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GAME FACE
Following a serendipitous opportunity, the girl who once hated cricket is now a fixture on its televised English coverage in India. Over the last 13 years, Mayanti Langer-Binny has commentated on a host of major global sports events, and in a long-overdue encounter, former national cricketer Snehal Pradhan observes the off-camera confidence that has maintained the broadcaster’s steady position in such an unpredictable field

In 2003, Mayanti Langer had flaming red hair. It turned heads and raised eyebrows once she joined Delhi’s Hindu College for a degree in English Honours. In particular, the kings of the campus, the college cricket team — who count Ajay Jadeja, Gautam Gambhir and Saba Karim as alumni — weren’t impressed.

Customary ragging ensued, lasting almost half a term. Langer had come into the college on the back of her first real failure, when she had received no admits from the design schools she applied to, despite coming from a family of artists and with strong art scores in her 12th standard exams. All considered, it’s not surprising that she developed a significant distaste for cricket. “I hated cricket,” were, in fact, her exact words.

The idea for this interview was conceived in a studio back in May this year, but I didn’t recognise it at the time. I was sitting in the expert’s chair, about to preview a women’s T20 match, flanked by former Australian cricketer Dean Jones on one side and Mayanti Langer (now Langer-Binny) on the other. Before the show began, as we were chatting, Jones turned to me but pointed to Langer-Binny and said, “best in the business”. I didn’t pay it much heed, putting it down to Aussie banter. But once the show began, the banter in the studio went down, and the voices in my head went up.

Through the earpieces we all wore, I could hear the director and producer constantly speaking, with the graphics team occasionally chipping in. Often they would speak directly to LangerBinny while she was talking to the camera, sending her instructions about upcoming segments and giving her countdowns. She continued telling the story to the camera, asking questions of her guests, interjecting when we rambled and closing segments on the count. It was skilfully done, like a tailor whose seams you can’t see. Having worked briefly in broadcast before, I could tell she had more skill than most. It shouldn’t have been surprising. There’s a reason she’s hosted seven World Cups across three different sports.

Cricket fans might find her surname foreign, our minds making the leap to another Aussie, Justin Langer. In fact, Langer-Binny is a symbol of the multicultural modern India; a self-made woman with Kashmiri, Sardarni and Punjabi roots, and now living in South India with an Anglo-Indian, Roman Catholic husband, who is the first in his family to marry outside the community. Our interview takes place in her Bengaluru home, a rented property close to the site where the couple’s new house is being built.

The space has an earthy feel; there are small sculptures and furnishings made from various clays (including some by an aunt, a professional ceramist), and there is much wood: the wide, polished front door, the low coffee table, the English willow bats lined up neatly in one corner (belonging to her husband Stuart Binny, a professional cricketer). Langer-Binny is wearing a white pullover, black tights, and she is nestled on her favourite armchair in the corner of the room, opposite the TV. I’m unsure which of those two could truly be called her spot, so synonymous has she become with English cricket coverage in India.

We speak shortly after the historic Pink-ball Test, having jousted on dates for a week. Between Test matches, she had corporate emceeing commitments. So the first question I ask, jokingly, but only just, is whether she has a life?

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