When she sauntered into Kamla Nehru College ground as a nine-year-old, still in her school skirt, Anjum Chopra was unwittingly taking the first step towards stardom. She was asked to report in trousers the next day.

“I shopped with my mother for a cricket uniform and thus began my eventful journey,” Anjum recalled, proudly displaying the Padma Shri she received at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Saturday morning.

She remembers every phase of her cricket grooming. “Hardeep Dua initiated me, Sunita Sharma honed me and Tarak Sinha gave the finishing touches. Honestly, I never thought cricket would bring me the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri. It is a magnificent feeling, humbling though, to be in such august company. I have no words to express my joy. Walking the red carpet to the Darbar Hall and receiving the Padma Shri was the moment of a lifetime.”

Top of the world

Nothing in her 17-year-old career compared with the day at Darbar Hall. “You have to feel the moment to understand it…so inspiring and so positive. It meant everything. I felt on top of the world,” Anjum gushed. The walk to receive the scroll, hear the citation and resume her seat, was “bliss.” It lasted less than a minute. “But it will stay with me forever,” she insists.

Anjum remembers the call from the Government announcing her selection for the Padma Shri. “I was driving back from the Ferozeshah Kotla and had to pull over outside the Major Dhyanchand National Stadium (where she once attended coaching classes). I thought it was a prank, but soon realised the caller was serious. The reality took time to sink in.”

It was captured in all its glory on Saturday when she received the award.

“It is an award for the game and the women’s cricketing fraternity. I could earn this honour only because I played cricket for my country (12 Tests and 127 ODIs). I remember the applause for my ODI century. But receiving the applause from a select gathering today was unsurpassable. My cricket journey has been worth all the pain and sweat. It is not about my personal achievement. It is about winning it for women’s cricket in India,” Anjum stresses.

A product of Sonnet Club, which has produced many international cricketers, the left-handed Anjum was quick to credit Tarak Sinha. “I was the India captain when he became team coach. I owe it to him. He was happier than me when I broke the news to him.”  

The Padma Shri will adorn a pride of place in her house. It will also embellish her cricket career as she pledges to work for the betterment of sportswomen in India. “I now have an extra responsibility to work towards improving the state of sports in the country.”

She will also make a trip to Kamla Nehru College to share her glorious moments with some of the cricket trainees.

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