From theatre to cricket to commentary, Suhail Chandhok overcame continuous setbacks to follow his dream
How far would you go to follow your passion and achieve your dream? How many setbacks would you be willing to take on the way? Legendary American football player and coach Vince Lombardi famously said, ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up’ and it is the mantra followed by one of India’s leading sports presenter and commentator – Suhail Chandhok.
The twists and the turns he has endured on his journey would put an F1 driver to shame. Opting for cricket despite an aptitude for theatre, Suhail made the IPL franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s team ahead of the 2009 Champions League, but tragedy struck. It took stem cells taken from his arm inserted into the knee after a prolonged time out due to injury to force him to rethink his playing career, which resulted in him becoming one of India’s leading presenters and commentators.
Hailing from a sporting family, Suhail Chandhok was earmarked for a career in sports. Swerving the racing track despite being part of the third generation of racing drivers in the Chandhok family, Suhail took up cricket, a sport which helped him become the first Indian to win the prestigious Oxford Cambridge Half-Blue award.
“It is one of my biggest honours,” said Chandhok on the award. “Going to Australia at the age of 17-18, facing off against bowlers like Shaun Tait and Jason Gillespie, a duo who I would watch on TV is another moment I savoured. Unfortunately, in the 2015 Chennai floods the certificate was washed away completely, but I have asked for a replacement and I am sure I’ll get one.”
A stint with the RCB, albeit one cut short due to injury, is something he fondly recalls. It gave him a chance to play alongside his idol and gain valuable experience.
“It was a really nice surprise. RCB coach Ray Jennings spotted me from Australia because the award made a few waves back home. I got a call from the Bangalore camp ahead of the Champions League in 2009 due to my exploits with Lincolnshire in North England. It was nice to be invited to that group which was the preliminary camp to the tournament,” he revealed. “One moment, I was a kid growing up idolising Anil Kumble and the other moment to have him bowling to you in the nets and as your captain is a surreal feeling.”
‘A very small percentage of people get to live their dream and do what they love and love what they do. I feel very blessed to say that I do that.’
However, three career-threatening injuries in as many years forced him to make a decision, but a life away from sports was something he wouldn’t even consider.
“After my final relapse in 2012, I had to take a tough call. But, in hindsight it was a good call to stop playing,” shared Suhail without a shred of regret in his voice. “I didn't actually think about it (making the switch to commentary). I joined a friend, who had come to Mumbai, to give an interview for Star Sports. There, I got to talk about sports for a few minutes and a month and a half later, I got a call from them asking me to come down for another interview. I would say, it was meant to be.”
“Had a poster of Andy Flower on my wall instead of Sachin”
A sports fanatic since birth, Suhail would try his hand at all sports, be it badminton, badminton, tennis, table tennis etc, opting to skip the mainstream sports. Despite growing up in a Sachin Tendulkar frenzied India, Suhail recalls he had a certain Zimbabwean cricketer’s poster glued to his wall and not of the man rechristened ‘God’.
“Growing up, I watched the most random sports – Sepaktakraw, Kenya vs Bangladesh etc. I had a poster of Andy Flower on my wall instead of Sachin,” revealed an enthusiastic Suhail without making an effort to curb his laughter.
It is this penchant for the road less travelled that helps him switch effortlessly between commentating in the hustle-bustle of kabaddi and presenting shows on the gentleman’s game – cricket.
He quipped, “My upbringing in watching the most random sports helped in making the most swift change. In cricket and football, I present shows and am in front of the camera while in hockey and kabaddi, I am involved as a commentator. It is a different ballgame altogether.”
Suhail revealed what separates him from the herd, “I always say that the hallmark of a good commentator is 'Someone who can give more than what meets the eye' and that is the biggest want from my own commentary. Although it requires a lot of homework, it is my passion and love and I feel very blessed to say that I do that.”
“We have recreated kabaddi and are once again proud of India’s very own sport”
With 3 seasons of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi done and dusted amidst much fanfare, it is fair to say that the league is here to stay. One of the reasons for the masses’ wide reception for the league is definitely the energetic and pumping commentary provided by Suhail and co. during the month-long event. However, he insists that the sport has sold itself and despite the involvement of celebrities, it is the charm of kabaddi and India’s predilection for a contact sport that has worked in the resurgence of the ancient sport.
“Kabaddi is 40 minutes of high-class athleticism and a high impact sport. India has always craved contact sports and that is the reason for the success of WWE/WWF. This is our own contact sport. It is a sport we needed to be proud of, we weren't very proud of and now, we got the chance to recreate and be proud of India's very own sport,” claimed Suhail.
“The League has a professional approach with the franchise owners coming with the mindset of improving the sport and to focus on a sport that had no glamour or limelight. Hats off to Star for putting such a grand show in Season 1 by recreating it on the lines of the NBA, NHL with the lights and the change from the mud to the mat.”
However, it was not all smooth sailing and earlier, there were plenty of apprehensions in people’s minds about the sport.
Suhail explains, “When the opportunity came, In the office, very few people wanted it. To come in to a sport I didn't really know very well was a dream. For most people it would be scary, but for me it was a chance to learn a new sport. Kabaddi being our own sport was the main draw for me.”
To leave a lasting legacy behind for future generations is also something that the ‘black sheep of the family’, as Suhail jokingly calls himself, wanted. “Very few times in your life do you actually get to evolve a sport all together. In many ways, kabaddi was a lost sport and here was a chance to recreate the sport and for me that was a very special opportunity.”
The kabaddi world owes Suhail a massive gratitude as he continues to give his expert analysis in shows while bringing life to live sports with his words. Here’s to having more such ’black sheeps’ in the Indian sports world.