AI Vishal interviews V Shashank who is a Cricket writer, Presenter and a Freelance social media expert at DD Sports. The lockdown has restrained all of us in our houses and made us lose sense of purpose. Everything came to a standstill. It required time to register the situation that has strangled all of us. No wonder it did for us also. But after a three-month hiatus, we are back to what we love doing. Our first piece post the sabbatical is something new and different even for us. We had to come up with something different, like the situation demands, go out of our way and turned to a man who has seen so much of different situations that have made such a big difference in his life and career. We sat with V Shashank, an ace of his trade in writing and presenting about “The Gentleman’s game” and had a candid chat about his experience and travails in the hard toil of sports media. 1. Could you remember what was the 1st cricket match you watched on TV and also how did you gain your interest in the sport? It may sound surprising, but I wasn’t a cricket fan in the beginning. Though I played a bit of gully cricket, I had little or no interest in the sport. The first few glimpses of the game were the 2011 WC final and Sachin Tendulkar's retirement in 2013. However, it was Ashes 2013-14, the first international series I watched, with Mitchell Johnson at his lethal best, the on-field banter & sledging that got me excited about the game. My interest grew manifolds when I got to know the stories of Sourav Ganguly as a captain, the importance of India's victory in the 2002 Natwest Series finals, stories surrounding India's overseas Test performances in England, Australia, Pakistan, and certainly the duo - MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, who took the Indian cricket to another level. 2. Basically you're an engineering graduate but how did you select this field and how did you gain interest in this? I guess it was one of the ODIs India had won in 2015 and I first saw Vikrant Gupta, Anchor at Sportstak and Senior Executive Editor at Aaj Tak, in a post-match show (I still watch his shows every now and then). That's when the initial thoughts started to develop - I should be on the same stage with the cricketers, be the face of a cricket show. And then, watching Gaurav Kapur in Breakfast with Champions, and Vikram Sathaye in What the Duck, these further solidified my interest. In the meantime, I started watching as many talk shows as possible, many from the world of entertainment, that made me come to the conclusion - I belong to the world of media & entertainment. But, the question was - where do I start? My interest in Computer Science had taken a downhill post-2015 and it hit rock bottom at the start of 2016. I knew nothing other than a bit of knowledge on cricket, so then I decided to opt for internships in content writing & digital marketing. With the limited command over the language at that point, I wrote a sample and started applying for internships. The initial stages were tough, as I had no experience, but there were few guys willing to back me and my ideas relentlessly - Shreyansh Shrivastava and Prateek Satpute (I refer to them as my Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni). They had their websites, whose content I handled (from creation on a daily basis to SEO), and in the meantime, I finished 6 internships. The reach on the websites was just sky high, to the extent that I caught the attention of one of the Sirs at DD Sports before New Zealand vs India 2019 series (ODIs & T20Is). And that’s how I got my first show. But I realized soon, I need to learn & practice more on the video front and strengthen my basics. So, I took a break and applied for another internship. I joined Funtasy11 as an Intern, then as a full-timer. I could feel the difference in me, from January-February 2019 to December 2019. It was during the ODIs between India vs West Indies in December 2019 that I once again, got the opportunity to be upfront and realizing that it's about time I focus on personal brand, and with the positive feedback and advices I received, I took up the opportunity and never looked back. 3. Tell us a bit about your experience working in the media? It has been interesting! There is so much to learn. I am a curious mind and a believer of ‘Curiosity skilled the cat’ contrary to what the perception is ‘Curiosity kills the cat’. I ask a lot of questions - Why & How? to the guys I work with. Sometimes the same question in a different manner, which though sounds childish, but are important for my professional growth. As in - How many hours do presenters invest in preparing & rehearsing? How to improve vocabulary in Hindi & English? What was the Anchor’s mindset in a given show? How do things operate behind the scenes? How does one stay natural? What thoughts come in their mind just before a show begins? Do the anchors’ prepare a script or not? Trust me; these clichéd questions hold great importance as they helped me find my own style through which I create my own impact. But, being someone who likes to face new challenges and chase creative pursuits, so right now, even if I am in the field of Media, I will aim to carve my space in the world of Entertainment, and then after a point in Administration. 4. What would you suggest to budding youngsters who want to grow and become big in this field? What would they need? See, I have a completely different mindset to what the majority of people have. I've treaded the un-treaded path, experimented immensely with skill sets that I've acquired in the journey, picked great instincts, and banked on them to the hilt. For those who aren’t from the field of journalism or mass media, maybe an Engineer like me, a basic rule of thumb would be - “Start early on and make the most of social media, as you can get a great deal of attention. Promote yourself. Don’t chase too much perfection as you will waste a lot of time in doing so unless you have the resources with you. Apply for internships in content writing or digital marketing, start creating videos or writing samples, reach out to as many people as possible in your field of interest who can guide you, and get you more opportunities. Times are changing, even employers are now looking forward to recruiting and back the guys who possess the required skill sets or a learning attitude. Even work on podcasts, as it is getting a great deal of attention. In short, you have to create opportunities for yourself.” Again trust me on this, even a smartphone along with earphones, are more than enough resources to start off. What the youngsters need - Mental Toughness & Learning Mindset. I’ve seen it in the past, and I still see on a regular basis that even if guys have the resources (knowledge, money, environment & connections) to build their dream, they lack the desire, skill set, and a learning attitude. And above all this, the mental strength to Shut the Naysayers and work tirelessly in the pursuit of development, as in a creative field of work, most people get affected by the criticisms thrown. 5. If you could pick one of your favorite matches in each format (Test, ODI, T20i, IPL) what will it be? For this, I will pick the matches I've watched live, on TV. In ODIs, India vs England 2017, at Cuttack. I bunked the second half of college and what unraveled was a vintage Yuvi-Dhoni masterclass. It was a Jai-Veeru moment for me, as I sat down at one place in the hostel TV room, watching the duo stitch the partnership and then go bonkers. In T20Is, it has to be India vs West Indies 1st T20, 2019 at Hyderabad. Virat Kohli was a Man on Mission, notched a blistering 94* off 50 balls. And who can forget - The Notebook Celebration! In Tests, Headingley Test, Ashes 2019. In that series, especially prior to the commencement of the 3rd Test, I was supporting Australia but ended up rooting for an English victory. In IPL, it will be the 2015 finals - MI vs CSK. More so, as 2015 was my first full season of watching IPL. 6. Who are your favorite cricketers (you can name a few) and why? It's a long list. Still, I will focus on 8 cricketers (in no order) and mention a few points why I like them. Virat Kohli Aggression & fighting spirit. Redefined run-chases. Unreal consistency across formats! MS Dhoni Instinctive Analytical Great leader. Sachin Tendulkar Discipline Persistence The way he used his cricketing talents for 24 years! Steve Smith Temperament Hunger for runs. Unorthodox style of play (And being an unorthodox guy myself) Virender Sehwag Fearless Didn’t overthink. Just go out and perform (People will force themselves into finding positives about you) Sourav Ganguly Fighter Picked match-winners. Fought for his players, backed them relentlessly. Rahul Dravid Patience Steely determination. Rendered top-notch performances in challenging overseas conditions. Steve Waugh A champion leader. Mental toughness. The way he picked fights on the field and backed the trash talks with performance. 7. Other than cricket which is your favorite sport? I've been watching a lot of Basketball in the last few months. Stephen Curry, who is rated as one of the best shooters in NBA history, and is credited for revolutionizing the NBA, he got me hooked into basketball. Though I don’t play basketball, it has become an obsession, plus another career opportunity in the next few years for hosting NBA shows in India. It will take time, but, being a guy who believes in long term investment, I am sure it will bear fruit. So whenever I am free, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I tune into stuff related to basketball. As in, watch videos or read articles on - Player profiles Player comparisons Team history Rivalries Post-match analysis by experts My favorite being the talks at late-night shows as they tell a lot about the lifestyle, the mindset of players on regular match days and playoffs, how they perform in clutch games, and stories on and off-court. And the advantage of that, I can now focus more on cricket by generating quick ideas and start working on them instantly. 8. So how have you spent your time at home during this lockdown? Can you let us know about anything new that you've learned or read?" Efficiency was hit to a great extent in the initial stages. Being a workaholic who spent 12-13 hours, for seven days a week - working, learning, implementing, and experimenting, the first few weeks were no short of nightmares. But then I realized as that's the road to becoming a Champion - performing well when the odds are against and when you are devoid of resources. Again, I was back on track - taking up freelance content writing work, creating deadlines for myself, chasing bigger goals for a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. And, in the coming days, I will be focusing on the video content, so there will be a separate monthly timetable and deadlines for the same. I get it, that my lifestyle might seem boring, but to me, Work being Worship, every step I take, howsoever minute it is, takes me closer to my goal which in turn makes me all the more excited. Learning has been more on the areas of mental preparation, visualizations, and how I can better myself in front of a camera - be it a 10-15 minute video or on stage. For instance, I realized that I need to improve my speaking ability. So it's been a few months that I've been practicing Mouth Exercises for Clear Speech, what we call in Hindi - 'Muh khol ke baat karo'. That usually involves me reciting 7-8 English sentences (daily) with proper pronunciations and tongue movements. The results have been impressive. Also, I have been trying to gain experience in Podcasts, as they are picking up pace in India, so anyone investing their time in listening to one of my future shows should feel it was totally worth it, and I keep them longing for more. Some of the books I’ve read in this lockdown include Sourav Ganguly’s autobiography - A Century is Not Enough, The Dhoni Touch by Bharat Sundaresan, and Shane Warne’s autobiography - No Spin, to name a few. Must say, they are great reads! 9. Who do you think will win the upcoming IPL 2020? Hard to predict the winner, but I am getting a strong feeling that it's going to be among CSK, RCB, and SRH. Maybe another 600+ run season for Virat Kohli is on cards. 10. It has been nearly 7 years since India won an ICC tournament, your thoughts about that? To be honest, I really don’t know what to say on this as we, the viewers, don’t know what happens exactly on the field in pressure situations. From the outside, it seems normal; however, if you’ve come across the views of any current or former cricketer who has been in such environments they can easily tell what needs to be done to overcome the challenge. Former Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir spoke about this a few months back when he focused on ’Beliefs and Mental toughness’ as the key for India to succeed in knockouts. India has played some of their best white-ball cricket in the ICC events held post-2013 Champions trophy. We have become a superpower in limited-overs cricket, and with the experience and skill in our unit, I would say India has a higher possibility to lift the trophy in upcoming ICC events. Thank You Mr. Shashank for you valuable inputs and insights into your journey. Our expression of gratitude for your time spent can only be our best wishes for your successful future in the field of sports media. We hope you keep scaling great heights and hope to see you be the face of the biggest sporting coverages in the future. We are glad to have somewhat chronicled your journey and learnt a lot from it. We hope like you said that it would inspire the viewers to follow their dreams and keep the spirit up in times which have tested our resolve. The IPL is coming back in two weeks and we can’t wait for it, like you. Stay tuned for upcoming articles covering the teams and happenings in great detail. Enjoy the action from your homes with your favourite players going hard at it again. Stay safe and enjoy the biggest T20 tournament in the world.