,” Guha tells Draw Your Box during an appearance at the Kayo Sports Summer of Cricket launch in Sydney.
“When I was growing up playing the game, I only had male role models. I didn’t see a lot of females playing the sport… let alone a South Asian girl playing cricket.”
While Guha didn’t pay too much attention to the power of representation when she was growing up in the UK, she later realised how transformative it can be in helping shape someone’s career choices.
“I’ve since realised how important it is to have that representation and to be able to see someone that looks like you on screen,” she explains. “It just makes you feel like you can do it and makes you feel like that journey is going to be a lot easier than you think it is.
“I definitely think that the world has changed and perspectives have changed around women in sport, but also South Asian women in sport. The uptake is definitely getting better," she continued, adding that the "next big thing for women's cricket" is seeing South Asian women particularly going from playing it "at home with your brothers [and] your uncles" to "then taking that next step onto the pathway to playing club cricket".
Speaking of perspectives around women in sport, earlier this week Guha seemingly addressed controversial comments made by former English footballer Joey Barton about the roles of women in commentating on professional sport. Guha is currently in Australia as a cricket commentator with Kayo Sports and Fox Sports as we head into a jam-packed summer of cricket.
“Thank you Perth! Always fun covering the cricket here. I’ve been thinking lately of how grateful I am to be able to cover sport, because I guess it hasn’t always been attainable,” Guha wrote on her Instagram account next to a photo of her on a commentators’ panel with Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh and David Warner. “I’m aware of the recent comments in the UK that women shouldn’t work on men’s sport, and people voicing differing opinions around the matter.”
Earlier this month, Barton wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) that “women shouldn’t be talking with any kind of authority in the men’s game”.
“Come on. Let’s be serious. It’s a completely different game. If you don’t accept that. We will always see things differently. The women’s game is thriving. Fantastic to see. I cannot take a thing they say serious in the men’s arena. #namaste,” he added.
In her reflective Instagram post shared this week, Guha touched on the start of her commentating career and the support she received from employers back then.
“When I first started I was pretty green and I remember the comments then. But my bosses backed me against the noise and when I made plenty of mistakes. As a result, I wanted to repay them by learning as much and as quickly as possible,” she wrote.
She also highlighted the significance of diverse voices commentating, not only to offer different perspectives but again, to remind all viewers at home that cricket is a family and culture that welcomes them.
“What I love about this broadcast is the range of personalities and backgrounds, and for me that’s what makes it special. Representation matters because people want to see themselves reflected. But I hope that as time moves on there is more focus on everyone enjoying sport rather than their gender or background,” she said.
“Cricket has led the way with many female voices and I’m grateful that many of our peers and colleagues (including in these photos) have always given us the support/space and backing to fulfil our roles. While there will always be exceptions, I’ve always felt it’s more important to acknowledge those that raise us up rather than those that don’t.
“My opinion is that women can work on men’s sport just as men can work on women’s sport as pundits/presenters/commentators but either way let’s give people exactly the same patience and support to learn and thrive.”