Having taken on the role of lead presenter for the BBC's return to televised cricket coverage this summer, Isa Guha has spent the majority of the last two months in bio-secure environments, helping to bring England's behind-closed-doors internationals to those following at home on TV and radio. Ahead of Sunday's second men's T20I between England and Pakistan, the first live game free-to-air on the BBC for 21 years, Guha discusses life in the bubble, her status as a role model and hopes for the women's game in the UK.
It has been an unusual summer of cricket, for many reasons. How have you found life in the bubble?
It's been great to be working on the cricket and great to see everyone again after quite a few months of not seeing anyone. It's different, it can be challenging at times, but we're all being as professional as we can. Essentially what we're trying to do is bring people the cricket as best we can. It's been amazing to see how the players have dealt with it and how professional they've been, huge credit to West Indies and Pakistan. West Indies were in a bubble for 51 days straight. I just think what these guys have done has been simply incredible.
You've just moved up to Manchester from Southampton, after the conclusion of the Pakistan Tests. Have you had any time away from the 'bio-secure environment'?
I have been home for a couple of days. To be honest I'm not counting, but since the start of July I've been in the bubble, pretty much, apart from one or two trips home. We've very much been insulated, all our thoughts have been towards cricket and it's been hard to keep up with what's going on outside. But I realise people are struggling and we are fortunate to have jobs and be doing what we're doing.
How have you occupied yourself away from the cricket - taken up golf yet?
I did go on the golf course for the first time in two years and I got smacked on my finger by a stray ball. So that was the end of my golf days. But at venues we've had table tennis and pool and so forth… Part of my problem is I get FOMO so I feel like I have to join in or I'm missing out. But it's also good to get away for a night and go and chill in your room. There have been things to keep us occupied. I never really struggle with that anyway, there's always books to read or TV to watch - not that I've been watching any TV - and there's always people to catch up with. Yeah, it's been fine, and there are lots of different ways to keep yourself sane.
When you imagined fronting the BBC's coverage for the first time, it possibly wasn't quite in circumstances like this…
No. I was really excited about the opportunity, it was such an honour and privilege to be asked to do this, but yeah it has been a bit strange. Everything has been a bit condensed. As a broadcaster you are always trying to find different ways of bringing the coverage to the audience otherwise it probably gets quite boring for them. There have been so many moments to get excited about. The cricket has been really good, it's been really well fought, there's always been something to talk about - apart from the rain days when it really does drag on. And it culminating in Jimmy Anderson's 600th wicket was really poignant. Here's a guy who's been working away for 17 years now, that is just unbelievable. To think about the number of overs he's bowled in his career and to get to this point and we were all holding out hope that it might happen in the series. But for it to happen on that final day was just a nice little touch at the end of what has been quite a gruelling summer for everyone.
How important is cricket being back on free-to-air TV in the UK? Presumably you remember the terrestrial coverage on the BBC back in the 1990s, and then over on Channel 4?
Yeah, Richie Benaud, definitely on Channel 4, but the BBC I guess I caught the last years of that. I would have been 8 or 9 when I was watching cricket on television, dad would always put it on, mum was an avid watcher as well. We'd always watch England play. Everyone remembers Richie because he was the don of broadcasting, essentially. Certainly with my commentary I started off wanting to let the coverage breathe a bit more, and as the world evolves things change and different broadcasters wants different things for their audience.
"It will be interesting to see if individual women's players [from South Africa] will be able to travel to franchise tournaments such as the IPL Challenge and WBBL - I hope that will be the case"
I'm really excited about Sunday, the first time we're going to have a live game back on the BBC. We've got a great team, and I know it's not Test cricket but it'll be a lot of fun with the guys in T20 cricket. It might be strange for the players, even the broadcasters - because you're so used to commentating with the noise in T20, and to have that behind you to help gee you up when there's a big moment. So that will be very different. But at the same time I'm looking forward to the fast-paced nature of it.
Do you see yourself as something of a trailblazer, being a young, British-Asian woman leading the BBC's cricket coverage? Can that help cricket reach out to communities that maybe it hasn't in this country?
That's something that's really evolved as I've got older. When I first played for England there was a big deal made of the fact I was the first Asian woman to be involved with the England women's team. I later found out I was the first to play any team sport for England from an Asian background. So that made me realise how rare this actually is - and why is that happening, why aren't there more? So that's always been a passion of mine, to try and encourage more Asian girls to get involved in sport.
I've recognised that responsibility more as I've got older. On one side of things I like people to recognise the job that I'm doing but at the same time I also realise there's a young girl or boy out there that will see me on television and will feel that they can go on and do something similar, and there are opportunities available to them.
The Black Lives Matter movement and discussion of racism in cricket has also been prominent - your former team-mate Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke very movingly of her experiences at the start of the West Indies Test series. Have there been instances in your career that you now look back on and wish you had confronted at the time?
Myself and Ebony had different upbringings: she was brought up in Brixton and I was brought up in a very westernised community. I guess I didn't really know who I was back then. I talk a lot with one of my best friends, Fiona, whose family are from St Vincent. When you're younger, you're just trying to fit in with everyone around, so you almost suppress your roots so that you can fit in. I've realised in the last few months that you shouldn't have to change who you are to fit in, you should just be appreciated for who you are. I wouldn't talk about my background much when I was at school, or experiences I had in India, or with my family. Just because you didn't think that was what people wanted to hear about. My upbringing was very much around fitting in and integrating with society. Now, as an adult, I'm so interested in my background and my roots and I go back to Kolkata once a year and I'm really proud of the culture, and I'm confident enough to talk about it and be proud of it. And that's something I maybe should have done when I was younger as well.
While cricket has pulled together to deal with the pandemic, the women's game has been particularly hard hit. The ECB announced this week that West Indies will tour England in September, which is good news - but is there a fear women's cricket could be set back further by this?
I think purely because the World Cup has been postponed, everyone was looking forward to that and preparing for it and naturally there will be some disappointment there. But the PCA and the ECB have been working incredibly hard to make sure that girls who were to receive professional contracts - which was going to be a huge, massive step for the women's game in the UK - that they still receive retainers and the contracts will come into place properly in October. The ECB's plan was to invest in the women's game over the next five years and they are still following through with that. They don't want to take a backward step. The fact they've shown their commitment by chartering out the West Indies team highlights how valued women's cricket is in this country.
Yeah, it may have looked like things were happening slowly, but it's been difficult trying to fit everything in. I'm sure everyone wanted to get women's cricket on in the first couple of months, but the priority was always going to be the England men, from a revenue point of view, because there's a lot of money being lost from the game this summer. Testament to the girls: they took a pay cut at the start of the pandemic. That was their decision; they wanted to be in line with the staff they are working with.
We're all continually trying to push the women's game forward and at times it's frustrating. You look at South Africa, for example, where their women's team aren't allowed to travel yet individual men's players are allowed to go to the IPL. It will be interesting to see if the individual women's players will be able to travel to the franchise tournaments, such as the IPL Challenge and WBBL - and I hope that will be the case. But it really is about a large group of people trying to push the women's game forward and if we can get as many voices as possible talking about women's sport and women's cricket it can only improve.
Looking ahead, you've spoken in support of the Hundred as a vehicle for both men's and women's cricket. The tournament launch has been pushed back to 2021 but are you still convinced that is the right way to go?
I definitely understood the value in it, and the reasons behind wanting to try and reach a new audience and mobilise them through the Hundred. People can always be afraid of something new, but I think a lot of conversations need to happen over the next six months, and people need to be open-minded. I still think it will be fantastic but there are so many things that are up in the air, in terms of getting in crowds - are we going to be in a position next year where we can push forward with it? And people should be open to conversations around whether it is the right way to move forward next year, depending on the situation. There are so many things that need consideration right now. But I still understand the merits and the reasons behind why they wanted to go in that direction.
The second England v Pakistan T20I will be live on BBC One on 30 August from 1.45pm BST