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In a glittering cricket career that spanned a decade from 2002, she was a two-times World Cup cricket winner with 113 international caps to her name. By 2008, she was ranked number one bowler in the ICC Women’s One Day International rankings and in the same year she took nine wickets against Australia to be crowned player of the match as England retained the Ashes.
If that isn’t impressive enough, Isa also squeezed in enough studying in between university cricket games, to gain a master’s degree in neuroscience.
Now, as she takes the helm at the BBC, the 35-year-old is understandably thrilled about the next chapter, but she is also pragmatic about how she will be viewed. “It’s not lost on me that when people look at me, they will see gender, they will see colour,” says Isa. “But it is so great to be part of a broadcaster that has really championed women. It is a real privilege to be asked.
“As someone who has played the game, I love the sport and I want to tell people it is amazing. I am really excited!” Does she think prospects in sport broadcasting have improved for women, I ask, apologising for asking a question no one would ever ask of a man.
“You have to be realistic,” she replies. “It’s a male-dominated sport. I can be open and say I have experienced sexism in the past. When I was playing, I wasn’t happy to confront it early on and just did the talking on the pitch.
“It is similar in broadcasting. By showing everyone what you can do, hopefully you win the respect of your colleagues. I guess it’s like any role. People will always be judging you. It’s something you come across all the time. For instance, when I went to Australia to play in their women’s domestic league, they were looking at me as the overseas cricketer, so you want to prove what you can do.
“The good thing now is most of my male colleagues are good friends. I am pretty tolerant of most things so when I think someone has gone too far, I feel confident to speak up about it and they understand it’s really important.”
She won’t give examples, but Isa admits she was the target of sexist remarks in her early years as a broadcaster.
“But things have improved with an increased number of women,” she stresses. “Sometimes, the intentions were good but they didn’t realise they were being sexist. I soon recognised the need to have those conversations.”
The past few weeks since George Floyd’s horrific death has, she confides, made her look back and examine whether she suffered racism too. Her parents were first generation immigrants from Kolkata, India. Reveals Isa: “You look back at how you were as a teenager and how society dictates the need to fit in. Looking back on whether I had been affected by racism, I say no because I was conditioned to ignore comments but I have now recognised that what I may have dismissed in the past was not acceptable. “It’s a difficult thing to manage in my head but that’s why it is important to address these issues. I sit on the board for the players’ association for cricket and I am asking whether we are doing enough.
“It is not enough to say we are staunchly against racism if we don’t actively try to stamp it out at every level.”
Eloquent, smart and very likeable, Isa’s enthusiasm and determination are a breath of fresh air. Her positivity is testament to her parents, who always encouraged her sporting ambitions.
Sadly, Isa lost her mum, Roma, last year to cancer. She was 67. “Mum wasn’t a pushy person but she was a huge support and she was so philosophical about everything, including her illness.
“Her strength through that time will continue to be my biggest inspiration and I try to take all her values and follow how she lived.”
Isa was eight when she first picked up a cricket bat in the garden at her family’s home in Berkshire.
“I looked up to my brother, Kaush, who was seven years older and I copied everything he did!” she smiles. “He would train in the back garden and I would chase after the ball.
“That’s when my parents saw my interest in cricket and took me down to the local club. There weren’t any girls’ teams around so I joined a boys’ side. Mum persuaded Dad that it was OK. I was fortunate to have their full backing.”
Her father Barun was soon so on board that he would ferry Isa around to matches and practices. “They came on tour too,” she says. “Dad is such a big cricket fan.”
By the age of 12, she had been picked to play for England’s development team.
“I always thought I would play for England at badminton,” she says. “But it was cricket that got me fast-tracked!” Five years later at 17, Isa, a right arm fast-medium bowler, was playing in her first Test cricket Tri-series against India and New Zealand.
“The journey as a whole was one I will never forget,” she says. “In 2002, we were an average side. There were lots of highs and lows but we became the best team in the world in 2009. It doesn’t get any better than that!” But however much she enjoyed her sporting successes, Isa never neglected her studies. She took a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology then went on to get an MPHIL in neuroscience at University College London.
“It was hard but I needed something to fall back on,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t do cricket for the rest of my life. My original plan was to become a scientist but the broadcasting came a couple of years before I retired from cricket and then more and more roles started to open up.”
“After retiring in 2012, which was, admits Isa, one of the most difficult decisions she has ever made, she went on holiday around Europe with her then boyfriend and now husband, Richard Thomas, a 34-year-old songwriter for the band, Brother and Bones. They married in 2018.
weren’t girls’ around so a boys’ persuaded “When you are playing for your country, you are so consumed by it that you forget about everything,” she explains. “You sacrifice a lot to do it and to be able to release myself from that and to have a bit of fun was nice.”
Since 2012, Isa has worked as a commentator for Sky, ITV and several foreign broadcasting companies.
“Rich has been an incredible support,” she says fondly. “We have such an understanding of each other, it’s brilliant.”
Isa has been using lockdown at their London home to prepare for her new role while keeping her mother’s memory alive by trying to perfect the dishes she used to cook.
“You just have to adapt and make the best of what is a strange situation,” she says. “There are times when I do really miss playing cricket but I do high-intensity interval training classes, pilates and yoga. I still get the guilt if I don’t do something like I did in my playing days!”
Looking to the future, Isa thinks many positive steps have already been taken when it comes to colour, gender and diversity in the sport.
“What I am really proud of in cricket is what this England men’s team represents at the moment,” she enthuses.
“We may have stumbled across a diverse group of players much like our women’s team in 2009 but there is a real intention with all the players to want to understand each other’s cultures.
“For young boys and girls to look at them and feel they will naturally believe that this is something they can achieve.”
Given the important role her family plays in her life, would she like to have children in time too? “It’s something we have talked about,’ she says. “It’s great to see so many women in broadcasting who have kids and who work on screen.
“At the BBC, there are a number of women who are able to do that, so that tells me it is possible to have a family and carry on with your career.”
I joined side. Mum Dad ” But for now, it’s all about the new job. “I am looking forward to starting now,” she says.
“Cricket will be getting out there to the masses and it is our responsibility to make it enjoyable and as fun as possible.”
Highlights from the England vWest Indies Test series will begin on July 8 on BBC Two from 7pm
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