In a 1.3 billion strong people country, cricket is not just a sport but an integral part of our life and times. Almost every other kid in India harbors the fantasy of donning the national jersey, someday. However, there are very few who actually get to live the dream. And then, there are a handful, whose ardor and perseverance lands them on the field although with a microphone in their fists, if not the willow.
Our correspondent, Yash Kashikar, had the privilege of a conversation with Jatin Sapru, one of the most well-known faces in the sports broadcasting sphere today.
Q. Take us through your childhood. Did you always have the knack for cricket?
Jatin: To be honest, I have a very faint memory of my childhood. My father used to watch a lot of cricket back then and it was actually an India vs Zimbabwe game which he literally forced me to watch. That is my earliest memory of watching cricket on TV. Afterwards, when I started playing the game that is when I actually developed an interest in it. Also, I was a very fat kid and as a result when other children used to practice in nets my coach used to simply make me run.
So by the time I used to finish off, the nets used to get over. And since I was pretty fat and had a strong shoulder the athletics coach actually pulled me into Javelin, Discuss throw, Shot put and I also did quite well in it. However, as far as cricket is concerned I started playing it seriously from 8th grade.
Q. Please tell us about your family background?
Jatin: I was born into a family of academic Kashmiri Pandits. My Grandfather was a Vice Principal at Kashmir University and my father is an engineer. We had a very comfortable life in Kashmir, however, in 1989 my family was forced to move to Delhi because terrorism had reached its peak in Kashmir during that period. So, literally overnight from having a luxurious life we were down to nothing. And that is when my father had to start from a scratch to support our family. He had to do various odd jobs and went through a lot of struggle. However, he still saved enough to afford a good education for us.
Q. What made you choose an unconventional and unique career as this?
Jatin: Actually, my father did not want me to go through all the struggle he had to in his life and that is the reason he always felt that if I had a government job no one would be able to play with my life. So, eventually, just like 3 Idiots I was stamped into engineering. However, in the first year of graduation, I actually realized that I simply cannot do it. So, I purposely made sure that I got the worst marks possible. Yet it didn’t change my father’s views and that is when we almost fought. Eventually, I took a firm stand and decided to drop out of Engineering. And since I always wanted to do something in literature and theatre as soon as I made it into a journalism course, it immediately felt like I belonged here.
Even there I did not study a lot but just because those subjects came naturally to me, I actually ended up topping college for all three years. In fact, I got the third rank in the entire HISAR University. And that is when I realized that when we do things that come naturally to us, we actually end up opening our potential.
Q. Every successful story has an unknown side of struggle and sacrifice. What kind of hardships did you have to face in this particular journey of yours?
Jatin: Actually, I had made a fake press card during my college days because I wanted to see the hardships which the journalists go through before I was actually paid for it. So I used to go for various media events with this press card of mine and that is when I figured out that it is actually a very tough job. I have put pamphlets of various events in car wipers, parking lots, run teleprompters for news channels and even clicked pictures for Nokia at fashion shows. In fact, I did every possible odd job to support myself.
I remember one incident wherein I had gone to a news channel with my CV and the guard did not allow me to enter the office and he actually ended up throwing the CV in the dustbin. So, it was actually very disheartening to see this kind of situation. And to be honest, at one point in time I had also given a thought to give up this career and find options to study marketing. However, today when I look back I actually feel that all these things prepared me for the journey ahead. So, by the time Dream Job came up, I had already accumulated a work experience of more than 2 years.
Q. Please talk us through the Dream Job days (ESPN Talent Hunt show)?
Jatin: It was actually one of my colleague at Tangerine (where I did sports content, commentary, and other stuff) who literally forced me to audition for Dream Job. To be honest, I never thought that I had any chance whatsoever going into the competition. I just wanted to get done with the auditions somehow. Delhi was the first auditions and my number was 7th to go in and all those who had gone before me were rejected. So, I was the first person to get a clearance in the city auditions and of course there were quite a few rounds after that but eventually, everything fell into place and I ended up winning the contest.
Q. How was the experience of hosting your first live event?
Jatin: My first live show also happened by force. I had signed my contract with ESPN Star Sports in 2008. And then just three days into my job I was told that I am going to Kolkata to host the IFA shield. I still remember it was the Barasat stadium with around 40000 screaming fans and I was standing out there in the middle extremely nervous. Because during Dream Job, I knew that at the end of the day it was just a competition but this was a live broadcast. And not many people are aware of the fact that we (broadcasters) are always connected to the control room through our earpieces where we actually hear everything that is going on in the PCR.
The Producers are constantly talking to the entire crew and all of it buzzes in our ears throughout the show. And then we have to filter out what content is for us and what isn’t. Every single thing that happens is timed. Let us say for example when we are about to go into a break, the director starts counting from 10 telling us that we have 10 seconds before going into the break. And I distinctly remember during my first stint, I actually paused at the count of 2 because I had nothing to say. And those 2 seconds looking into the camera felt like 20 years and I was literally sweating.
So, that was my first assignment as far as hosting is concerned.
Q. What all goes into preparing for every show?
Jatin: To be honest, it has changed over a period of time. Initially, I used to read almost every single article and previews that were available. However, now I am confident enough of previewing the show on my own. The preparation usually starts a day before the game wherein I go through the two teams, previous scorecards, pick up certain patterns and all other stuff. So, I still give myself about 2 hours for the preparation. This is my own agenda but the people who actually prepare the show are the producers. We make a running order which specifies the topics about which we are going to talk on the show. As far as the chat points are concerned, I sit with my producer, discuss it and then we finally come to a conclusion.
In fact, I believe that a good anchor and a good producer should always fight over the points before a game because that is when you actually come to the best conclusion. I and my producer fight a lot but ultimately we always come to a right conclusion (He chuckles)
Q. Let us consider a hypothetical situation now wherein you are commentating in an India vs Pakistan game. So, how do you manage to keep yourself neutral in such situations?
Jatin: Actually, one of the shows which I enjoyed hosting the most was the India vs Pakistan 2017 Champions Trophy final because after the game you had to be a very objective cricket fan.
See, what actually happens over a period of time is that you tend to take a step backward. Of course, you are still first a passionate Indian but the fan in you changes and the profession takes over. Ultimately what you want is a good game of cricket. Maybe secretly you want India to win but even as a fan, I have always appreciated good cricket. If your team doesn’t win maybe you might feel a bit disappointed at times but disappointment should never mean that you start disliking the result or the opposition. For example, after the World T20 semi-finals in 2016 when India lost to West-Indies, we were out in the middle and the mood was not very good. However, it was West-Indies who were a better side on that particular day.
So, the trick ultimately is how you connect the disappointment with the fans and that is where I feel Hindi and English broadcast are a bit different. Hindi goes to the heartland and thus you have to sort of share the grief of the fans and then slowly turn that grief into objectivity. Eventually, I have to convince the fans so that they do not hate their team but rather understand the reason why their team lost the game. That is actually the motive of our show. So, when I am in the studio I am a 35% fan and the rest is the professional aspect which comes into play. And even that 35% is extremely momentary and I make sure that I owe it to the remaining 65%.
Q. How does it feel to rub shoulders with the legends of the game?
Jatin: My first interview in cricket was with Sanath Jayasuriya in 2008 and thought I was a bit nervous, I have never quite been over odd by the occasion. I know how big a fan I am of everyone and it’s literally a dream come true. The only time I was over odd was probably when I had the opportunity to co-host a show with my boyhood hero, Rahul Dravid. So, there was a lot of nervousness but at the same time, I was extremely happy. And thus for a failed cricketer as I like to call myself, to be able to talk through and analyze the game with the greats of world cricket is simply incredible. At times I feel that dream is a very small word for it. In fact, I think it is the second best thing one could do for not representing their country.
Q. What are the key things which you have learned over the years in this profession?
Jatin: The biggest learning was actually the World T20 show when probably the 35% fan came across to the world as the host.
However, it wasn’t actually the case. Of course, Shoaib Bhai (Shoaib Akhtar) was a bit upset at that moment but by the time we finished the entire show I actually explained to him that my intention was never to be disrespectful, and he understood it. But the truth never really came out and the incident got blown out of proportion on social media. In fact, Shoaib Bhai is a very dear friend and almost like an elder brother to me.
However, that particular incident taught me that no matter what happens you are solely responsible for your own actions. The single point culprit of anything which goes wrong on the show will always be the anchor and of course the anchor who hasn’t played cricket. So, I am a little careful now and I will not let go at any cost.
I know that I have a major responsibility on my shoulders and I really don’t want to let the fans down. In fact, the viewers are very fickle, one day they will love you and one wrong sentence or an action can actually make you lose all that you have earned over the years.
Q. Do you think there is a need for some professional course to get into cricket commentary?
Jatin: I get this question asked very frequently, Yash and what I feel is that commentary at least to some extent is reserved for cricketers although what Harsha and Alan Wilkins have achieved is great. Even I have started to do a bit of T20 commentary and I absolutely love it. All of us will bring in the color and of course, the experts will always fancy a person who comes up with some nice lines and stuff so that it will make him look good and vice-versa. So, I firmly believe that there is a place for non-cricketers in commentary even though for cricketers, it kind of comes naturally.
However, when we talk in terms of doing any course to get into commentary, I don’t think that it is possible. Maybe to belong in this field, having done a course in Mass Communication and Journalism or an Electronic media course might help but to learn it eventually you need to work hard.
Q. What will you advise to the aspirants who want to slip into your shoes?
Jatin: I feel that today’s generation is actually growing up in such an incredible time that without any help they can at least do what they want to. Today, you have got all sorts of phone cameras and so many social networking platforms that if someone wants to put up their opinion in public, they can do it within a fraction of seconds. Then there are blogs, plenty of sports websites which provide a lot of opportunities, in fact, today one can get in touch with any fan across the world, make a group, and start working. So, just wanting to be on television or a specific network will never actually work. Maybe what worked for me was the fact that I was never dreaming of being on TV. I was just working on being the best at no matter what I was doing.
In fact, I get messages today from people who are in college saying, that they want to be on Star Sports. See, I wasn’t on STAR right after college. It’s simply not one of those jobs, it is actually a process and you have to be the best in that process. Start making your own videos, write for any of the available platforms but just start working. And if you are good enough there are chances that somewhere down the line you will get noticed. Ultimately it is very important that we do not curse the past and not think a lot about the future, just keep working hard and make the little opportunities count.
Jatin Sapru takes guard against the rapid-fire bouncers hurled at him by CricFit correspondent, Yash Kashikar.
Jatin: Friends call me J and my mother calls me minx.
Jatin: In terms of beauty, Newlands cricket ground (South-Africa).
Favourite stadium to cover the game- Lords cricket ground and Chinnaswamy stadium (Bangalore).
Favourite Holiday Destination?
Jatin: Secretly Italian but otherwise I am a massive foody and I can eat anything.
Favourite Co-host and the reason?
Jatin: Maximum co-hosting I have done is with Mayanti and together we call ourselves ‘Jayanti’. We are very good friends and quite comfortable with each other. So, definitely the one and only ‘Jayanti’.
Any Oops moment on the mic?
Jatin: It’s out there on the Youtube with Shoaib Akhtar (He chuckles).
Best cricket match you have ever witnessed?
Jatin: Actually I wasn’t covering this game but I had my accreditation so I was there on the ground during the 2011 WC final and I saw Dhoni’s winning six sail over my head. That has to be the best game.
Favourite cricketer of all time?
Jatin: Rahul Dravid.
Best compliment you have received till date?
Jatin: Recently, a little kid in Bangalore came running to me and he was like, are you Jatin Sapru? So, I was like yes I am and he went back running to his mother, saying, see I told you. And then he came up to me again and asked, Can I take a picture with you? I want to be like you. I think that kid just made my life.
One superpower you would love to possess?
Jatin: All of them, to be honest. I am a big superhero fan. So much so that, my wife wants to throw all the posters out of our house.
However, one specific superpower which I would love to possess would be to go invisible.
Message for your fans?
Jatin: I really feel blessed that people actually appreciate my work and thank you so much for all your support. I always say that I am just a fan or that cricket guy who wants to be your voice. So, I just hope you keep enjoying the game. Keep sending in the love and stay there during hard times.