Sharda Ugra : A Trailblazer for Women in Sports Journalism
It was an evening which had on stage two eminent personalities who are big cricket fans at heart. One of them was noted historian and writer Ramchandra Guha and the other was a lady by the name Sharda Ugra. Now, this name should definitely ring a bell for most cricket fans in India. For the benefit of the rest, Sharda is the Senior Editor with ESPNcricinfo.
Why should boys have all the fun?
The topic of discussion for the evening at the Max-Mueller Bhavan in Bengaluru as part of the Gender-Bender 2018 was “Talking Sport: Why should boys have all the fun” and there couldn’t have been a better person than Sharda for this. She has been a trailblazer as far as female sports journalists in India are concerned.
Guha kick-started the discussion on a lighter note in his own unique style. He said that the boys like him did not always have fun during his early years India did not win a lot of matches. Whereas, during a major portion of Sharda’s career, the Indian cricket team has been doing well.
As the discussion went ahead, Sharda jokingly mentioned that her debut in the field of sports journalism coincided with the cricketing debut of a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Now, while Sachin had the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev among others to draw inspiration from, Sharda had virtually no one. She was stepping her feet into untested waters, a field which was dominated (and probably is even today) by men.
And as one can imagine, it must not have been easy for her. She said that the sportsmen generally did not have an issue in accepting the fact they were being interviewed by a female journalist. But few people in the press box did initially feel that their territory was being invaded.
Today, this territory, once considered as the fiefdom of men is getting women as well and the credit for that must go to Sharda. Prior to ESPNcricinfo, she has worked with some of the big media houses in the nation like MiD-DAY, The Hindu and India Today.
“In those pre-manager days it was easier to approach players and that’s how few of us approached Imran”
Talking about her early years, she mentioned a story about how as a college girl she was able to get an interview of Imran Khan. She said, “In those pre-manager days it was easier to approach players and that’s how few of us approached Imran”.
Her initial job assignments mostly consisted of covering Ranji Trophy matches. It was only during the famous Hansie Cronje match-fixing saga, that she got a chance to cover something really big.
However, she has no regrets about her early days as she feels that domestic cricket in a way helped her in building a solid base. Listening to this, for a moment I thought I was hearing a cricketer speaking about the role played by domestic cricket in his upbringing.
At the end, the forum was opened for questions and the crowd did have a lot of questions. When asked about the best match that she had covered, she said that there have been quite a few like the India-Pakistan series in 2004, but one of the best experience was in a domestic football match in the north-east last year.
She also said that she likes to bring out lesser-known stories to the public. Ramchandra Guha also commended her on it and spoke about the story that Sharda had done on Dr Talimeren Ao who was the captain of India and the flag bearer of the Indian Olympic contingent at the 1948 London Games.
Commentary is not on the cards
Given her rich experience in covering various sporting events, I could not stop myself from asking if making a movement to cricket commentary was on her mind. She laughed and said, “No, I may have come across as a person who speaks a lot. But I just want to continue writing”.
Now, I will leave it at that and hope that fans like us get to read her masterpieces in years to come. As she had told, “Although, Sachin and I had started our career almost at the same time, fortunately, I don’t have to retire”.