A Drink With… Isa Guha

This post was originally published on All Out Cricket on 23rd Oct 2012.

She’s the record-breaking, away-swinging, trailblazing women’s star turned TV presenter, Oasis busker and Bollywood hobnobber.  But more pressingly, what’s your tipple… Isa Guha?

Interview: Phil Walker

Isa! What’ll it be?

Champagne please! [NatWest PCA Awards night – not a difficult choice.]

Excellent. Now then, you’re in danger of becoming a bit of a media celeb, right?

Oh no! I wouldn’t say that…

You are! I see you everywhere!

Oh, I don’t know… [She does]. I suppose I’ve had a few opportunities this year, and I’ve been quite fortunate and tried to embrace whatever’s come my way.

Let’s start with the first TV gig, doing the IPL on ITV4 last year. What was it like? Day one, cameras rolling…

I was a mess but don’t tell them that! They got in touch with me out of the blue, a week before the actual show started. I had a chat with them, and originally I thought they wanted me as a guest, and that was fine because I’d done that before. And then they dropped the bomb that they needed a host for the show! I had one day of training! I always tell people that, because you could tell I was pretty nervous…

Did you dare watch it back?

I had to watch a couple back just so I could learn from my mistakes and move forward… I remember, just before we went live the director saying, “Listen Ish, don’t worry, it’s only half a million people watching!” I just froze! But it was fine in the end, because I had Matt with me [sport TV veteran Matt Smith], and since then I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve been able to hang out with some greats of cricket.

Is the IPL on British TV a hard sell? I have to admit to it pretty much passing me by…

Yeah, the problem is that it’s on every day for two months, and if you’re not following any team in particular, it can drift along a bit. But then there’s always that chance that someone like Chris Gayle is on fire, and then there’s nothing else like it. I also love seeing some of the best players in the world in the same team.

And from there you got a gig on Sky for the recent Women’s Twenty20 match, and I did manage to watch this one. I’m not just saying this, but I thought you were brilliant…

Thank you! [There follows an interruption when some bloke called Alastair Cook comes over to say hello. “We can’t get enough of you!” he says. “You’re on the TV every time I look!” He’s not addressing AOC.] Where were we? Yeah, Sky. That was a really good opportunity for me, and it was great to feel that I am still involved in the women’s game, especially as I know all the players really well.

And you’re retired now completely from cricket? You’re only 27!

Yeah, well I’m meant to still play a few games at county level, but I only played two games this season, though that was mainly due to the weather, honest!

Do you miss it?

I really miss competing. I probably don’t miss the training so much, but when you’re playing the game you just do it. You don’t ever question it because you’re playing for your country and that’s the best thing you can ever do. Seeing the girls out in the middle, it’s a strange feeling to think I’ll never do that again. However I had a good run and I’ve now got so much more time just to do normal things. I can see my friends, my family, go to a music festival at the weekend, just lead a life again.

Talking of which, you were ranked the No.1 ODI bowler at one point, Ashes wickets, Player of the Match against Australia, World Cup winner… What’s the most special moment?

[Pause] Okay, the No.1 has to be winning the World Cup in 2009. That was the highlight of my career because we’d been on a quest to get it since I started in 2002, and even longer for other girls. I remember when Holly [Colvin] hit the winning runs and all of us just clinging to each other, because it was such an amazing feat to win it in Australia and be the best in the world. Then we went on to win the ICC World Twenty20 and whitewashed the Aussies in a ODI series before retaining the Ashes, making us the most successful team in history.

And from a personal point of view?

That has to be Bowral to retain the Ashes in 2008 [Isa took nine wickets to claim the Player of the Match]. I hadn’t actually been involved that much in the [preceding] one-day series but then Jenny Gunn came away with an illness the day before the Test was starting at the Don Bradman Oval, where I’d played at before. For any cricket lover it’s a very historical place and I always had an affinity with it.

So the day before the match you weren’t even playing?

That’s right, but then [the coach] Mark Lane came to tell me I was playing and I started crying! I just wanted to play so badly. That night I couldn’t really sleep, but come the day it was just one of those moments where everything came together, everything worked. It was overcast, it suited my bowling, and I got the ball to swing. I picked up a wicket in my first few overs, and then I was away. At the top of my run I felt that I could get a wicket every ball. Every chance went to hand and I was in this heightened state where I didn’t have to think about anything You can’t describe it. It was perfect.

Why cricket?

It was the classic older brother influence! My parents are from Kolkata, they came over in the Seventies, and obviously they watched a lot of cricket at home. My brother was seven years older than me, and he used to play in the back garden, or at the local cricket club in High Wycombe. I used to chase after the ball when he practised and my  parents decided to satisfy my interests by enrolling me with the boys. It wasn’t just cricket though, I played lots of sports, which helped me with my game. I played a bit of badminton for Bucks in the winter and cricket in the summer.

You cover the IPL from India as well, what’s that like? 

It’s crazy. The first show I did I had to dance onto the stage! I had to do this little salsa number! But yeah, the buzz of the IPL, the razzmatazz… I only did six shows but we had Bollywood actors on it and all that stuff. I went to a couple of the after parties, which are interesting… It’s mental, you go to one of these parties and people buy tickets to go and just stand there watching the players. They probably make more money from these people than the actual IPL.

You owe us an ‘after party’ story…

Okay, I was at one of these parties after the Kolkata v Mumbai game and it was about three in the morning, I was about to leave – and this is all very rock‘n’roll – I saw Shah Rukh Khan [Bollywood icon; Kolkata Knight Riders owner] in the corner, and there were a few other players sat around playing the guitar. I was introduced to him and he kisses my hand, and says, ‘I know who you are because you’ve been saying some very nice things about the Kolkata Knight Riders!’ He then said ‘Come and sit next to me,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my god…’ Crazy.

Go on…

So I’m sitting there, a few players were playing the guitar. In my confident state I said we should play Wonderwall, and when no one knew how to play it I took the guitar and started playing. But it was tuned differently so I started playing it, and I thought, ‘Oh sh*t, I can’t play it properly!’ I looked around and thought this is so embarrassing. Shah Rukh Khan just looked at me and went, ‘Hmm.’ So I passed it back and said, ‘Sorry everyone.’ An epic fail!

Genius! Now, what else what do we have? There’s your academic career – you’re a chemistry geek, correct?

Yeah, I did bio-chemistry at university.

What does that even mean?

I don’t even know really! There’s so much to know! I’m finishing off my PhD soon, maybe I’ll know something by the end of that…

And just finally Isa, you mentioned music. What gets you going?

I basically copied my brother in his music tastes, so it was Oasis, Chemical Brothers, Jimi Hendrix massively, I went through a trance phase, then an R’n’B and hip hop phase, and now I’ve come back full circle to rock. I just love it!

All time Hendrix track?

All Along The Watchtower or I really like Little Wing… My boyfriend’s actually in a band. You might want to give him a plug?

What are they called?

Brother and Bones. They’re kind of folk rock.

Plugged. Cheers Isa.


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