As the nation eagerly looks forward to the ICC Cricket World Cup finals, Karan Kaushik catches up with a few Indian cricketers, who were once a part of Air India’s cricket team, on the airline’s contribution to the sport and who they think will win this year
The country’s national carrier Air India doesn’t only fly planes and connect the country to the world. It also contributes to the all-round development of the society. Among many of its nation-building efforts is the support it lends to sportspersons by employing them under a special sports category. Several sporting stars like cricketers Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Nikhil Chopra, Suresh Raina, Jhulan Goswami and hockey legends Dhanraj Pillay and Harendra Singh are supported by Air India.
Former cricketer Nikhil Chopra says that he can’t thank Air India enough for supporting sportspersons across the country. “Air India’s support has allowed several players like me to achieve our dreams of playing for the country,” Chopra says. The former offspinner thanks the airline for allowing him to polish his skills and get the right exposure in both domestic and international cricket. “We felt like maharajas playing for Air India and I hope the airline continues to support sportspersons,” he says. Eagerly following the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Chopra adds that the time seems right for the Indian team to lift the cup again. (India has won the world cup twice: in 1983 and 2011).
Remembering the 1999 World Cup, also held in England, and during which Chopra was a member of the Indian squad, he says, “In the 1999 World Cup, we were very close to winning. But one match, against Zimbabwe, turned the tide against us. The current team, however, looks promising and I am sure that under the able guidance of skipper Virat Kohli, Team India will definitely lift the cup that we had left back in England then.”
Suresh Raina, a member of India’s 2011 World Cup champion squad, too feels the current team has a very good chance of winning the tournament. “The Indian team looks strong and I am sure the boys will repeat history and win a third cup for the country,” says the player. He adds that even though Australia might give the Indian team a tough fight, he is hopeful that the Men in Blue will make the country proud.
Raina, who too was a member of the team that played for Air India, says that playing for the airline gave him confidence. “Representing Air India helped me in fulfilling my dream of playing for the country. I would like to express my gratitude to Air India and its CMD Ashwani Lohani for trusting me and providing me the right platform to express myself as a young cricketer,” he adds.
India’s maverick middle order batsman Yuvraj Singh, who recently announced his retirement from international cricket, agrees that the Kohli-led Indian squad has strong chances of winning the World Cup. “While our batting line-up is one of the best in the world today, our balling side is also pretty strong with Jasprit Bumrah and spinners like Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal,” says Singh. The cricketer too thanks Air India for being a part of his cricketing journey. “I have very fond memories of playing for Air India. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the management at Air India for allowing me to play for the Air India team as a young cricketer, which eventually helped me in achieving my lifelong dream of representing India internationally,” he says.
Former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team Jhulan Goswami, also one of the most talented fast bowlers that national women’s cricket has ever had, says that the World Cup is the most exciting tournament for any player. “Every cricketer dreams of representing the nation at the World Cup, and the ultimate goal is to bring the trophy home. The fact that the championship is played once every four years, allows ample time for proper training and preparation,” she adds.
Talking about the ongoing matches, Goswami says that the new format of the tournament has made it much more interesting. “The 2019 World Cup has a new and exciting format. We are witnessing a lot of ups and downs this time and with the weather conditions in England, the momentum can change any moment. But all we want is for our team to lift the cup,” she says.
Ask about her favourite players from the current team and she is quick to revert: Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. “I admire the way Kohli leads the team and performs every time, especially when he bats. I also appreciate the consistency shown by Jasprit Bumrah. Every time he comes to bowl, we feel that he’ll take a wicket any moment; such is his magic,” points out Goswami, who is also happy with the way Shami has made a comeback by taking a hat-trick in the match against Afghanistan.
Goswami joined the Air India team in 2000 and got a permanent job with the airline in 2006. She believes that it would have been tough for her to play for India without the support of the airline. Fondly remembering the support extended by Air India, she says, “Air India has played a huge role in my career. I would like to thank the company for looking after me and other players, and for motivating us at every step,” she adds.