ISA GUHA had no dreams of being a presenter… but now the new face of the BBC’s cricket coverage has cemented herself as one of the best in the business
- Isa Guha won two World Cups but never planned on becoming a presenter
- She is now one of the most recognisable faces in cricket broadcasting
- Guha will be a key part of the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage later this month
Midway through our conversation in the Lord’s Media Centre, in between Isa Guha’s commentary stints on Test Match Special (TMS), a gentle ripple of applause emanates from the stands for Australia’s Steve Smith as he reaches his 32nd Test century.
Guha takes a few seconds to glimpse at the closest television screen and appreciate the achievement.
In a way, there is something that connects the pair.
An ability to become exceptional at something they never intended to do in the first place.
Smith began as a leg-spinner and ended up becoming Australia’s best batter since Sir Donald Bradman.
Isa Guha has become one of the most recognisable faces in sports broadcasting recently
She is a mainstay of the BBC’s cricket coverage and will return to Wimbledon later this month
Guha won two World Cups for England as a player but never had any ambitions of becoming a presenter.
Now she is one of the most recognisable faces of live broadcasting, presenting Today at the Test on the BBC and commentating on TMS over the cricket summer, alongside working for Fox Cricket in Australia over the winter.
If that wasn’t enough, the 38-year-old will present BBC’s live coverage from Wimbledon over the next fortnight alongside Clare Balding.
‘It wasn’t a genuine ambition (to become a presenter). I didn’t even think it was an option,’ Guha tells Mail Sport.
‘I got a Twitter message from a guy at ITV in 2011 asking whether I could come and have a chat. They had the IPL rights, it was two weeks away and the actress Mandira Bedi was pregnant so they needed a presenter. I thought they just wanted me to be a pundit,’ she admits.
Guha was still playing cricket and studying a PHD in Neuroscience but took on the challenge with the same drive that led to her becoming the first woman of South Asian origin to represent England in any sport in 2002, when she was just 17.
‘In my head, it was no pressure because I had no idea. I just embraced it and was happy to take it on, knowing that I probably looked like a fool but I got a lot of support from people like Matt Smith and Mark Pougatch,’ she says.
Fast forward twelve years and Guha is a regular on our screens from some of the most iconic sporting venues in the world.
Like Australis’s leg spinner-turned batting great Steve Smith, Guha has become exceptional at something she never planned to do
The 38-year-old won two World Cups as a player but never planned on becoming a presenter
‘That’s never something I set my sights on, to work on the Ashes and Wimbledon, etc,’ admits Guha. ‘But it is an absolute privilege to do what I do now.
‘The times I pinch myself is when I’m getting to do a job I love with legends in the game and calling them my colleagues and mates.
‘It’s the same with Wimbledon. Getting to work in the same sphere as people like Sue Barker, Clare Balding and Gabby Logan. That’s something l’d never have imagined and it’s mad when I reflect on it because I grew up, looking at them as amazing broadcasters.’
Yet it hasn’t always been easy for a woman from a background like Guha’s to feel at ease working in two of the most quintessentially British establishments.
‘You’re always aware of imposter syndrome — I’ve definitely dealt with it. Certainly in cricket commentary until I met Shane Warne. Warney was such a big supporter and made me feel so comfortable when he’d ask me about the game.
‘He was so genuine. With him accepting and respecting me, it felt like so many more then did,’ Guha reveals.
While cricket may be her expertise and childhood passion, the opportunity to present at Wimbledon last year offered a different challenge entirely. In typical Guha fashion, she took it on but is frank that it has been tough.
‘Last year, it was the technical aspect of the game more than anything (that I found tricky). There’s so much content with 128 players on both sides of the draw from day one, so it’s understanding what you need to know and when, because you can’t possibly know everything,’ insists Guha.
Guha recalled the warmth showed to her by the late Shane Warne in the commentary box
‘Clare told me that part of the job was actually knowing what you don’t need to know because you feel like you need to know everything.’
With that, she admits she can’t wait to get started at SW19. It’s a special fortnight and she knows full well the impact of visibility when it comes to making sport more inclusive.
‘Cricket is trying to respect traditions yet move with the times and in a sense, Wimbledon’s trying to do the same. The key question to ask is who isn’t there and whether we as a sport are appealing to everyone?
‘Cricket’s going through its own test to be more inclusive and while the ICEC report has been difficult reading and viewing for everyone who loves the game, we have to know where we’re at to be able to move forward.
‘That’s what the report has done. It’s there for everyone to see that these things are going on. We should not be in denial about it,’ Guha says passionately.
So what about her thoughts on cricket being classed as racist, elitist and sexist?
‘I have strong views. It’s sad but sadly its not a surprise. People need to realise that just because you have different experiences doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It requires a collective understanding. It’s something I’ll talk in detail about later for sure.
‘I look back at my playing career and there were times where I nearly quit when I was 12-13. If it wasn’t for my mum’s support. I wouldn’t be where I am now. I had experiences where I felt like I didn’t fit in at all. It’s staggering how many of my friends felt similar but we never talked to each other.
She admitted finding the sheer volume of content at Wimbledon a challenge last year
Guha will present the famous Grand Slam again later this month alongside Clare Balding and Qasa Alom
‘It’s recognising those moments for young people and if they have someone to speak to, we might keep more people in the game. That’s what we’re trying to do with Take Her Lead (Guha’s charitable foundation).
‘I think back to moments on my journey and why I behaved like I did or why I felt the need to fit in. Was it because uniqueness wasn’t embraced as much or because I felt I had to behave in a certain way?’
But she is optimistic that the future looks a lot more positive.
‘Embracing individuality and different cultures has certainly improved since then,’ insists Guha.
‘It’s important to recognise that there’s space for everyone and not to fear change. Because change is the only constant in life.’
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