It’s not very often that one gets the opportunity to interview two famous sportsmen at one go and so when we found out that Ambati Thirupathi Rayudu and Karn Vinod Sharma were up for an interview with Provoke Lifestyle Magazine, we jumped at the offer.

We greeted the two cricketers at our Toni&Guy Salon in Poes Garden, Chennai; had a quick makeover; before we proceeded to the venue for our interview and cover shoot. Amelie’s Cafe and Creamery is a huge favourite within the Provoke Team and so we were overjoyed when they decided to graciously be our host. Amid several selfies with adoring fans and the general positive vibe around the place, we managed to sneak in a quick tête-à-tête:

People are not born as famous cricketers. The journey from normal person to a cricketer adored by the millions must have been an interesting one?
Rayudu: It definitely was. I had to play cricket for almost 20 years before I was noticed as worthy of the national team. But the journey has been amazing.
Sharma: I was always crazy about cricket. I remember playing the sport with anything I could get my hands on as a kid – vegetables, fruits, you name it… I’ve played cricket with it. I began to play professionally when I was made a part of the under-14 team for Uttar Pradesh. From there to the Railways Team and eventually to IPL… it’s been nothing short of a miracle.

As you’ve said… it was hard to make it to where you are… so what motivated you to choose a sport as a career even when the odds seemed always stacked against you?
Rayudu: For me, the motivation came from family. My family supported me throughout my worst phases, especially my dad. They never allowed me to be demotivated. Once I got married, my wife became an extra shoulder to gain support from. I’ve been very lucky that way.
Sharma: I come from a family that loves sports. My dad is a basketball player and my mom is a badminton player. They both supported my passion of playing cricket and never stopped me from anything. With that kind of support, obstacles don’t seem to be very overwhelming anymore. You know you can deal with anything that’s thrown at you.

With such a long journey towards achieving your goal, you must have taken inspiration from someone along the way?
Rayudu: Sachin Tendulkar used to be my biggest inspiration when I first started playing. Then the more I started playing, I also took inspiration from MS Dhoni – he inspires me with the way he plays and the way he leads his life too.
Sharma: While growing up, it was Shane Warne. Being a leg spinner I grew up watching him play. And as a batsman I’ve been inspired by Yuvraj Singh a lot.

What was it like when you first played for Team India?
Rayudu: It was definitely one of the best moments of my life. For any cricketer, playing for the nation is a big dream. It’s something that made me realise that I should work harder.
Sharma: I was overjoyed. There’s really nothing else that describes that experience. Pure… incomparable exhilaration!

Playing for Chennai Super Kings must have been a great experience too, considering how many Indian Premier League’s they have won?
Rayudu: CSK is one of the most successful teams in IPL, one cannot deny that! I’m absolutely honoured to be a part of this successful team and just hope that we win the title this year.
Sharma: CSK isn’t just a team. It’s a family. It’s been two years with them and they’ve always treated me the same even if I’m playing or not. Not many teams treat their players like that and that says a lot about the team.

You’ve been playing in the IPL for quite some time now, any memorable moments?
Rayudu: There have been quite a lot of memorable moments, but the year 2018 was a special year for me. Earlier, I wasn’t a part of CSK and they were a tough competitor. But that year, playing for CSK and winning the title was one hell of a memorable moment.
Sharma: My first IPL match in 2013, playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad is one of my most memorable moments. That changed my life and led to me playing for Team India. Also, winning the ‘man of the match’ title in 2017 playing against Kolkata Knight Riders is something that will stay with me for a long time.

As a cricketer, you are a celebrity in your own right – are there any causes that you espouse, as speaking about them as a cricketer can magnify the message you share?
Rayudu: Equality is something I always work towards. Especially in a country like India, it’s very difficult to see equality, be it social or economic. We need to really speak about the inequalities in this country and work towards creating a country where everyone has equal opportunities.
Sharma: Exactly what Rayudu said: equality. It’s been 70+ years since independence and we’re still nowhere close to where we wanted to be as a country when it comes to defeating inequalities in our society.

Male cricketers are seen as examples of machismo, of men as ‘men perceive men to be’… almost propagating toxic masculinity in some sense – in that context, where do you see feminism?
Rayudu: I think I do not understand the mainstream perception of what feminism is. Feminism was always meant to be about the equality of genders and I believe women and men are equal. Many people say absolute rubbish like: men are stronger than women – I absolutely disagree. I think for women to finally break the barriers that men have imposed on them for so long, we first need to believe that the genders are equal. Believe it, talk about it and propagate it as the ‘new normal’.
Sharma: I agree there has been widespread inequality when it comes to how society treats women in comparison to men, but I have always been surrounded by women who do everything that a man does and vice versa – I do not think either gender is better or worse than the other. I think feminism is required till this equality of genders is achieved.

Your advice to the parents of young children interested in cricket:
Rayudu: There’s no point pushing your children into something they’re not interested in. If they are interested in cricket and have a talent for the sport, encourage them instead.
Sharma: Education is as important as one’s passion for sport – so encourage them to play the game and also complete their education.

Finally, your opinions on each other?
Rayudu: Karn is a good luck charm for every team he’s a part of. They always win the IPL. He’s a young cricketer and a do-gooder by heart – I really look at him as a genuine person whose heart is in the right place. He’s also a brilliant leg-spinner.
Sharma: Rayudu is my big brother who is always looking out for me – be it my career or my life. I really respect him a lot.

The shoot continues and amid the camaraderie between these two diverse yet similar sportspersons, we realise one thing: stardom doesn’t necessarily change a person, if you stay grounded. Ambati Thirupathi Rayudu and Karn Vinod Sharma are two individuals who walk the talk and stay true to who they are and were even before the whole of India recognised them – and that in itself is refreshing… refreshing enough to deserve the cover in this edition, dedicated to fresh perspectives.